History in schools can heal divisions and create a more tolerant society


It is crucial that children learn about what makes British society what it is today and their place in it.

The Guardian reported in October on research from the education charity Teach First, which found that children could complete their GCSEs without having studied a single literary work by a person of colour.

The same article quoted from the ‘lessons learned’ review of the Windrush scandal, which spoke of “the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.”

Black History Month, which runs every October, is now well established in Britain. ‘Themed’ days and weeks (and even months) can play a part in highlighting important issues, raising public awareness and galvanising people into action — provided that the message is not all but forgotten once the occasion is over. On the other hand, if a ‘theme’ is of such importance that it merits its own week or month, it is surely a legitimate question to ask why it is not embedded in the curriculum rather than being an add-on.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, touched on these issues in remarks introducing Ofsted’s 2019–2020 annual report. She spoke of “efforts to commandeer schools and the curriculum in support of worthy social issues and campaigns.” Arguably, neither ‘commandeer’ nor ‘worthy’ are neutral terms in the context of her remarks.

With regards to growing calls for a more diverse curriculum, she posed two questions:

Is it because there is a fundamental issue with the national curriculum that limits exposure to diversity in literature, history, or geography? Or is it because there’s a widely held and justifiable assumption that changing things in school is the key to changing wider social attitudes?

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools

Life-based learning was first developed as a response to weaknesses in the National Curriculum. Community is one of the nine learning themes of life-based learning. It is an attempt to deal with our lack of social cohesion, with too many young people alienated, lacking a sense of purpose in their lives and contributing little to society in consequence.

At the Forum for Life-Based Learning we believe that the study of history should give children a sense of what makes British society what it is today and their place in it. They should learn that they are part of a country with a rich and vibrant history.

The use of the ‘community’ concept to frame learning in history, social geography and citizenship deepens children’s understanding of — and strengthens their commitment to — society.

You can read more about the community learning theme here.


Image at the top of this post credited to Contraband Collection/Alamy, retrieved from this page on 19 December 2020

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