To mark Black History Month 2020, the team at VotesforSchools decided to tackle a longstanding debate whose significance was only heightened by the death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. We asked our voters, from KS2 all the way to Colleges:
“Does the curriculum represent you?”
The result was pretty decisive, with 54.2% of KS2 pupils, 73.1% of Secondary students, and 58.4% of 16+/College students voting No. Take a closer look at the difference in demographics for Primary & Secondary below:
What did they say?
With over 30,000 children & young people voting on this topic throughout October, there were a wide range of comments from voters about their decision. For those who voted No, some highlighted the brevity and inconsistency of representation - “I think that although we do some lessons based on my culture/religion it is usually only for a few weeks. I would love it if we focused more on my culture/religion for longer” - while others expressed how there was virtually no representation at all for any oppressed group and the issues this causes: “From the lack of LGBTQ+ history to the complete absence of modern racism and oppression, our curriculum does not educate us on the continuation of oppression after the 1950s. It is as if they want us to think it ended years ago, when in reality it is still as relevant today.”
The comments for Yes were similarly empathetic and thoughtful, with the majority of voters acknowledging that what may be true for them is not the case for others. One said, “I think it represents me quite well but I don’t think it represents some of my classmates very well,” while another claimed: “I am a very average straight white person, so it represents me, but I recognise people who don’t fit those boxes may not learn about people similar to themselves.”
However, the debate and feelings of our voters can probably best be summed up by this comment: “Even if the majority says yes, they are represented, you should still pay attention to those who say that they are not being represented by the curriculum.”
How were their voices heard?
So, given the direct insight into classrooms provided by this debate, we reached out to a range of organisations to see what they thought of the results. All of the feedback we received only served to highlight how attuned our voters are to what lies at the heart of this issue and what the solution is. Here’s what some of the experts had to say…
We were thrilled to receive a response from The Black Curriculum, whose very purpose is to advocate for a curriculum that promotes and celebrates Black history, thereby representing young people across the UK. Head of Delivery & Development, Natalie Russell, spoke of the need to make a sustained effort all year round, not just during October:
- "It is clear to see that many young people around the UK want better representation and diversity in the curriculum. In order to ensure that young people feel a sense of belonging and identity in their schools and communities, young people must be provided with a learning experience which acknowledges the contributions and celebrates the successes of those similar to themselves. Likewise, it is crucial that ALL students are exposed to a curriculum which embodies the diverse British population in order to grow understanding, respect and social cohesion. Many young people who I have spoken to comment on the tokenistic or 'one-off' teaching of diverse narratives. When there IS an attempt to celebrate diversity, this is often confined to set times in the year such as Black History Month and Diversity weeks. Representation once a year is not enough, we must move towards creating a learning environment where young people are represented and empowered by their curriculum all year round."
Similarly, CEO of Race Equality First, Aliya Mohammed, described the importance of diversifying our curriculum in order to accurately reflect - and respect - the society in which we live:
- "I am pleased to see that over half of you agree with us at Race Equality First that the curriculum is not representative of our society. Schools have a key role to play in promoting race equality and valuing diversity and the curriculum plays a key part in this. If the curriculum does not reflect our diverse communities then students will not gain an understanding and appreciation of the different cultures, religions and races that form our society today."
Rachel Elgy, Business Development Manager for EqualiTeach, expressed her desire for all schools to follow suit when it comes to asking young people for their insight:
- "We agree that schools are making progress in developing more diverse and inclusive curriculums, but that there is a lot of work still to do. These responses show a clear need for curriculums and school environments that are reflective of our society, that are inclusive of different identities and that explore rich and diverse histories all year round. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to hear from young people directly, and we encourage schools to do the same, asking their own students and communities for input, which will help to build meaningful long-term change."
And Andreea Chelaru, Project Manager of Birmingham-based programme Don’t Settle, also highlighted how a more representative curriculum would influence other areas of education for young people beyond the classroom:
- "The results show that there is a need for a change in the curriculum, as most of you voted that you do not feel represented in the curriculum. Education is one of the most important factors that shapes our values and the way we interact with the world. That is why the curriculum needs to reflect the diverse histories of all communities living in the UK. How fantastic is it to learn about other cultures and understand the stories of your friends and classmates better? It's hard to imagine a world where we only hear one story, but the curriculum seems to ignore that. Our project, Don't Settle, works with young People of Colour to tell the diverse story of their own communities and to bring more representation into museums. As with the curriculum, young people do not feel represented in museums. We want and need to change this so that future school pupils CAN feel represented. We know that schools are making steps towards the change, but they need to do it better and faster. Always raise your voices and make yourselves heard, you are part of the change! Stop settling for the margin. Stop settling. Don't Settle."
We are incredibly grateful to all these organisations for sharing their thoughts on this prescient topic. However, we are most grateful to our voters, who have shown time and time again that their voices really can (and will) shape the future of our society. Going forward, we sincerely hope that their votes can be turned into tangible action, and that they will see the change for which they advocated so passionately in their own school environments. As the biggest stakeholders in their education, it’s the least they deserve.
This topic in 2020 was just one of many conversations that VotesforSchools has facilitated in schools regarding Black Hsitory Month. In 2021 we asked 38,595 young people if we celebrate our differences enough and in 2022 we asked 47,420 young people if actions were more impactful than words. You can find out the results of these topics, and how we are using them to make a positive change here.
Alternatively, all of our most recent topics on equality and identity can be found on our results page: