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British colonial history should be taught ‘warts and all’, say Suffolk education leaders

PUBLISHED: 12:30 18 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:30 18 June 2020

Hundreds joined the Black Lives Matter protest at Christchurch Park in Ipswich, which was among many across the country. Picture: IAN BURT

Hundreds joined the Black Lives Matter protest at Christchurch Park in Ipswich, which was among many across the country. Picture: IAN BURT

Ian Burt Photography

Britain’s history should be taught “warts and all”, education leaders in Suffolk have said - amid fresh debate on whether the nation’s colonial past gets enough attention in schools.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt spoke about the orthopaedic centre move in parliament. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONSIpswich MP Tom Hunt spoke about the orthopaedic centre move in parliament. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

The death of 46-year-old George Floyd in the USA last month in the hands of police officers has prompted a global series of protests about racism, including demonstrations in Suffolk.

Coupled with the pulling down of the statue of slave trader George Colston in Bristol as part of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations there, fresh debate has arisen about Britain’s colonial past and whether racial atrocities during its history – which included plundering resources in Africa and shipping slaves – should be on the school curriculum.

MORE: Black Lives Matter holds demonstration in Ipswich

Now, Suffolk education leaders have said that all aspects, both good and bad, should be taught.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who sits on the education select committee, said: “I think our country’s history should be thoroughly taught as part of the curriculum, warts and all.

Graham White from the Suffolk NEU said the history curriculum needed to address matters of race, mental health, religion and sexual oreientation. Picture: ANDY ABBOTTGraham White from the Suffolk NEU said the history curriculum needed to address matters of race, mental health, religion and sexual oreientation. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

“If we are looking at the British Empire I think we need to look at every aspect of it, and the impact on people across the world – that is the purpose of history really.

“We have a very complex history, and as a country there are some things we should be very proud of and some things in the past we shouldn’t be proud of.

“But at the end of the day we cannot change it and it is a part of our story.

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“We should be honest about that and that honesty involves looking at everything good or bad.

“Our history curriculum should be broad and unvarnished.”

Currently, there is no compulsory element of the history curriculum at either primary or secondary school for Britain’s colonial history to be taught.

A report in December by the Runnymede Trust and University of Liverpool’s TIDE project found there were significant gaps in teaching of migration and empire in schools.

A petition calling for Britain’s colonial history to be mandatory has gained more than 234,000 signatures.

Graham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union, said: “It is important that all pupils are aware of the past, be it good, bad or indifferent.

“History should be taught to all pupils and that history must include the colonial past in all its inglorious detail.

“The NEU has long campaigned on anti-racism and has produced materials for use in schools on anti-racism but also materials for black history, LGBT, domestic violence, mental health and other issues. Equality first is vital.

“It would be helpful if this government took a positive initiative and set up a curriculum review, utilising educationalists and anti-racist organisations, to develop a history curriculum which was more representative of what actually happened without glorifying successes and glossing over the unsavoury bits.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has already committed to an investigation into racial inequality in all walks of life, including healthcare, education and academia and employment, although firm details on that review are yet to be published.


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