The founder of a leading education campaign to get black British history embedded in the national curriculum in England has expressed frustration at the government’s inaction, despite the growing clamour for change among young people.
Lavinya Stennett, who launched the Black Curriculum in January, said it was taking “way too long” and expressed concern that new government guidance on “extreme” political teachings in the classroom could hamper progress further.
She said the global Black Lives Matter protests, which followed the killing of George Floyd, had been a huge catalyst for change. Her campaign has been inundated with requests for training and support from students and teachers, inspired by global events, who want change in their own classroom.
However, despite earlier interest from the Department for Education and promises of a meeting, she is yet to see ministers to discuss curriculum reform and there is no date in the diary.
Earlier this week, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Educators and Black Educators Alliance threatened the government with legal action over new guidance which tells schools not to use resources from organisations that have expressed a desire to end capitalism.
In a pre-action letter, they warned the guidance would prevent teachers from using material from groups including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, limiting anti-racism teaching. “They’re not making it easier,” Stennett said.
“I’m very confident there will be real change. There’s a lot more young people who have entered the conversation. There’s a lot more young people who have put it at the top of their agenda. It will happen. But it’s just when?”
Her campaign wants it to be mandatory for pupils in England, from key stage 1 in primary through to key stage 4, when students take their GCSEs, to learn about black British history throughout the year, rather than just in Black History Month.
“Black British history is not merely a theme for October,” its mission statement says, “but started hundreds of years before Windrush and predates European colonial enslavement. Our work aims to address and overcome these limitations by seeking to provide a contextual, globalised history that roots the Black British experience in histories of movement and migration, 365 days a year.”
As Black Lives Matter protests gathered momentum around the world and the disproportionate impact of Covid on minority ethnic communities became apparent, hopes were high that the government would be forced to tackle racism, including racial bias in the curriculum.
Though Covid has meant moving the group’s work online as opposed to its usual programme of face-to-face workshops, the Black Curriculum has become significantly more high-profile and now counts Marks & Spencer as a sponsor, as big-name corporations seek to ally themselves with organisations fighting racism.
Stennett’s team have worked with more than 1,000 teachers and school leaders across the country this year, as well as UCL’s Institute of Education, and Teach First, which trains teachers to work in schools in disadvantaged areas. On Friday the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a partnership between London schools and the Black Curriculum.
In June, Stennett and other campaigners wrote an open letter to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, demanding change. “Thousands of us, the British voting public, are grief-stricken and concerned about the existing status quo in the UK, which disregards the lives and contributions of Black British people,” the letter stated.
“Despite numerous calls over the years to reform the national curriculum to incorporate Black histories, these requests have been denied. Learning Black history should not be a choice but should be mandatory. Our curriculum should not be reinforcing the message that a sizeable part of the British population are not valued.”
In July, however, the schools minister Nick Gibb said there were no plans for a review of the curriculum. The Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said ministers were tone-deaf on the issue. “I’m very frustrated,” said Stennett. “People want to see change. It’s taking way too long.”
After a huge surge in interest, Stennett is concerned the momentum of the past few months should not be lost. “People have a sudden interest and it fades away. That’s a worry I have, with sudden things like that. It’s about sustaining it now.”
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.