History GCSE to be given Black Lives Matter makeover

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
Pupils sitting an exam - David Jones /PA
Pupils sitting an exam - David Jones /PA

History GCSE is set to be given a Black Lives Matter makeover which could lead to popular topics such as World War Two and the Tudors including more content on ethnic minorities, The Telegraph can reveal.

Exam boards have been in discussions with a coalition of charities since the summer about updating their courses to include more black history.

Dr Katherine Burn, an associate professor of education at Oxford University and deputy president of the Historical Association, said that a “concerted” effort is now underway to overhaul the syllabus.

“We are looking particularly at the most commonly taught courses within History GCSE and thinking about if this is the diet that most students get, where is there scope to make changes,” she said.

“What could we add into those existing units as small changes, with the proviso that if you put something in you do have to take some things out.”

She said that there is “no doubt” that the Black Lives Matter movement spurred on the discussions but added that there was already considerable appetite among historians to make changes.

There has been some “frustration” among exam boards that when they offer new courses - such as the history of migration - schools fail to take them up in large numbers since this would involve investing in new textbooks and teacher training, Dr Burn said.

She explained that the preferred approach is to amend the content of existing popular courses which means they are more likely to be taught in schools in a widespread way.

“We know Nazi Germany is the bog standard that everyone will do,” Dr Burn said. 

Within this topics, pupils could be taught about the black population of Germany at the time and “how they caught up in the Holocaust and the promotion of the Aryan identity”, she added.

Likewise, a course on the Tudors could include learning about John Blanke, a black trumpeter who was a member of the court of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, she said. 

A report published by the  Royal Historical Society (RHS) in 2018 said that teachers must stop devoting so much time to slavery because it puts black children off History.

The society has found that the “seemingly relentless focus” on the exploitation and abolition of slavery can be “intellectually limiting and, at times, alienating” for black pupils.

Aside from slavery, the history of British black and minority ethnic (BME) communities are “often absent” from the classroom, the report said.

In order to foster a more inclusive environment for black students, teachers must “go beyond these limited vantage points”, it added.

Dr Burn added that making changes to the GCSE are “absolutely” aimed at encouraging more BME students to take history. 

The RHS is one of a number of organisations - including the Historical Association, the Institute of Historical Research, the School History Project and the Runnymede Trust - which have been in discussions with all the UK's major exam boards about this since the summer. 

Any amendments to exam content would need to be approved by both the Department for Education and the regulator Ofqual.

A spokesman for AQA, the country’s biggest exam board, said: “We’re always looking at how we can make our qualifications as representative as they can possibly be.”

A spokesperson for Pearson, which owns the exam board Edexcel, said: "While we always work hard to design history qualifications that are diverse and inclusive, this year has rightly generated a renewed focus on what history is taught to our young people, and the sector needs to keep challenging itself.”