One Bristol Curriculum - the organisation working to diversify education in Bristol classrooms

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By Daisy Charles, Third Year Maths and Philosophy

In the summer of 2020, protests swept the world in the aftermath of the filmed murder of George Floyd. The protesters sought to confront a society built on systemic racism which routinely murders, falsely imprisons, and removes the basic human rights of BAME people. Whilst ‘Black Lives Matter’, the organisation heading many of the protests, has several stated goals, one central argument has been that there is an urgent need for a more diverse curriculum which teaches the rich and complex history of BAME people, while also highlighting the structural and systemic nature of racism within western society.

In 2017, the Runnymede report ‘Bristol: A City Divided’ found severe disparities between different ethnic groups in Bristol, focusing particularly on education and employment. It reported that BAME students were harmed by their exclusion from a curriculum which appeared geared primarily towards white middle class students.

'OBC are aiming to create a curriculum that is representative of the community and everyone within it' | OBC

These issues have only been exacerbated by Covid-19, which saw BAME communities adversely affected not only through experiencing higher mortality rates than white British people, but also through bearing the brunt of financial inequities. This has resulted in a significant reduction in hours spent in education by BAME students as well as greater rates of unemployment.

In response to the issues raised through this report, One Bristol Curriculum (OBC) was launched - a project that works with teachers and education providers with the primary aim of developing a diverse curriculum across all core subjects. In their Winter 2020 impact report, OBC wrote that they aimed to create a curriculum ‘representative of the community that serves to increase engagement and promote tolerance and understanding.’ Sibusiso Tshabalala, the project director at One Bristol Curriculum, further explained that the goal was to create a curriculum that would ‘engage with minoritized communities experiences either through colonization or the description of how these communities have lived’.

Whilst BAME people have been historically excluded from the national curriculum, it has only worsened in recent years with Michael Gove making controversial changes to the national curriculum that, among other issues, left the teaching of colonialism and slavery optional rather than compulsory. These changes have resulted in classrooms where BAME people are often almost entirely absent from the curriculum, with only 11 per cent of GCSE history pupils in 2019 studying a unit that made even passing references to Black British history and less than 1 per cent of BAME GCSE students having covered a book by a BAME author in an exam.

Sibusiso Tshabalala spoke on the importance of progress in this specific area, especially the necessity for classrooms to include content that preserves the lineage and culture of BAME communities. He explained ‘where you find people do not have a lineage or do not understand their lineage, it is much harder for them to form a connection and a purpose and an identity. These issues can link into mental health issues, they can link into lack of aspiration, or they can link into identity and culture and the cultural creation of communities that feel they have lost their connection to their lineage.’

100 per cent of both teachers and pupils reported a significant positive impact in the classroom after lessons trialled before the pandemic.

In my position working as an intern with OBC, I have found that there is a focus on designing lesson plans spanning topics such as The Silk Road, Christian Cole - the first Black barrister - and the history of mathematics in India. Topics such as an entire unit focusing on the Somalian Poetic Tradition seek to both challenge stereotypes surrounding Somalia and provide a connection for Somalian students to their ancestry. By presenting a view of Somalia, Somalian people, and Somalian history at odds with the negative image presented by the British media, it provides educational material that recognises Bristol’s diversity.

One Bristol Curriculum further worked to bring BAME people into schools to run workshops with students prior to the pandemic, providing role models for students whilst developing workshops that focused on the culture and history of BAME people. Whilst implementation of the project has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons that were trialled before the pandemic were met with an overwhelmingly positive response from teachers and pupils, with 100 per cent of both groups reporting a significant positive impact in the classroom.

By erasing BAME people from British history, schools create a narrative in which only white British students ‘belong’, removing the contributions of BAME communities to British history and overlooking non-Eurocentric history, while denying BAME students the possibility to see aspirational BAME role models within the classroom.

OBC is currently seeking funding to permanently incorporate its curriculum into local schools. With racism becoming even more prominent in the UK and race related hate crimes rising 69 per cent this year, it is vitally important that the education system creates a learning environment that not only encourages tolerance and understanding in white pupils, but also provides diverse and inclusive education to BAME students.

Black History Month at the University of Bristol
Interview: Talking Bristol, Black Lives Matter and Twitter with history of slavery professor Olivette Otele

Ultimately, educating students about the culture and achievements of BAME communities, as well as the contribution of BAME people to British history, is at the forefront of OBC’s mission – one that should be more widely adopted by educational bodies across the UK and beyond.

Featured Image: Epigram / OBC


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