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Wed 12 August 2020
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The Government’s inaugural Windrush summit led to a dispute over an absence of Caribbean history on the curriculum, reports Sam Bright

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The cross-Government Windrush summit last month ended with the Department for Education rebuffing calls for more Caribbean history on the National Curriculum, minutes from the meeting show.

A newly-released reading of the inaugural Windrush Cross-Government Working Group, chaired by Home Secretary Priti Patel and featuring several members of Windrush community groups and representatives from across Government, reveals a confrontation over a lack of Caribbean history taught in schools.

Members “raised the critical role that education has to play as a way to facilitate better understanding about the experiences and legacy of the Windrush generation, and thereby help to bridge the gap between communities,” according to the document.

However, Department for Education Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater – the highest-ranking official in the department – was seemingly unmoved by this plea.

The minutes note that “the Department for Education reiterated support for the Group, while noting that there are many factors involved relating to changes in the National Curriculum”.

Representatives of the West India Committee – an organisation with world-leading collections of books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and artefacts – and the Black Cultural Archives both offered to share educational and archival resources to support an updating of the National Curriculum to better represent British-Caribbean history. It doesn’t appear as though Slater took up this offer.

In response, the Windrush community groups were forced to remind the Government that education – sharing the stories of the Windrush Generation and their forebears – formed a core part of the Lessons Learned Review, an independent report commissioned by the Home Secretary to investigate the causes of the Windrush Scandal.

WHAT WAS THE WINDRUSH SCANDAL?

The Windrush scandal, that emerged in 2018, related to the wrongful detention and deportation of dozens of people from the UK, mainly to the Caribbean. These individuals had come to Britain before 1973 and didn’t need a passport or any documents to settle.

Without any proof of their right to reside in the UK, the Windrush Generation became victims of the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy – an expressed campaign from the Home Office to make life as difficult as possible for supposed ‘illegal’ immigrants.


HISTORY BY ORDER OF MICHAEL GOVE

Black history and literature has been stifled in the education system over recent years, thanks largely to the reforms of former Education Secretary Michael Gove.

OCR, one of the biggest UK exam boards, removed Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men from its English GCSE syllabus in 2014, after new guidelines were published by Gove’s department, stipulating that students must read “at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th Century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles”.

Exam boards, as well as schools, were and are free to add extra books – but Gove’s rules left them with little scope to add 20th Century texts from non-British authors.

It has also been revealed that the Department for Education, under Gove’s lead, re-wrote proposed changes to the History curriculum – removing references to the Windrush Generation.

In February 2013, when Liz Truss headed up the department, it consulted on draft changes to the curriculum which said that children should be taught about “the Windrush Generation, wider new Commonwealth immigration, and the arrival of East African Asians; society and social reform, including the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of abortion and homosexuality, and the Race Relations Act”.

However, later that year, when Gove replaced Truss, this paragraph was removed and replaced with a vague reference to “social, cultural and technological change in post-war British society” and the suggestion that schools could study “an aspect of social history, such as the impact through time of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles”.

It has been claimed that Gove’s reforms essentially mean that the teaching of black history is optional in England. As a result, the Guardian reports that less than 11% of GCSE students are studying modules relating to black people’s contribution to Britain, while less than 10% are studying any aspect of the British Empire.

On 21 July, Priti Patel announced that Home Office staff would receive mandatory training “to ensure everyone working across the department understands and appreciates the history of migration and race across the country”.

It’s a shame this education won’t be extended to the rest of the population.


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