When 12-year-old Rose learned about the Bristol bus boycott in her history class, she felt an immense sense of pride. She knew there was a civil rights movement in the US, but wasn’t aware of the UK’s own struggle for racial justice.
“I’ve felt quite proud that there were big stands here as well,” she says. Her schoolmate Ruqiiya, also 12, agrees and spoke of her frustration of initially struggling to find more information about the boycott online. They both love learning about it in class.
Both students attend Stoke Newington school in the east London borough of Hackney, which is leading a nationwide movement to reform their curriculum so it better reflects the achievements of black and minority ethnic people and addresses the legacy of colonialism.
The diverse and anti-racist curriculum, titled the Diverse Curriculum – the Black Contribution, was developed by teachers and local council staff just over a year ago and provides students with nine new six-week lessons on subjects including the Windrush generation, diversity in science and activism.
The free resource has proven successful, with more than 2,000 schools across the country signing up.
Orlene Badu, from Hackney Education, who led the development of the project, said there is a misconception that decolonising school curriculums means taking subjects out or not sticking to the national curriculum. The programme from Hackney shows schools how to better utilise the curriculum to ensure what they teach is more reflective of the positive contributions of different communities.
“Children for such a long time in this country have only learned about enslavement, and not about the black contribution. There is a positive contribution and it’s really important that everyone knows because it’s part of our national story,” Badu said.
“I’ve had a lot of people saying in my class that they really like history. I think it’s underrated. It seems like a boring subject, but actually, if you’re learning about fun stuff like that, it’s really cool,” Rose said.
Anntoinette Bramble, councillor, deputy mayor of Hackney, and cabinet member for education, young people and children’s social care, said it was important that the diverse curriculum was embedded across subjects and that they didn’t confine learning about black history to a single month.
“So you’re constantly evoking, challenging but, ultimately, empowering young minds to think about how they reshape their future and the world that they go out into,” Bramble said.
The groundswell of support for the curriculum across the country shows the desperate need for a resource such as this, Bramble said.
She is keen to work closely with the national government to implement it on a national scale. The political will, however, is currently not there. The government’s Sewell report on Race and Ethnic Disparities in the UK pointed to “negative” demands to decolonise the curriculum – warning against “banning white authors” and “token expressions of Black achievement”.
“This curriculum is empowering for children that are white, black and of all diverse backgrounds, because it’s part of British history. It’s telling some of those untold stories that weren’t told. It’s not to replace history, it is not to eradicate history, it’s to add to it,” Bramble said. “It builds tolerance, it builds understanding, it builds cohesion and it gives all children a new sense of identity of where we’ve come, but, more importantly, where we’re going.”
The students appear to agree. “If you get taught things from a young age, they just kind of stick with you,” Ruqiiya said. “And if you teach the younger generation, then they’ll keep what you have taught them. And then they’ll go on to bring change.”
Both students say it’s nice to see where movements and ideas, particularly ones they don’t agree with, originate from. They believe it’s vital to hold on to these “untold stories” as they grow up.
“It’s kind of like a string that you connect. So that the history doesn’t just evaporate out of existence,” Ruqiiya said.