MPs are demanding the government holds a review of the national curriculum led by black and ethnic minority leaders and historians to better reflect black history.
The cross-party group of more than 30 politicians has written jointly to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, to ask for a re-evaluation of the history syllabus in light of the global Black Lives Matter protests over the killing of George Floyd.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson and a former teacher, said: “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.
“As a former teacher, I know first-hand the value of education as a tool to empower young people to make change happen. That’s why we need to include a more diverse range of historical perspectives in our curriculum and examinations.”
The letter, signed by the Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley, Labour’s former shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler and former frontbencher Clive Lewis, members of the SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Green party’s Caroline Lucas, said there should be a more balanced reading of Britain’s colonial and imperial past, and its legacy of abuse and exploitation.
More recent history, such as the treatment of the Windrush generation should also be included, they suggested, as well as the positive contribution black people and people of all ethnicities have made to Britain.
The British empire and its slave trade is not a statutory part of the curriculum, although many schools choose to teach it. Black History Month takes place in the UK in October with resources available for schools.
The MPs’ call for a curriculum review follows campaigning by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn to create an emancipation educational trust that would deliver school programmes and focus on African civilisation before colonisation.
The civil rights campaigner Paul Stephenson, who who led the Bristol bus boycott in 1963, was suggested as someone all pupils could study.
The organisation The Black Curriculum is also collecting signatures for an open letter to be sent to Williamson on making black history compulsory in primary and secondary schools and requesting a face-to-face meeting with him. It would like a response from the minister before Windrush Day on 22 June, which was observed for the first time in 2018.
The letter, led by Moran in parliament, comes as Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the curriculum must be improved to break down barriers to defeating racism.
She said: “We must improve the curriculum so that students learn about how Britain was founded on global histories. Students should learn about the achievements and roles of black Britons in every field of human endeavour. And they should learn about the campaigns by black workers for equal treatment and the stand against injustice.”
Bousted also called for a review of teacher training to equip all trainees with anti-racist strategies, and a new recruitment strategy to make the teaching profession more diverse
“This term, the NEU will launch an anti-racist framework to respond to the experiences of black children and black staff and to help education staff develop anti-racist approaches,” she said.
“We support the initiatives from NGOs such as the Runnymede Trust and youth movements such as The Black Curriculum to highlight the importance of challenging the education system to be more inclusive and making the curriculum representative and relevant.”
There have been concerns that because academies, which are not controlled by local authorities, have greater flexibility in what they teach and are not required to follow the national curriculum some children may miss out on opportunities to study black history.
The current curriculum suggests that within key stage 3 history pupils could look at the British transatlantic slave trade and its effects and abolition. This comes under the broader subject area of “Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901”.
The Black Curriculum suggests a broader historical approach, with black history taught through topics such as the pre-colonial black presence in Britain, migration from 1910 to 1960 and assimilation, and a closer look at 21st-century geopolitics, including migration patterns and deportation.