Is Black History Month a tick box exercise?
Black History Month may be over, but does that mean we stop learning about black history? When will black history become British history? Some argue that Black History Month is too often a ‘tick box’ exercise that many organisations support for a moment, and then is just as quickly forgotten.
So what about in education? How do our teachers feel about Black History Month? Over 200 teachers took part in our survey, answering questions about the positives and negatives of Black History Month.
Did your school take part in Black History Month?
With 70% of schools taking part in Black History Month, you might be left wondering why 30% of our sample did not. However, some in fact commented that they did not take part in BHM because their schools incorporate black history throughout the year, and not just in the month of October.
“We don't do black history month. Instead we've implemented a more diverse approach to the curriculum all year round”
“As a community we don’t feel that Black history should be confined to one month, so we try to include it in all our history topics. For this reason we called it Cultural Appreciation Month…”
What did you do for Black History Month?
With no real guidance on what schools are required to do for BHM, schools are often left to think of their own ways to educate children about significant black and brown individuals who have impacted the way we live today.
“We invited a local musician who was born in the Caribbean to give a workshop on calypso music and the children chose to write songs either about discrimination or celebrating black history, culture and achievements. Another speaker was invited from Brent archives to talk to the children about black history and give a drama workshop.”
“We learned about what life was like for black people in the past and talked about themes of fairness, equality and respect. We learned about Rosa Parks and how she was brave. We talked about racism and how it’s still a problem today.”
As positive as these responses were, there was still some concern over Black History Month being a ‘tick box’ exercise.
“We had one morning where we looked at notable figures but they were all American and it felt like a box ticking exercise”
On a scale where 1=disagree and 5= strongly agree, the majority of teachers were either unsure of their thoughts regarding BHM as a tick box exercise, or were leaning towards agreeing with the statement. However, in response to asking teachers whether they believe Black History Month had a valuable impact on their children, almost half of respondents agreed that it was.
How did your children respond to learning about Black History Month?
Responses to this question were mostly positive with many saying that children responded well and were interested in learning about Black History and significant individuals.
“They were full of enthusiasm and enjoyed celebrating people's accomplishments. They were also passionate about discussing injustice and discrimination and could relate things that happened in the past to attitudes today.”
“Children are enthused and interested in finding out about 'real' History. Black History is very relevant to the pupils at our school and it is important their heritage is acknowledged.”
“They really enjoyed it and it really opened their eyes to some of the issues that minority groups face.”
“They were very respectful about black history and were able to articulate the injustice and how there are still problems today that need to be addressed.”
However some responses showed a possible lack of understanding for why teaching Black History is important, with some commenting that their schools did not take part at all.
“We didn't do black history month😔”
“About a fifth of the school contributed”
"Didn't have any relevance as far as they were concerned as most do not know anyone from a different ethnic background. But the majority did agree people shouldn't be treated differently because of the colour of their skin."
“Some were very keen while others were unsure what they should and shouldn’t do.”
Is there enough representation of black history in the National Curriculum?
With the majority of teachers agreeing that there is not enough representation of black history in the National Curriculum, it begs the question… When will Education in this country catch up? Or at least, with Wales leading the way by introducing mandatory black history as part of their curriculum, when will other UK curriculums follow suit?
Most of us would have been educated about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in America, or heard about other significant individuals such as Rosa Parks and Malcom X. But how many of us would have heard of the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963? The truth is, black history is rich with incredible individuals who have impacted not only the black community but also had a significant impact on us all. Breakthroughs in science, technology and more were not just at the hand of the educated white man - but by a diverse group of men and women from different backgrounds, education and race. So when might these significant individuals be recognised in our curriculum?
Around 63% of teachers we asked strongly agreed that black history should be taught all year round, and not just in the month of October.
What would teachers like to see added to the curriculum?
We asked our sample of teachers what they would like to see added to the National Curriculum. Take note Nadhim Zahawi.
- Black female roles in STEM
- A research element where every child has to complete a project about a black historical figure either from the past or present
- Existing topics looked at through a black history perspective - so, for example, a case study of a black soldier in WW2 etc
- Children should be taught about the good and bad of British history, all too often pupils are taught the basics with little to no background on some of the racism and marginalisation that also comes along with huge historical events or periods.
- That black history doesn’t begin with slavery
- Perhaps more specific objectives and guidance about how best to deliver this area of learning
- A more diverse study of black history throughout KS1 and KS2-the curriculum seems focused on white males
- More representation of all races and cultures right across the curriculum. Also address the imbalance in relation to women's and LBGTQ+ history
What can we learn from attitudes towards BHM?
With over 83% of our sample agreeing that there should be more of a focus on black history all year round, rather than one month of the year, it is unclear as to why some UK curriculums are falling behind in regards to creating a diverse and representative curriculum. This is not a new concept; people fighting to be heard include the likes of Lavinya Stennett who in 2019 founded The Black Curriculum, a company whose mission is to address the lack of Black British History in the UK curriculum.
There seems to be a lack of understanding by some as to why teaching black history is so important, something that should be addressed and tackled. More information and training should become available to teaching professionals about the challenges those from different races and backgrounds face. One way schools can begin tackling this is by having a staff member who is responsible for ensuring black history is woven throughout their school curriculum, in the same way teachers coordinate subjects. This will help pave the way for a generation that is aware of bias, privilege and racism. For these are the children that will change the future.
As one teacher put it:
“Black history should just be a ‘normal’ part of the curriculum without needing an added focus. It should be a much more even representative of white and black culture. That said, it’s hard to find resources supporting the teaching of black artists / composers etc”
As a company, we at PlanBee are working hard to decolonise the curriculum, by creating resources that challenge racism, assumptions and cultural bias. We have pledged to:
Question all aspects of the curriculum we create and take action to ensure that people featured in our lessons are well-represented—truthfully, accurately and fairly—regardless of race. This includes their colour, ethnicity and nationality.
To ensure that the lessons we create represent, speak to, and inspire all children, whatever their race.