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Sarah Wordlaw believes it’s time to reshape the curriculum

The death of George Floyd has sparked a resurgence in the ferocity of the Black Lives Matter movement, lifting the veil of institutionalised racism in our society.

In education, it has highlighted what many of us have been thinking for years, which is about reshaping the way history is taught in schools. As a woman of mixed heritage, personally, I have found the celebration of Black History Month uncomfortable.

In primary school I was one of very few children in the school from the BAME community and I found it embarrassing to highlight how different I looked and have people ask about my hair and heritage one month a year.

Fast forward 20 (and a bit!) years, as a practitioner who has always taught in South London schools with majority black cohorts, I have always found it patronising to celebrate black culture one month a year.

Black history, is history. It should be celebrated and more importantly taught all year round, rather than tokenistically. For me, Black History Month is the absence of consistently making the effort to intentionally include people in underrepresented groups.

But all is not lost! I believe that now is an exciting time to be reshaping the curriculum and how schools are run, in order to ensure that the next generation experiences less racism than the current. In order to enact this desperately needed revolution, practitioners need to become moreracially literate.

What is racial literacy?

Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury researched and Runnymede published a report on racism in secondary schools. Dr Remi says, “Racial literacy and a commitment to anti-racism should be considered a key competency for entering the teaching profession.” This means that teachers should fully understand the institutional, structural and interpersonal elements of racism.

This is whether you work in a predominantly white or BAME school. Dr Remi adds, “As part of this, white teachers should engage with concepts of white privilege, white power, white complicity and white supremacy, in order to reflect on their own racialised positions.”

Schools must make sure that all teachers are teaching from an anti-racist perspective.

Racial literacy enables teachers to reflect on any racist perspectives they may consciously or unconsciously have, which helps in ensuring these views are not reproduced through teaching. Teacher’s low expectations impact student achievement and experience in general. Conscious or unconscious racialised expectations can affect the way we manage behaviour or set work.

Leaders must be active in cultivating a more racially literate teaching force to challenge such perspectives, as a whole school approach.

Classrooms must be actively anti-racist.

Our school libraries and book corners must be filled with a variety of books, from a variety of authors. The Little Leaders series of books by Vashti Harrison is excellent, celebrating amazing black leaders throughout history. Books both written by about people of colour are necessary, not just for black children but for all children.

There is much work to be done. The curriculum needs an overhaul, in terms of the broad range of perspectives and experiences that are taught. We need to ensure that when mapping out the curriculum, we are including the rich Black British history across the academic year and progression of knowledge throughout the key stages.

We must celebrate diversity of thought, perspective and culture as a matter of everyday practice. We must ourselves learn about Black British history, to become more racially literate.

Recommended reads:

The Black Curriculum: An education social enterprise, delivering Black British history in schools.

Black and British: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga.

Doing Justice to History: Transforming Black history in secondary schools, by Abdul Mohamud.

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