More than 300 people in Chesterfield have signed petition to make Britain's colonial past part of the curriculum
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A campaign group of sixth form students say the Government is denying their generation the tools to ‘dismantle systemic racism’ by not mandating teaching about the empire in schools.
The petition on Parliament’s website, created by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson, has amassed 234,000 signatures in its first week, meaning it will be considered for a debate in Westminster.
It wants to create a ‘far more inclusive curriculum’ by making education compulsory on topics such as Britain’s role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade.
It reads: “By educating on the events of the past, we can forge a better future.
“Colonial powers must own up to their pasts by raising awareness of the forced labour of black people, past and present mistreatment of BAME people, and most importantly, how this contributes to the unfair systems of power at the foundation of our modern society.”
The death of American George Floyd while in police custody reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests throughout the UK, and sparked public debate on the nation’s history as a colonial empire.
Fill In The Blanks, a group of sixth form students from south London who support the petition, had been campaigning for a more ‘honest’ curriculum before the latest global protests began.
The group, formed in August 2019, says it is ‘fundamentally inadequate’ that students can leave the education system without learning about the British Empire.
In a statement, the group said: “There has never been a more important time for us to reckon with our past.
“From the Windrush scandal, to Covid-19, it is now much harder to refute the existence of institutionalised racism when confronted so blatantly with its impacts.
“We cannot understand modern Britain without critically acknowledging our colonial legacy and how it still affects us today. In refusing to mandate the teaching of empire, the government is denying yet another generation the tools to dismantle systemic racism.”
A cross-party group of more than 30 MPs have already written to education secretary Gavin Williamson calling for a more diverse range of historical perspectives in the curriculum.
Modules such as migration and empire can be taught at key stage three and four, but race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust said it was a lottery if they are taught as the decision rests with schools.
Kimberly McIntosh, senior policy officer at the trust, added: “The inspirational youth-led campaigns show that young people are hungry to understand our national story in full.
“All children and young people need to feel a sense of belonging, and understand their identities.
“Having these topics as part of the curriculum would go some way to providing that.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Racism in all its forms is abhorrent and has no place in our society.
“Schools already play a significant role in teaching children about the importance of respect and tolerance.
“Black history is an important topic which schools can teach to children of all ages as part of the history curriculum.”