Some 87% of UK secondary schools report making substantial changes to history teaching to address issues of diversity, according research by the universities of Oxford and Reading, based on an Historical Association survey of history teachers.
According to the report, ‘The most important reasons cited for making changes to the [key stage 3] curriculum were a sense of social justice, to better represent the nature of history and the stimulus of recent events.’
Alongside clear evidence about the extent to which schools are teaching about well-established curriculum topics, such as the history of British Empire or of the transatlantic slave trade, the survey found that teachers are paying more careful attention to the range of experiences that they include.
Learning about ‘forms of resistance or rebellion by enslaved peoples’ is given equal prominence to lessons about the development of the slave trade or the campaigns in England for its abolition
Learning about ‘forms of resistance or rebellion by enslaved peoples’ is given equal prominence to lessons about the development of the slave trade or the campaigns in England for its abolition. At least 90% of all state-maintained schools reported teaching about all such dimensions. But the issue of its legacy remains largely unexplored (addressed by only 13% of schools).
One of the ‘most encouraging findings’, according to Dr Katharine Burn, one of the report’s authors from Oxford' Department of Education, ‘Is the evidence that schools are now paying attention to the history of migration to and from Britain and to the diverse experiences of those who settled here.’
The survey found 72% reported teaching about the history of migration while 80% reported some kind of study of Black and Asian British history. The most common focus was on the post-war period, including the experiences of the ‘Windrush generation’ but a great many schools also now explore the experience and role of black Tudors.
[But] there are concerns that the current GCSE syllabuses restrict the ability of teachers to introduce diversity into lessons
Despite the exciting evidence of innovation within key stage 3, there are concerns that the current GCSE syllabuses restrict the ability of teachers to introduce diversity into lessons. Respondents overwhelmingly disagreed with the claim that their exam board made it possible to include study of the history of people with disabilities: (88% disagreed), the history of those identified as LGBTQ+ (87% disagreed) or the history of Black and Asian British people (71% disagreed).
According to Dr Burn, ‘If we want to achieve more genuinely inclusive approaches to history teaching, then reform of GCSEs is the most urgent priority’.
If we want to achieve more genuinely inclusive approaches to history teaching, then reform of GCSEs is the most urgent priority
Dr Katharine Burn
Altogether, there were 316 responses to the Historical Association survey, with staff coming from every school context. More than 95% of respondents described themselves as white.