Teaching migration in KS3 History

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Aaron Wilkes (AW) and Shalina Patel (SP) discuss how effective teaching of migration can enrich your Key Stage 3 curriculum, with insights from Liberty Melly (LM) and Tia Shah (TS) from the learning team at the Migration Museum.

This blog post is based on their conversation for the Oxford Education Podcast. You can listen to the episode in full here.

Why should schools make space for studying migration in their KS3 History curriculum?

LM: Very simply for me, I think it starts with the fact that studying migration is really rich and fascinating. And it’s also an incredibly important subject. Beyond the national conversation, political debates and headlines in newspapers, is a really long and rich story of comings and goings to and from these shores over thousands of years that have shaped and defined who we are. It’s about where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

Whether you are a first generation immigrant, or somebody whose family tree has to be traced back generations to peel back layers to find migration stories, it’s something that’s relevant to all of us. It’s fundamental to our history. So quite simply, you can’t understand the history of Britain and society today without understanding the history of migration.

We often also see migration presented as this really problematic contemporary issue. However, it’s so much more complex, interesting and nuanced than that. It’s a fundamental part of who we are as individuals, communities and nations.

It’s also a great way of understanding our place in the world. It makes students think beyond the borders of Britain, about our connections with the wider world, and that is a great thing to impart upon any student.

What do students gain from studying migration at KS3?

TS: Students can gain so much from studying migration. It’s really a topic where they can see their stories represented. It can help them feel more valued and respected in the classroom and really gives teachers an opportunity to create an inclusive learning environment.

We’ve seen time and time again how studying migration really brings History to life because it’s personal and it’s relevant, building an enthusiasm for History that doesn’t just stay in Key Stage 3, but continues up to GCSE and A-Level.

In terms of skills, it really can equip students with the tools to engage in the often divisive and political debate surrounding migration. It can help build more empathy and understanding of others’ experiences.

LM: Studying migration, as well as better exploring other intersecting themes around race, ethnicity, identity and belonging, is a way for our schools to become actively engaged in anti-racist work, which is increasingly important. The NSPCC has reported an increase in bullying in schools related to race and faith, and therefore we need to be equipping our teachers and students to deal with those things.

We’re seeing teachers and students really wanting and demanding that migration is on the curriculum. And these increased calls are getting louder and louder, which is fantastic.

What’s exciting about the KS3 History Depth Study: Migration Nation?

SP: In Secondary schools, there’s been a big increase in the focus on diversity and inclusion and really thinking about widening and decolonizing curriculums, and reflecting on what we teach, why we teach it, and what historical knowledge our students need to take away from Key Stage 3 if they are not going on to study GCSE History.

Teachers always ask for more time, because we don’t necessarily have a huge amount of time to do the amount of research that is needed to teach something like migration. Textbooks have always told such a traditional narrative and Oxford’s new Depth Studies are changing the game. Migration Nation is a really good resource to help teachers because we are desperate for this subject knowledge to be able to enrich our curriculums.

There’s such an appetite for tearing curriculums apart in lots of ways and thinking about how we tell these stories in a really authentic way, in a way that is not othering, sharing those voices and contributions, but also in a way that it can fit into all those traditional arcs that we cover.

What advice would you give to a teacher who’s a little concerned about teaching sensitive or potentially contentious topics in the classroom?

SP: I think what’s brilliant about the KS3 History Depth Study Migration Nation is that there are five case studies about different communities who’ve migrated here, but before that there’s some pages covering the big questions that are really reassuring for teachers to delve into.

The first question is: What is migration? Why should we study migration? Who were the earliest migrants to Britain? They’re a really great gateway into the topic, with a whole double-page spread that breaks it down for students.

We also cover the language around migration, as a tool for teachers, because inevitably all of these different terms are going to come up in the classroom, so that you can use and explain all of them to students.  Migration can sometimes feel like a scary topic, but actually everything is grounded in brilliant images and personal stories. The book is really supportive, with boxes and questions that will engage the students in this really rich topic.

LM: We’re so aware of the sensitivity around teaching and studying migration, but the fact that the textbook lays out these big clear questions and it’s got language, understanding and definitions makes it a great place to start.

Our biggest advice to teachers is actually just to approach the subject with empathy, a bit of understanding and a bit of forgiveness. It’s okay not to have all the answers, but to see it as an opportunity to learn alongside your students. And actually some of your students might have more lived experience than you, and that’s absolutely fine. Giving space to that and seeing it as an exchange of knowledge can be part of the joy of teaching the subject.

TS: Migration isn’t a topic that you can avoid, or that your students can avoid. It’s something that’s in the news on a daily basis. The classroom is a safe environment where you can approach this topic with empathy and understanding to really allow students to explore and understand it and really helps build their skills for when they might encounter histories of migration, or conversations about migration, outside of the classroom.

LM: It’s also important to remember that all History teachers already explore many sensitive topics, and that’s something that you will all be very used to. You will have already approached lots of migration topics before, like the Romans or the Vikings, or kings and queens. All of these things are connected to migration histories, so you’re not starting from scratch.

You already have lots of skills to be able to teach migration. And although the histories of migration can have a lot to do with racism and persecution, that’s only one aspect of the migration story. You’ll also find a lot of joy, a lot of fun, and a lot of wonderful stories.

Reading recommendations

  • Bloody Foreigners by Robert Winder
  • David Olusoga’s Black and British series
  • Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush generation by Colin Grant
  • The Shoulders We Stand On: How Black and Brown people fought for change in the UK by Preeti Dhillon
  • What’s in a Name: Friendship, Identity in History in Modern Multicultural Britain by Sheela Banerjee

Find out more about the Migration Museum

The Migration Museum is working towards establishing Britain’s first National Migration Museum, a space where people can come together to learn about migration, reflect on what it means to us, and engage in a meaningful conversation. Their mission is to create a moving and inspiring institution that really reflects the central role migration has always played in our national story. Through exhibitions, events and a very active learning program, they want to contribute to a society that owns and feels really connected to this story and sees it as an essential part of British history and an essential part of their histories as well.

Follow them @MigrationUK or get in touch to find out more at [email protected].

Teach All Our Histories

All Our Histories is brought to you by the History team at Oxford University Press to offer you a growing collection of examples, resources and ideas so that you can develop your History curriculum for KS3, GCSE and A Level in a diverse and inclusive way that represents all of our histories. Find out more.