Since its inception last year, The Black Curriculum’s mission has been to empower young people across the UK by teaching black British history to children aged 8 – 16 – a response to the ever-growing concern for the lack of diverse teaching in Britain’s education system.
A social enterprise founded by CEO Lavinya Stennett, the programme now boasts a diverse team of 20 passionate educators from backgrounds including teaching, research and law who have worked in a number of schools providing black British history teaching. The programme has also set up Saturday classes, merging history and creativity, and teaching anything from coding to curation.
In December, The Black Curriculum met with the Department of Education to discuss achieving their goal of changing the national curriculum. Since then, they’ve set up #TBH365, a campaign with a mission to meet with Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson. His deadline to respond to the campaign is on 22nd June – Windrush Day, the day the UK honours the British Caribbean community.
“Black British history helps to bring a sense of identity and connection to young people,” London-born Stennett explains. “At the moment, the British curriculum excludes that – if you’re not aware of British history it limits your sense of the world around you, and the opportunities available.”
Since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May, vital conversations surrounding systemic racism in the UK have also resurfaced, with the British education system’s lack of diversity playing a huge role in enabling it. Whether that’s learning about Winston Churchill’s defeat against Nazi Germany, but not the 1943 Bengali famine, or learning of only a small sub-section of the devastating effects of the Atlantic slave trade from the 16th-19th centuries.
But what effect is this having on children? For Stennett, the lack of BAME visibility in British schools could be devastating and contributes to the 94,098 hate crime offences recorded in 2017/2018 in the UK, 76% of which were racially-aggravated. Ignorance, it seems, is a prime catalyst for ongoing racism.
“In some cases we see that students are prejudiced towards another,” Stennett says. “The origins of that is ignorance. We are trying to promote understanding and connecting with people so that you have more empathy and can show compassion.”
Through the regular conversations she has had with students and teachers during The Black Curriculum’s many school visits, Stennett understands that the lack of knowledge about black History has led to overall student dissatisfaction (particularly for BAME students), dissociation with one’s identity and heritage, and a lack of understanding about the frameworks of society and politics.
The aim of the organisation does not end at diversifying history lessons: Stennett argues that black history encompasses education as a whole, whether that’s integrating black authors in English Literature, studying black artists and photographers in Art and Design, or learning more about African countries in Geography.
“It’s really important that we’re able to capture these narratives and engage [students] in different ways,” she explains. “We don’t propose a model where a person stands at the front of the class and reads from a script. Rather, we get young people to engage in self-expression.”
Partnerships with the ICA and Microsoft have allowed The Black Curriculum to set up workshops with young people, integrating learning in a fun environment. Stennett notes that “at least 44%” of those students said they felt more proud of their identity, and gained a better understanding of British history.
Currently, the organisation is focused on its campaign to have Gavin Williamson respond to a call for action to discuss diversity in British education. As the Secretary of State for Education in the UK, it will be an undeniable milestone for The Black Curriculum to speak on these issues with the man who holds the power to the school system.
Speaking on the events of the past two weeks, Stennett recognises that this could be a particular turning point for the UK – that finally, the country is willing to talk about systemic racism and changes to the education system she is passionately campaigning for.
“I’m so optimistic,” she says, brightening up. “The surge of support that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks, and from the conversations that are happening, I feel like there is a lot of room for change.”