Equality minister criticises ‘certain campaigners’ in school curriculum debate

‘There is so much more to black people than being oppressed and being victims,’ says Kemi Badenoch

Sam Hancock@samhancock95
Saturday 28 November 2020 16:55
Kate outlines importance of early years development in passionate address

Equality minister Kemi Badenoch has criticised “certain people” for demanding that a new, overly one-sided history curriculum be taught in British schools.

Ms Badenoch, a Tory MP, said that some campaigners wanted the “UK history curriculum” to be taught “in a way that [suggests] good people [are] black people” and “bad people [are] white people”.  

“I think that’s wrong,” she told BBC podcast Political Thinking, explaining that children must be presented with the whole picture - and that teachers must speak in facts.

In the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths, dozens of campaigns have sprung up around the UK - particularly in relation to private schools - urging governing bodies to “decolonise” Britain’s history curriculum. But Ms Badenoch warned that some of the changes being requested would encourage an overly simplistic version of events.

Ms Badenoch said on the podcast that what her daughter is being taught now is “completely different” to what she was taught in history at school. 

“I wouldn’t want her to have what I had but what she is being taught is a history that just can’t be separated from European or white history, and which has an oppression narrative around it,” she explained. 

She said “there is so much more to black people than being oppressed and being victims” but that it was important children had history lessons that showed “both good and bad black people, people who did good things and people who did bad things”.

The nation’s history curriculum became a talking point amid the global resurgence of the the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement this summer. Multiple protests saw campaigners demand that universities and schools review how they were teaching students about controversial historical figures.

The history of the British Empire and the UK’s part in colonisation are what tend to be at the centre of various drives to  overhaul the current curriculum.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, spoke out on the same issue last week. He told reporters at the time that schools must at least try to teach both “the good and the bad about history”, and that young people deserve to know “the rich diversity and tapestry that has made our nation so great”.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Williamson said: “I would always want schools to be celebrating our great nation’s history and the important role that we have played in the world and shaping the world for the better.”

Students began writing to past and present headteachers in summer, calling for future generations to be provided with a more robust racial history. In one letter addressed to Bruce Grindlay, the headmaster of Sutton Valence School - a private school in Kent - hundreds of students wrote to question “the lack of British colonialism / racial awareness taught in the curriculum”.

Oxford University was forced to reassess its teachings of race after calls for a statue of Cecil Rhodes to be removed went viral

The letter said that during their time at Sutton Valence, students felt encouraged to support “the vulnerable, such as military veterans injured during combat, children and adults suffering from cancer”.  For this to stand up, though, “the same energy must be applied to tackling racism by educating pupils on British Colonialism and the structures of institutionalised racism” students said.

“It is the responsibility of all teachers and educational institutions to improve the teaching of these important issues,” the note concluded. 

Some schools have announced plans to modify their history lessons since receieving letters similar to - if not exactly the same as - the one sent to Mr Grindlay. Ampleforth and Winchester schools, for instance, are said to be “formulating new approaches” to instruct their students about the history of colonisation.

Back in June, a cross-party group of 30 MPs wrote to Mr Williamson, to ask for a re-evaluation of the UK history syllabus, and to address the lack of education around issues being raised by BLM activists.

“We all have a duty to make sure the next generation, at least, has a better understanding of the historical injustices contributing to institutional racism that persists in the UK and elsewhere today,” the group wrote. 

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