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Should the history curriculum include a greater focus on migration? An MP wants your input to inform

Discussion in 'History' started by HouseOfCommons, Jun 14, 2019.

  1. HouseOfCommons

    HouseOfCommons New commenter

    Hi everyone, we’re the Digital Engagement Team at the House of Commons. We work to engage online communities with the work of the House, and to connect them to MPs.

    On Tuesday 18 June, Helen Hayes MP will lead a debate in Westminster Hall on teaching migration in the history curriculum. She wants to hear from teachers about their experiences and insights on the topic.

    She gave us a little more context for the debate:

    “Around 27% of state funded primary and secondary school pupils in England are from BAME communities. However, the history curriculum remains largely focused upon the history of the UK as an island nation. This treats other nations and communities as distinct and does not place emphasis on the internal racial and ethnic diversity of the UK. The Royal Historical Society finds that this has led to a low-up take of History for both school and university study by BAME students.”

    “The Runnymede Trust’s research finds that many teachers want to engage with these issues but feel they can’t due to a lack of training and confidence […] and the narrow space within the curriculum. This research also found that many teachers felt migration was not relevant to the demographic of their classes, despite our migration history impacting upon every aspect of modern British life.”
    • What’s been your experience of teaching these topics? How has it affected your students’ perceptions of history as a discipline?
    • Do you feel that have the space and confidence to teach them?
    • Do you feel it would be relevant and worthwhile to give them a greater emphasis in the history curriculum?
    From your responses, we will create a brief for the MP which summarises the main points and includes quotes to illustrate them. Let us know your thoughts before midday on Monday 17 June for your chance to feed into the debate.

    We will post links to watch the debate and read the transcript when they become available.

    NOTE: Your username and any information or opinions you provide may be shared with Helen Hayes MP and used in a parliamentary debate which will be on the record and available on Parliament TV and Hansard. Please ensure that you are happy with your comment before sharing.

    Please see our online discussion rules.

    SEBREGIS Lead commenter

    There are positives and negatives here.

    Some parts of our national story often accidentally exclude people from other countries who have an important part to play. For example, I have been able to teach Polish students about the important role that Poles in the RAF played during the Battle of Britain, and I have been able to teach students of Indian descent about the role of the Indian army in WW1. Not only that, I could share this as part of my own family history because my father and grandfather were both officers in the 8th Punjab Regiment. Blending the National stories like this works well. And yes, I feel I have the confidence and the ability to teach them. I even have some of the regimental silver, but that’s another story...

    On the other hand, students from BME backgrounds are often very uncomfortable in lessons specifically about race, immigration or discrimination. They feel singled out and it actually highlights difference between them and other students in the class. So lessons on the Windrush may not work as well as lessons on the many different groups who have come to this country.

    There is also an issue that students from white working class backgrounds sometimes have a very negative response to what they see as tokenistic lessons where we are learning about other cultures. These can be seen as ideological, not historical. I have been asked why we teach about the suffragettes when only a fraction of men had the right to vote before 1919 ( that was a very clever student but pretty accurate - schools usually teach about the WSPU but rarely the Chartists). This is something we need to think about because that demographic often take history, but frequently do very badly.

    More training and resources on these issues would always be welcome - because of the current crisis in educational funding, any resources are always cheerfully received But it would be better to engage people like SHP in this debate than set up a new initiative. It’s not so much about adding to the curriculum as naturally including it with what is already there.

    Hope this helps. I would be quite happy to visit parliament and discuss this as part of a working panel. I hear you have some very nice restaurants up there...
  3. varcolac

    varcolac Occasional commenter

    One of the current GCSE options is a long-term study of migration. At my past two schools we've taught this option, and it's been one of the more interesting ones. Students enjoy it, as they often do with the long-term studies. The exam board rubrics for migration can be a little generic though, as any study which covers migrants from Lindisfarne to Windrush will tend to do. Their perception of history as a discipline for this is useful - it gives a different idea of what history is compared to your classic "Germany 1918-1945" paper where the focus is on one country in one period. In my experience students like drawing connections across time periods and groups. Brick Lane as a case study, going through different waves of migration from Huguenot to Jewish to Bangladeshi, is a favourite there.

    Using classroom demographics as a reason for curriculum choices is, in my opinion, the wrong way to go. I wouldn't not teach the women's suffrage movement if I didn't have any girls in my class. The main problem with many schools is a lack of curriculum time when the subject is compulsory. There is simply so much history that could be taught and with limited lesson time and in some cases a two-year KS3 there's not really time to go into it all in as much depth as I'd like.

    I mean, I'd love to be able to teach Year 8 the social, political and economic history of Britain and its empire, c.1750-1900, with migration as a major factor in the economic and social side of things. However if we've got one lesson a week, we'll have to just teach the industrial revolution and if we're lucky we'll have time to mention Irish, Italian and Jewish migrants in the 19th century in passing. Likewise, the story of post-WW2 migration to Britain can get squeezed out as we have barely enough time to fit women's suffrage, Stalin's Russia, both world wars, the Holocaust and the Cold War in to Year 9. I absolutely have the confidence to teach these topics, but we rarely have the space to do so at Key Stage 3.

    It's also slightly unhelpful to talk of "the history curriculum." The only statutory topic on the current National Curriculum is the Holocaust - the other examples are non-statutory. There are therefore many different history curricula. My school has one, @SEBREGIS 's school has one. Different trusts, schools and textbook publishers have their own. Perhaps auditing these different curricula to find examples of best practice might be a worthwhile endeavour. There's a lot of good work being done, but there is also tokenism for tokenism's sake.
    1 person likes this.

    SEBREGIS Lead commenter

    Slight digression, but I worry about the way that the Holocaust is getting squeezed out because of the three year GCSE. It used to be taught as part of WW2 in year 9 (at least in every school where I’ve worked) but now with only two years of KS3 we don’t tend to get that far. Which would be fine if RS and English were geared to teach it - but one just says it was awful and lights a candle to remember the victims, the other shows them the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

    And if we can’t find time to teach the Holocaust, when are we going to find time for migration?
    FrankWolley likes this.
  5. FrankWolley

    FrankWolley Star commenter

    The biggest problem with the subject curriculum I found in my career (over 30 years teaching History in comprehensive, grammar & independent schools) was the idea that somehow we could cover the whole of world history (or at least an ever increasing range of topics governments wanted us to teach) in an ever decreasing amount of contact time, esp. in KS3.

    The HoD/Dept had to make choices: for example re: the Chartists & Suffragettes - the former actually failed, at least in the short/medium term...but the latter succeeded within the lifetime of most of its supporters. So it is logical to cover them in more detail than the Chartists...But give History departments more contact time and one could do both justice!
    1 person likes this.
  6. varcolac

    varcolac Occasional commenter

    Yeah my previous school sprung a change to a 3-year GCSE on us midway through the year. I pointed out that if we did this we'd not planned our Year 8 curriculum to cover the Holocaust as we did it in Year 9, so we'd be failing in our statutory responsibility. The head shrugged and said "oh well, do an assembly. We're not due Ofsted until after you've sorted the plans for next year."

    And that was with one lesson a week. Give us more contact time and I'll give you the world. Reduce me to one lesson a week because they "need more English lessons" and I'll give you what I can but it'll never be enough.
  7. 10000YearsBC

    10000YearsBC Occasional commenter

    Most of our species' history was spent as nomadic hunter-gatherers, in fact 99.5% if you take a global view and go back to the first use of stone tools in Africa around 3.5 million years ago. During the Palaeolithic early modern humans would have followed herds of migrating animals from what is now Europe into what is now the UK by virtue of our solid physical link to the continent, until its inundation some time during the Mesolithic, creating what we now call The English Channel.

    It's a generally held (though not exclusively held) view that humankind's origins were in Africa, and everything that followed was a result of homo sapiens sapiens migrating from the African continent around the globe. Go back some 35,000 years and you also have different versions of human co-existing, in some cases for thousands of years. We're all Africans if you take a long enough view of the past.

    Even before you get into Romans and Saxons and Angles and Danes and Jutes and Normans and all the rest, you have the Beaker People migrating across Europe and into Britain at the start of the European Bronze Age.

    At KS2, typically in Y3 & Y4, children of 7 and 8 are already learning about the changes that occured between the Stone Age and the Iron Age. If you take the time to make the Palaeolithic your starting point you can establish very early on in a child's education that migration was humankind's norm, the default setting so to speak, what we evolved to do. We only became more sedentary and territorial with the widespread adoption of agriculture from the Neolithic onwards, and even then there is evidence of flourishing maritime trade. National boundaries would come later.

    Migration wasn't invented by the Romans or any other group that has influenced our nation's culture, language and development by simply arriving on our shores and settling. Migration is what we as a species evolved around - it is literally in our DNA. It's what humans do, and without it none of us would be here debating this topic in this language.

    Take the long view, don't limit your outlook to specific ethnic groups or events from living memory - present migration as first and foremost a human trait, and use the existing KS2 History curriculum to study where, how, and why it all began.
    jsimpson30 likes this.
  8. FrankWolley

    FrankWolley Star commenter

    Whilst I don't disagree with the implications of your analysis. the pedant in me demands that I point out that what you refer to in the first paragraph refers to what is correctly termed 'pre-history' as 'History' doesn't start until homo sapiens started to leave written records.
  9. 10000YearsBC

    10000YearsBC Occasional commenter

    Writting iz hoojely overaytid inn mi oppinyun. :)

    Paintings of animals, symbols, astronomical observations, carvings, it's all basically communication. There are 32 abstract symbols that have been found at multiple Palaeolithic sites in southern Europe, including the good old #hashtag. They were communicating and recording information by writing (or at least drawing) back then, it's just that most of it got washed away by melting glacial ice or by water percolating into cave systems. Anything else was too ephemeral to survive for thousands of years.

    But yes, to all intents and purposes, British history began with the Romans in the literal and literary sense.
    jsimpson30 likes this.
  10. HouseOfCommons

    HouseOfCommons New commenter

    Thank you all for your responses to this thread. They were passed on to Helen Hayes MP in a brief before her debate. She wanted to tell you a bit more about the debate, and thank you personally:

    Video message from Helen Hayes.

    In the debate, she read out submissions like yours which had been made from across several social media platforms and forums. Several other MPs from across the House attended and made contributions to the debate.

    Nick Gibb MP, the Minister for School Standards responded to the points raised, setting out the Government's position.

    You can read the full transcript on Hansard.

    You can watch the full debate on parliamentlive.tv.

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