Richard Garner: So where do fish and chips come from?

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There has been a great deal of harrumphing and anxiety amongst education traditionalists that the name of Winston Churchill is missing from the revamped national curriculum on history due to be introduced in secondary schools to be taught from next week.

Eyebrows have also been raised in the same quarters that more emphasis is to be placed on the work of William Wilberforce, the MP who campaigned to abolish slavery, as teachers are asked to spend more time discussing slavery and the history of ethnic minority groups in this country.

Personally, I think those that grumble should relax and get a life. The history of the Second World War is still up there in the forefront of compulsory topics to be studied and I cannot for the life of me think how a teacher could cover it adequately without mentioning Churchill.

For good measure, Hitler is not mentioned by name either and I challenge any teacher to be able to teach the topic without mentioning either of them. In fact, any teacher that did could be in line for a kind of reverse award – like pupils who fail to get even a "G" grade in their GCSE exams but still turn up to do the paper.

Seriously, though, I do not think the role of our greatest wartime leader (there, I agree with the traditionalists on that one) will be diminished simply because his name is not on a bit of paper put in front of the teacher as he or she prepares for history lessons.

Of course, if I am to be consistent in my argument, I would have to say there is no need to mention William Wilberforce by name if you are telling teachers they should include slavery (and its abolition) as part of the required curriculum. My point, though, is that it does not matter whether the name is there or not – the teacher should, and can, be trusted to deliver.

A wider point emerges. Should we be putting so much emphasis on the study of black Britons and ethnic minority groups in the history syllabus? If we are to come to a greater understanding of the diverse ethnic groups that now live in the United Kingdom, the answer has to be yes.

I was a history enthusiast at school – taking the subject up until A-level but, while I could recite to you the dates of the kings and queens of England back to 1066 by the time I had finished compulsory schooling, I would not have been able to tell you who Olaudah Equiano was. (For the uninitiated, he was one of the most prominent people of African heritage in the British debate for the abolition of slavery. A former slave, he managed to buy his freedom and wrote an autobiography depicting the horrors of slavery). I could have told you that slavery was abolished, that William Wilberforce had a lot to do with it and that – by and large – what he achieved was a good thing. I had no knowledge of what impact it had from a black person's perspective or, indeed, how long our country had played host to so many representatives of ethnic minority groups.

Of course, the curriculum will cover more than just this aspect of black history as it strives to give a fuller picture of our ethnic minority groups' participation in the United Kingdom. It should cover, too, the arrival of Russian and Jewish exiles in the late 19th-century. Maybe it could even cover the fact that the first people to fry fish in batter in the UK, and to help produce fish and chips, were Portuguese Jewish refugees in the East End of London.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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