The UK Is Not Innocent: Why Reforming the School History Curriculum Is Imperative


Image: Thomas Allsop (2020)

Following the brutal murder of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, millions of activists have lined the streets of the USA and around the rest of the world in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many in the UK have reflected on the police brutality in the US concluding the ‘racism isn’t as bad in the UK’ or ‘the UK isn’t racist’.

This is not true. The UK is not innocent. The Windrush Scandal and Grenfell represent the most recent examples of institutional racism in the UK. Exposed in 2018, the Windrush Scandal demonstrated the Home Office’s unfair detention and deportation of at least 164 Black British citizens from the Windrush Generation.

The Windrush generation, named after the SS Empire Windrush, the ship that brought one of the first groups of West Indian migrants to the UK in 1948, represents those who were granted citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies under the 1948 Nationality Act. The generation also includes those moving from the West Indies before legislation changes in 1973. Children of the Windrush generation, who have only known the UK as their home, have been told to ‘return home’ to the Caribbean as they cannot prove their citizenship. Although the scandal was exposed and received national attention, the Home Office deported 50 people to Jamaica in February this year.

Institutional racism does not only reside within government policies. Racism is prevalent in our police force: 12% of incidents involving the police using force against people involved Black people despite them making up 3.3% of the population in 2017/18. Black people were also 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people in 2018.

Within education, a year after the Brexit vote: 60% of school staff reported they had witnessed racist bullying. Treatment of Black pupils in schools is unfair, teachers are provided minimal resources with dealing with racism and many white teachers may display racist micro-aggressions to BIPOC students in the classroom. Moreover, Black students are unfairly punished for their hairstyles and wearing bandanas under some uniform ‘rules’, while Caribbean children are 3.5X more likely to be excluded than all other children.

A primary reason why people believe the UK ‘isn’t racist’ is partly down to how history is taught in our schools. Currently, pupils can go through their entire compulsory education without learning about the atrocities committed by the British Empire.

Whilst there is Black History Month held every October in the UK, this represents the tokenism given to BIPOC experiences - one month is simply inadequate. British schools usually teach about the US Civil Rights Movement, with focus on inspirational figures such as Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr., however curriculums rarely