Report on racial disparities in Britain ‘out of step with public opinion’ – NEU

PA Reporters
·4-min read

The Government-backed review of racial disparities in Britain is “out of step” with public opinion, an education union has said.

It comes as chairman of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Dr Tony Sewell has been been accused of putting a “positive spin on slavery and empire” when explaining the report’s recommendation on teaching history in schools.

The report proposes a Making Of Modern Britain teaching resource to “tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today”.

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In Mr Sewell’s foreword to the report, he said the recommendation was the body’s response to “negative calls for ‘decolonising’ the curriculum”.

He wrote that the resource should look at the influence of the UK during its empire period and how “Britishness influenced the Commonwealth” and how local communities influenced “modern Britain”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the Government is not listening on the need to review the curriculum, and said adding content to the curriculum is not straightforward.

Mr Courtney said: “This report today is out of step with public opinion, with the teaching profession, and with black parents.”

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He said the NEU has recruited many schools to use its anti-racist framework and that it publishes teaching materials which advance race equality.

“We have already got comprehensive data showing the barriers for black children and the need for a more inclusive school curriculum and better progression through the workforce.

“Many schools themselves are already showing the lead on this and decolonising their curriculum, but today’s report misses the point that schools are doing this in the absence of support and despite the Government.

“We are witnessing a huge push forward with schools doing innovative planning around their curriculum because schools want the positive contribution and achievements of Black communities recognised and represented.

“It is urgent that all black students can access a positive, engaging and representative curriculum in their school or college.

“The Government isn’t listening on the need to review the curriculum. Adding content to the curriculum isn’t straightforward and must not be piecemeal but the Westminster Government should be looking at Wales where they are adapting the curriculum.

“Black staff face discrimination and there is an ethnicity gap in education, and so we need to be open and upfront when talking about racism, its roots, and the deeply embedded discrimination that is still prevalent because of racism in Britain today,” he said.

In his foreword, Mr Sewell also said: “There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a remodelled African/Britain.”

Highlighting the passage on Twitter, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova said it was “one of the worst bits” of the report.

She tweeted: “Putting a positive spin on slavery and empire.

“Published on a Government website in 2021. Is this for real?”

Halima Begum, chief executive of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said: “Comments about the slave trade being a Caribbean experience, as though it’s some kind of holiday… this is how deafening it is, cultural deafness, it’s completely out of kilter with where British society is I believe.”

In his foreword, Mr Sewell argued that “neither the banning of white authors or token expressions of black achievement will help to broaden young minds”.

He added: “We have argued against bringing down statues, instead we want all children to reclaim their British heritage.

“We want to create a teaching resource that looks at the influence of the UK, particularly during the empire period.

“We want to see how Britishness influenced the Commonwealth and local communities, and how the Commonwealth and local communities influenced what we now know as modern Britain.

“One great example would be a dictionary or lexicon of well-known British words which are Indian in origin.”