Since 1987, Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK during the month of October. Originating in the USA in the 1920s, it offers the chance to for everyone to learn about and understand how black culture and heritage has impacted the world.
Having these times of special focus on black history can really inspire people to learn more about what has happened in the past and how we can piece together the stories of people and places. It can also encourage us to pull threads of the past through to the present day, helping us to gain greater understanding of the links between past and present.
The need to focus on black history does not, however, end once Halloween has been and gone. There is no doubt that people with an African or Caribbean background have contributed greatly to British history and beyond and there is a strong need for this to be reflected in our curricula throughout the school year. This not only ensures that history teaching is more accurate but it also helps children to have a more thorough and authentic understanding of the life they are living today.
In 2022, Wales introduced new changes designed to help pupils become “informed citizens of the world.” The teaching of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic stories is now included in the statutory guidance, the What Matters Code, which states that:
“Through consistent exposure to the story of their locality and the story of Wales, as well as to the story of the wider world, learners can develop an understanding of the complex, pluralistic and diverse nature of societies, past and present. These stories are diverse, spanning different communities as well as in particular the stories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people. This also enables learners to develop a common understanding of the diverse history, cultural heritage, ethnic diversity, identities, experiences and perspectives of their local area, Wales and the wider world.”
In the past, author Malorie Blackman has called for black history to be taught in schools all year round. She said that history lessons should tell “the whole truth” of the British Empire and the transatlantic slave trade. Yet while schools in Wales do have a focus on black history, schools in England do not currently have any such guidance. If history is to be done well, it needs to be thorough, and we need to learn from it, so that racism and ignorance can be effectively tackled.
So how can we ensure that our celebrations of Black History Month last far beyond October and reach right across the curriculum? Some food for thought…
- There is reportedly high demand among teachers for anti-racism training. This is a great place to start to better equip schools to represent black history effectively.
- Rigorous history at all ages and stages would be inclusive and broad in scope. Plotting a curriculum map to explore the extent to which black history is already represented would help to identify areas where possible improvements could be made. If we are aiming for broad and balanced, then we must include histories from around the world.
- Take a look at the examples and perspectives used in all subjects. Are they limited in breadth or fully inclusive?
- Make Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic history visible in your school, perhaps through displays, or book suggestions in the library.
- If your school is involved in initial teacher education, make sure that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic history is part of new teachers’ thinking about the curriculum as well as their teaching.
- Develop a culture of sharing knowledge and skills concerning inclusive approaches to history and the wider curriculum. Strengthening and expanding understanding as an organisation is highly likely to improve the quality of education on offer.
- Ask challenging questions – are there any tokenistic elements of the history and wider curriculum?
Exploring black history more thoroughly across the school year is indisputably a good idea. And while there is much to celebrate in Black History Month – the theme this year being “Saluting Our Sisters” which pays homage to “black women who had contributions ignored, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced” – as well as much to learn and reflect upon, offering a more inclusive and accurate approach to history will serve all students well.
Find out more…
- The Curriculum for Wales – Statements of What Matters Code (gov.wales)
- Decolonising education | National Education Union (neu.org.uk)
- Anti-racism charter: Framework for developing an anti-racist approach | National Education Union (neu.org.uk)
- Home - Schools of Sanctuary (cityofsanctuary.org)
- Black History Month 2023 - Celebrating our Sisters
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.