Skip to content

Blog post

Arresting ‘epistemic violence’: Decolonising the national curriculum for history

Marlon Moncrieffe

A renewed call to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum has marked a shift in thinking about education and what should form the canon of curriculum content (le Grange, 2016). It has been amplified further here in the UK by the ‘Rhodes must fall’ campaign (Sabarathnam, 2017).

‘Here is how a statutory national policy directive for teaching and learning in schools can “whitewash” and “erase” broader ethnic and multicultural histories.’

My examination and interpretation of the English national curriculum for key stage 2 history (education for children aged 7–11 years old) (DfE, 2013) considers its aims and contents, and motives for teaching and learning the ‘master narrative’ of mass-migration and settlement to the British Isles (Moncrieffe, 2014, 2018; Nichol & Harnett, 2011). Themes of ‘nation building’ and ‘national identity’ arrive through this. However, these are depicted rather narrowly, as occurring through ‘cross-cultural encounters’ involving ‘the 8th century Viking/Anglo-Saxon struggle’ and ‘Viking invasions’ (DfE, 2013, p.4). The national curriculum for key stage 2 history stops at the year 1066. It provides no other significant narrative of mass-migration and settlement to the British Isles for children to learn of. It is framed by Euro-centric perspectives of ‘nation building’ and ‘national identity’. Here is how a statutory national policy directive for teaching and learning in schools can ‘whitewash’ and ‘erase’ broader ethnic and multicultural histories (Lander, 2016; Moncrieffe, 2018). The national curriculum for history operates as ‘epistemic violence’ (Spivak, 1999) – a political and educational tool obstructing and undermining non-Western experiences or approaches to knowledge.

A plethora of national narrative episodes and accounts remain unwritten by the national curriculum for history concerning mass-migration and settlement by people in the British Isles over the ages. One example is the British citizens from the 20th century African-Caribbean Windrush generation: their involvement in uprisings across cities in England during the 1980s in their ‘struggles’ with the oppressive and racist White-British led political system (Gilroy, 1987; Moncrieffe, 2018; Sewell, 1998). I placed these ‘violent cross-cultural encounters’ and ‘struggles’ in juxtaposition (see figure 1) with those from the past (Moncrieffe, 2018).


Figure 1: 8th century Anglo-Saxon/Viking struggles juxtaposed with 20th century British citizens of the African-Caribbean Windrush Generation/White-British struggles


To be decolonial is to embrace epistemic discomfort. To be epistemically uncomfortable is a necessity. There is a broad currency of knowledge available for this when applying historical narratives from a broader range of migrant groups who have come to settle in the British Isles over the ages. It will take ‘commitment’ and ‘action’ (Chilisa, 2012) from initial teacher education providers to support and encourage trainee teachers to enact these approaches.This is because children in the key stage 2 primary school are already learning that ‘nation building’ and ‘national identity’ arrived from mass-migration and settlement involving ‘violent cross-cultural encounters’ and ‘struggles’ between different ethnic and cultural groups – Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. In contrasting the distant past with the more recent, congruent themes for study emerge: ‘power’, ‘control’, ‘order’, ‘equality’, ‘tolerance’, ‘mutual respect’. A focus on these can advance deeper historical inquiry on ‘nation building’ for understanding the development of ‘national identity’ by the broad range of ethnic and cultural groups arriving in the British Isles from around the world over the ages. I also see great possibilities in how the statutory education policy of ‘fundamental British values’ (DfE, 2014, p.5) can be applied to this teaching and learning, and through the nation’s multicultural history. A critical lens can be cast upon how the nation has come to learn and re-learn the meaning of ‘tolerance’ and ‘mutual respect of those with different faiths and beliefs’.

Dr Moncrieffe will be making reference to this BERA Blog during his lecture at the upcoming Advancing Teaching and Learning about Race Equality Conference at the University of Brighton on Tuesday 11 December. Click here for more information and to register.


Chilisa, B. (2012) Indigenous research methodologies. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Department for Education [DfE] (2014).] ‘Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools: Department advice for maintained schools’, London.

Department for Education [DfE] (2013, July) History programmes of study: Key stages 1 and 2: National curriculum in England. London.

Gilroy, P. (1987). There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Routledge.

Lander, V. (2016) Introduction to fundamental British values, Journal of Education for Teaching, 42(3), pp.274–279.

Le Grange, L. (2016). Africanisation of Curriculum. South African Journal of Higher Education, 28(4), 202–216.

Moncrieffe M. L. (2018) Teaching and Learning About Cross-Cultural Encounters Over the Ages Through the Story of Britain’s Migrant Past. In R. Race (Ed.) Advancing Multicultural Dialogues in Education (pp. 195–214). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moncrieffe, M. L. (2014) Reconceptualising Mass-migration Within the Primary School History Curriculum Master Narrative for a Broader Sense of Connection and Belonging to Britain and British History. In Workshop Proceedings: Sense of Belonging in a Diverse Britain (191–202). London: Dialogue Society.

Nichol, J. & Harnett, P. (2011). History teaching in Britain and British national history curriculum, past present and into the future. International Journal of History Learning, Teaching and Research, 10(1), pp.106–119.

Sabaratnam, M. (2017) Decolonising Intervention: International Statebuilding in Mozambique. London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Spivak, C. G. (1999) A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sewell, T. (1998) Keep on Moving: The Windrush Legacy: the Black Experience In Britain from 1948. London: Voice Communications Group Limited.