Decolonising our education system: The primary school reforming it’s curriculum

By Ayoola Adeniji

Torriano primary school in Camden have made moves to reform their curriculum and school environment with a focus on ‘anti-racism’, and a greater emphasis on Black British History.

These changes have involved lessons that focus on more than just not being racist, but being anti-racist, proactively standing up against racism when students come across it as well as a more in depth look at prominent figures in Black British history.

The school felt that much of the teaching about Black history in the UK had been focused on US figures like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, rather than figures in British history who students could relate to better.

One example of this change had been a joint decision amongst a number of schools in Camden to have a Black History season of three months instead of the regular Black history month of October.

Over the season, students at Torriano were taught about a range of important figures in Black British History, but also about present day figures like Black Panther Actor Daniel Kaluuya who also attended Torriano as a child.

Gilt of Cain, commemorating the abolition of slavery in the UK

Helen Bruckdorfer, Headteacher at Torriano primary school said: “We’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about our curriculum, through the BLM movement we were very conscious that when we returned, this was something that we would have to approach.”

She added that “we started an anti-racism working group not only with the staff, but with parents and carers as well, it has given us a different lens on the way to approach sustained anti-racism education.”

Torriano Primary school is one of 22 schools in the borough of Camden that have partnered with The Black Curriculum, TBC via the borough’s new anti-racism hub, with the goal of more accurately teaching the historic contributions of Black Britons to British society.

The partnership also aims to focus on ensuring that students and teachers have an increased understanding of the issues of racism, discrimination and how to challenge these within a school environment.

The Black Curriculum was founded in 2019 by Lavinya Stenette, with the long term goal of embedding Black British history into the national curriculum as well as ensuring teachers were confident in educating their students on such topics.

The Bronze woman’ a statue signifying the contribution Afro Caribbean woman have made to the UK

Torriano’s partnership with TBC has consisted of teacher training sessions centred around a range of topics from unconscious biases to how to respond to incidents of racism amongst students. The Black Curriculum also provides resources to schools such as books and PowerPoints to aid in the teaching of Black British history.

The need for a greater focus on Black British history is important for the staff at Torriano, Rosemary O’Brien, learning pathways lead at Torriano, said: “We’ve spent a lot of time ensuring that the people we teach the children about are representative of themselves and are representative of the Britain we live in now.”

Natalie Russell, head of delivery and development at TBC has been leading the teacher training sessions at Torriano primary school, alongside fellow educator Kwame.

For Natalie and The Black Curriculum their work has an even wider goal of empowering young people, she said: “Reform of the national curriculum will have the benefit of improving a sense of identity and belonging for all young people as well as improving social cohesion amongst them.”

Statue of Nelson Mandela in parliament square, Apartheid laws in South Africa were first introduced by the British

2020 saw a sharp increase in the support behind organisations like The Black Curriculum. The death of George Floyd and the subsequent global BLM movement led to many schools seeking ways in which to do more to support their black students.

YouGov Poll

Some of the polling data around the topic makes an interesting case for reform. A YouGov poll from November 2019, which surveyed 2703 adults in the UK, found that 69% felt that historical injustice, colonialism and the role of the British Empire should be taught as part of the national curriculum with 13% saying It should not and 18% saying I don’t know.

“It’s about their educational experience, to make children the best version of themselves we need to tell the whole story.”

Albert Adeyemi is the co-founder of the BameWeteach network, a network of ethnic minority teachers who have come together to support each other.

The goal of the network is for ethnic minority teachers across the UK to come together to discuss and plan how they can make their work spaces more inclusive, as well as organising their curriculum in a way that represents the diverse range of students they teach.

Albert said: “We are making sure that children are represented by their curriculum, often when you speak to ethnic minority students they say they don’t see themselves in the Curriculum.

Literature on Black history, anti-racism and modern day prominent Black figures

Conversations like that need to change .”

He says the current focus of black history in the UK that centres around slavery and American figures like Rosa parks is reductive and we must expand this to be more specific to the UK. In his own school Albert is leading that change actively engaging with senior management to introduce more topics specific to Black British History to the curriculum.

Petitions in support for reform have amassed over 400,000 signatures, they have led to an evidence session occurring in the House of Commons petition committee and a number of official government responses.

One of many government petitions to reform the national curriculum

However the government’s position on the matter appears to not have shifted much, if at all.

Speaking at the launch of Ofsted’s annual report, Chief Inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman said: “I think my message would be don’t revise the curriculum in the context of a single issue or purpose.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of The Black Curriculum you can find more of their work on Twitter, @curriculumblack and on Instagram, on theblackcurriuclum.