MPs to debate petition on teaching Britain's colonial past as part of the curriculum


MPs to debate the petition

A petition to teach Britain's colonial history as part of the UK's compulsory curriculum will be debated by MPs today. E-petition 324092 far exceeded the 100,000 threshold needed for debate in parliament, accumulating 268,772 signatures in total. There is  appetite for action to be taken on the matter, and this was given renewed impetus by the rallies we saw last year.

More than any point in recent history debate was opened into Britain's colonial history. Much of it focused on how its lack of acknowledgement feeds into the reality of and complacency in tackling many of the inequalities we see today.

Currently, it is not compulsory for primary or secondary school students to be educated on Britain's role in colonisation, or the transatlantic slave trade. We petition the government to make education on topics such as these compulsory, with the ultimate aim of a far more inclusive curriculum. Now, more than ever, we must turn to education and history to guide us. But vital information has been withheld from the people by institutions meant to educate them. By educating on the events of the past, we can forge a better future. Colonial powers must own up to their pasts by raising awareness of the forced labour of Black people, past and present mistreatment of BAME people, and most importantly, how this contributes to the unfair systems of power at the foundation of our modern society.

In response, the government said:

The history curriculum at Key Stage 3 includes the statutory theme “ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain 1745-1901”. Topics within statutory themes are chosen by schools and teachers.

How effective are the current directives?

Current directives in the national curriculum dictate the Key Stage 3 syllabus ensures pupils “know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day,” this is in addition to chronicling ”how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.”

In reality, the flexibility should be positive, but as documented when NewVIC opened their African studies centre, how it’s applied has raised questions. Why, in particular, is so little being done to cover the most consequential period of British history, and one of the most consequential in world history? It's what many are asking.   

The need for a more critical engagement with issues around Empire and slavery is essential in understanding Britain’s troubled and oppressive history, in its absolute unfiltered entirety. The balancing of British histories and world histories is central to this position, and more specifically Britain’s unfiltered impact on those global histories.


While it is true that several campaign groups have raised this question, what shouldn't be forgotten is that they are doing so because this is an issue everyone has a vested interest in. 

Survey findings

In the run-up to the debate, the Petitions Committee solicited feedback on the Curriculum’s success in providing children and young people with a “truly varied education”. It received input from teachers, school staff, and home educators, however, the majority of respondents disagreed with the government’s stance on important topics.

The committee's findings read:

In their response to this petition, the Government states that the curriculum gives teachers the “freedom and flexibility” to teach about Britain's role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade'. However, 69% of survey respondents ‘strongly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ that the curriculum, and the freedom and flexibility it is intended to give teachers, guarantees that children leave primary school with an appropriate understanding of Britain’s diverse history.

The survey also concluded the following:

  • 90% of respondents felt there should be a statutory requirement for all children to be taught explicitly about the history of Britain’s ethnic and cultural minorities, including Britain’s role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade

  • 45% of primary school respondents and 64% of secondary school respondents ‘strongly disagreed’ or ‘disagreed’ with the statement that ‘The National Curriculum ensures that students in my school experience a balanced range of ethnically and culturally diverse role models’.

  • 1 in 4 teachers told us they lacked confidence in their ability to develop their pupils’ understanding of Black history and cultural diversity. This lack of confidence was expressed fairly consistently by teachers no matter their ethnic background.

  • The most requested form of additional support was ‘Specialised CPD/in-school training’, selected by 88% of primary and 85% of secondary teachers

The debate will is taking place place in Westminster Hall from 18:15 and it's one to make time for. Britain's colonial past and what it meant for the world should not be obscured. The fact that so many hold a nostalgic view on that which impoverished, subjugated and exploited millions, points toward an unwillingness to learn from the failures of the past.

You can watch it on Parliament TV and YouTube.

Mayowa Ayodele


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