Creating an inclusive History curriculum: 10 questions to ask

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History teacher Natasha De Stefano Honey shares the steps her school is taking to create an inclusive History curriculum and the 10 important questions that helped them make History lessons more inclusive.

I have always wanted to ensure that my students are able to see themselves in the curriculum. I strive to teach an inclusive and diverse History of different ethnicities, sexes, and social classes, and to train my department and ECTs/PGCEs to do the same.

In order to diversify our curriculum, there were a number of steps we followed. We started with our Key Stage four and five choices. They are slightly restricted by exam boards and topics, but as a centre we selected units that fit with our vision of teaching an inclusive history. For example, for AQA GCSE, we chose migration and Elizabeth, and for A Level, the British Empire unit. We use Oxford University Press’ A Level textbook Oxford AQA History: The British Empire c1857–1967 Second Edition, and we also use their textbooks for migration. OUP’s resources have made diversifying our GCSE and A Level curriculum so easy (we’ll be using the new KS3 African Kingdoms: West Africa Depth Study and will be getting some of the other new titles too!). The textbooks are especially useful for our non-specialists and ECTs.

Revisit key questions to continually improve

To help us start planning changes across the key stages, we felt it was important to have questions we can keep returning to, so that we can continually improve our offering. We come back to these questions at the end of the year and again at the start as a reminder:

  1. Can we ensure the pasts of all students we teach are represented in our curriculum?
  2. Are the pasts of the people of modern Britain represented in our curriculum across the key stages?
  3. When we use visuals do they show the diversity of people who were in the past and respect their dignity?
  4. Can we use a diverse range of sources? When we include the work of historians and other ‘authority’ figures do we draw on work from a diverse and representative range?
  5. Will students know that Black people and people of colour have lived in Britain since very ancient times?
  6. Will students be aware of what women were doing?
  7. Will students understand that the story of Black people and people of colour is not just one of people as victims? Can we celebrate achievement throughout KS3?
  8. Can we get students to understand the class struggle?
  9. How can we ensure students understand that groups such as Jewish people and Roma and Sinti people have a long history that is not just one of suspicion and oppression?
  10. Will students understand that there have always been less visible groups, such as LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities in society?

Our second step after thinking about what inclusion in History looks like, was for our department to decide what our ‘non-negotiables’ were and write an intent. The intent makes us accountable to ourselves, our students and the wider school community. It allows students to know that our work is not complete and that we would like their input. This intent is displayed in all History teaching rooms and is in every student’s book with my email address ready to hear from them and their parents, which we do. Now students really feel empowered to come to us and say “I’m really happy that Indian soldiers during World War Two has been included”, or “we haven’t studied women a lot this term, what were they doing?” They ask questions now to further the range of inclusion in History lessons.

Next steps

Our next step was training our staff, something that will continue on an ongoing basis. The focus was: language, selection of sources and making time for conversations and reflections.

1. Language choice

CPD happens annually for our department. I take responsibility for this with the Head of Department.  We thought it was really important for our department to have a list of words that were appropriate (this is always changing and being extended) to use in lessons, and words their students should be mindful of. We are clear that people were enslaved and not ‘slaves’, that the enslaved and oppressed people across topics were freedom fighters rather than ‘rebels’. We ensure our staff feel empowered to have the conversation, or to invite us in to have it. We are very mindful that we should all be using the same language and that it should be very carefully considered.

2. Source selection

The sources that we use also have to be very well selected and we need to make sure that our students feel safe in our lessons learning about these topics. We decided as a department that contentious language would not be used. Our policy is that if racist or problematic language is in a source, we remove it or star it out.  We train our staff to select sources, so that film clips, images and testimonies do not always show students the same groups suffering and receiving violence. For example, showing film clips or images of extreme violence during a study of the Transatlantic trade in enslaved people can further propagate the victimisation of enslaved Africans. Considering teaching materials carefully and keeping in mind the lesson’s learning objectives, we attempt to find alternative ways in which these objectives can be met effectively and sensitively, for example, by using written testimony, or historians’ interpretations, rather than relying on images that may cause unnecessary harm to our students.

3. Making time for discussion

Building in time to discuss topics has been key to our planning and is part of our training with staff. The violence and oppression in the History we teach, and the sources associated with it, can be very difficult for both adults and young people to absorb and deal with in History lessons. These aspects of the History can raise concerns with students, and it is essential to create time to discuss their concerns before they leave the classroom.

Natasha De Stefano Honey author photo for Creating inclusive History curriculum blog

Natasha De Stefano Honey has 14 years’ experience as a History teacher and is currently the ECT and PGCE coordinator, and second in charge of History and Politics, at a secondary school in Lambeth. One of her main interests is creating representation for diverse groups in the curriculum. She has presented on this topic for the SHP annual conference and at TM Icons in Manchester, and has written a chapter for Emily Folorunsho’s forthcoming book ‘Succeeding as a History Teacher‘ (Bloomsbury).