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How much the price for inclusion in the English secondary history curriculum?

Andrew Mansfield, University of Sussex

In response to written questions from Parliament’s Petition Committee on 9 March 2021, the then Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb MP, made it clear that there was no plan to make the secondary school curriculum in England more inclusive. Gibb asserted that teaching the curriculum and resources are the concern of schools, and that, regarding the history curriculum, teachers appeared to be ‘responding directly to the renewed attention on history teaching’. His reply came one month after the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED), which recommended that four themes – ‘build trust’, ‘promote fairness’, ‘create agency’ and ‘achieve inclusivity’ – be employed to tackle the socio-economic gaps experienced by some British ethnic minorities (CRED, 2021). The last three themes rely upon education as a core component for reducing racial inequality, bolstered by additional targeted funding, extending the school day, adopting an inclusive (whole) curriculum, and more resources. 

CRED stated that the current history curriculum should be added to and adapted, perhaps mollifying the government’s position that the curriculum provides teachers with the capacity to teach diverse and inclusive history. Teachers, however, do not agree. In fact, in relation to the history curriculum, responses from teachers who participated in the Historical Association’s (HA) 2021 history survey in secondary schools suggest that despite huge efforts by many teachers and schools, many felt that a lack of government funding for resources, lack of time, lack of access to resources, lack of subject knowledge and lack of training impeded deeper change (see Burn & Harris, 2021). Despite congratulating English schools and history teachers for their valiant efforts in broadening inclusivity, one suspects that government is hiding behind curriculum freedom to label these issues a schools’ problem. As teachers are making clear, however, they require the requisite funding from government to produce the alterations they would like to accomplish.  

‘Many teachers felt that a lack of government funding for resources, lack of time, lack of access to resources, lack of subject knowledge and lack of training impeded deeper change to the history curriculum.’ 

While the HA’s survey indicates that 86 per cent of schools teach a series of history lessons on inclusive topics such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the British Empire and Migration (Burn & Harris, 2021, pp. 1–2), when one mines the statistical data, a troubling picture appears across England. Twenty-seven per cent of schools do not teach migration at all; 42 per cent of schools have either a single lesson or short unit on a non-European nation; and most teaching of the British Empire was commonly a lesson or two, or a short sequence. Schools with a primarily ethnic minority student population were more likely to teach a series of lessons or a unit and have enacted changes to enlarge their curriculum since 2020, and 4 per cent of ‘predominantly White’ schools had done nothing (Burn & Harris, 2021, pp. 4–7). As for GCSE (key stage 4), 71 per cent of teachers believed it lacked the capacity to include ethnic minority history, and 78 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the exam boards did enough to help (Mansfield, 2022, p. 3).

The government’s response that the curriculum offers a ‘broad and balanced’ approach does not adequately address the calls for increasing inclusion due to a perceived lack of inclusion in the history curriculum. Schools and departments must choose between a broad range of topics within that time frame and decide based on curriculum demands of the school, resources, timetable availability, location of the school, and the teachers’ education and background. Without government guidance, teachers and departments reach tough decisions on the most relevant areas of study for their students while thinking ahead to GCSE, the school’s demographics and what is perceived to be most interesting and relevant British history. The government should therefore ask what price it places on the education of future citizens for a more inclusive society with a knowledgeable understanding of globalised Britain. As the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has recommended for the ‘making of modern Britain’, it is essential to teach an inclusive curriculum that celebrates its multi-ethnic character and heritages, to make all students feel part of Britain’s history and future (CRED, 2021, pp. 184–185). Should government fail to take up its responsibility, it must either assist educationalists in tackling curriculum deficiencies autonomously through funding, or cooperate with them without political agendas. 

See Mansfield (2022) for an extended discussion and possible solution to this topic.


References 

Burn, K., & Harris, R. (2021). Historical Association Survey of history in secondary schools in England 2021. https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/categories/409/news/4014/historical-association-secondary-survey-2021 

Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities [CRED]. (2021). The report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Commission’s report into racial and ethnic disparities in the UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/commission-on-race-and-ethnic-disparities  

Mansfield, A. (2022). Increasing inclusion for ethnic minority students by teaching the British Empire and global history in the English history curriculum. Oxford Review of Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2022.2087618