Exclusive

Coalition set to clash over removal of 'greatest black Briton' Mary Seacole from National Curriculum

Sources close to Nick Clegg say he is determined to stop Michael Gove's plans

Senior figures in the coalition government are on a collision course over the fate of the “greatest black Briton”, The Independent has learned.

Sources close to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he is determined to put a stop to plans reportedly put in place by Education Minister Michael Gove to remove Mary Seacole, renowned for giving sanctuary to soldiers during the Crimean War, from the National Curriculum.

Leaked documents which surfaced at the end of last month appeared to detail Mr Gove’s plan to replace Seacole with more traditional, white, male historical figures; such as Admiral Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill and Oliver Cromwell. But Mr Clegg is prepared for a clash with the Education Minister to keep her on the list of classroom suggestions.

Mary Seacole, who topped a poll of black Britons in 2006, appears on the Curriculum in a list of people it is suggested teachers use to illustrate the Victorian period in their classrooms. A Liberal Democrat source close to the Deputy Prime Minister said Mr Clegg “supported her continued inclusion on the list” when the Curriculum is rewritten.

And he said that Mr Clegg was prepared to fight her case as the discussions go on. “We do not want her to be replaced. If what was put to him was that she was going to be downgraded in relation to others we wouldn’t agree,” the source added.

According to Liberal Democrat councillor Lester Holloway, Mr Clegg has also privately insisted that the removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum is “not going happen”. And a group of 24 MPs from all three major parties, as well as others, have signed an Early Day Motion declaring themselves “greatly alarmed” at Mr Gove’s plans.

Seacole’s contribution during the Crimean War has been held up as one of the earliest examples of black Britons’ impact on the nation’s history by her proponents. Operation Black Vote started a petition against her removal earlier this month, which has been signed nearly 35,000 times.

Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote, said she was one of the only black people in British history whose life was not talked about “through the prism of racism”. He said: “It is fantastically important to have people such as Mary Seacole taught in our classes.”

“Without the social history of people like Mary Seacole, our children, black and white, get a very distorted view of black people and of Africa. Our continent is more than a picture of extreme poverty. Our history is more than just slavery. This narrow view serves no-one in giving a full picture of collectively who we are, and how we see the world.”

But others have argued that her medical achievements have been overstated for political purposes. Historian and writer Guy Walters said: “She was a very worthy woman, it would be churlish not to hold her up as a good role model. The problem is that, because of her colour and because of political need, her achievements are massively oversold."

He said her achievements in running the British Hotel – which he likened more to a guest house than a hospital – should not be underestimated. But, he said she was someone who comforted soldiers, not a medical figure.

And he argued that Seacole is a figure who is talked about “in terms of race”. He said: “There is no doubt that, had she been white, we would not be talking about her today and I think it is disingenuous to claim otherwise.”

Operation Black Vote members said they have tried unsuccessfully to set up a meeting with Mr Gove, and Mr Woolley said that Mr Clegg could also come under pressure over the issue, should he fail to deliver. “I think this is very brave of the Deputy Prime Minister who has said he will no longer make pledges he knows he can’t keep. Let’s just hope that Gove listens to him and to the tens of thousands who want Mary Seacole on a curriculum that reflects our rich history,” he said.

Mr Woolley added: “If Clegg keeps his promise it will ensure not only that Mary Seacole, and Olaudah Equiano stay the National Curriculum but the principal of our rich diversity remains key to our children’s education. Saving Mary Seacole equates to ensuring cultural diversity on the Curriculum.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Department does not comment on leaks.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions