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'You're not doing your job if you're not teaching the whole story': Christian teacher backs calls for reform in black history lessons

by Tola Mbakwe

Campaigners have sent an open letter to the education secretary, calling for him to make black history lessons compulsory all year round. 

Currently schools have flexibility on how they teach the subject. But the group The Black Curriculum believes the focus on slavery and civil rights doesn't help build social cohesion or raise attainment.

The group stated in a letter to Gavin Williams, Secretary of State for Education : "As you are aware, the national curriculum excludes black histories throughout, and omits the vast contributions black people have made to the UK. 

"As a result, young people who learn from the national curriculum are not given a full or accurate version of British history, which limits their opportunities and futures in an increasingly diverse landscape. 

"Despite numerous calls over the years to reform the national curriculum to incorporate Black histories, these requests have been denied. Learning Black history should not be a choice but should be mandatory. Our curriculum should not be reinforcing the message that a sizeable part of the British population are not valued."

Teni Oladehin is a Christian history teacher at Brampton Manor Academy in Newham. She told Premier her department is proactive in making curriculum diverse but doesn't believe most teachers do the same. 

She agrees with the group's call to specifically include black history on the national curriculum and across different subject areas.

"I think it might be slightly misunderstood. It's not that they're trying to say we should only teach black history, but I think it's more being able to see black people across British history because they've made such a contribution.

"They get to see that they played an active role as much as women did, as much as white men did as much as Indians… they get to see that kind of interplay between different cultures."

The Black Curriculum said the need for mandatory black history year round is proven with the structural inequalities in the UK that have been highlighted in the last few weeks. 

It referenced Public Health England's report that found black people in the UK are disproportionally affected by covid-19. It comes off the back of the death of George Floyd, and Black Lives Matter protestors in Bristol who pulled down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston. 

"The backlash Black Lives Matter protesters are getting is because a lot of people are really uneducated about it. And a lot of people who want to be educated should have been educated in school and they weren't," Oladehin said.

"This isn't just for the one black or minority ethnic kid. If you are teaching in a predominantly white school, you are doing a disservice to those kids if you are teaching them a very Eurocentric narrative because they leave school without understanding the relationship that Britain has with the rest of the world and why Britain is such a diverse country."

"It's that thing that enables things like structural racism to continue because they don't understand why there's a problem. 

"It's not just because black students feel left out. As wild as it might sound, as a history teacher, you're not doing your job if you're not teaching the whole story, or at least trying your best to teach the whole story."

In a statement, a Department of Education spokesperson said: "Racism in all its forms is abhorrent and has no place in our society. Schools already play a significant role in teaching children about the importance of having respect and tolerance for all cultures.

"Black history is an important topic which schools can teach to children of all ages as part of the history curriculum.

"Schools can utilise resources from a range of organisations and sources to support teaching Black history."

Listen to Premier's interview with Teni Oladehin here:

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