FILL IN THE BLANKS ACTION PRESS RELEASE
- Currently, students in England can go through their entire compulsory education without learning about the atrocities executed by the British Empire
- Youth led campaign, Fill in the Blanks, perform a stunt to spark debate around the importance of learning colonial history
- The campaign team dropped 5000 newspapers at twenty different tube stations across London. These mock newspapers are designed to spark a conversation about the power of school curriculum to shape Britain’s values and choices.
On the morning of Thursday 9th January 2020, youth campaign Fill in the Blanks staged a London-wide stunt distributing METRO newspapers claiming the Department for Education announced the teaching of the British Empire as mandatory for all key stage three students. 5000 newspapers have been distributed at 20 London tube stations and on red buses. Locations include Highbury and Islington, Brixton, Euston, Victoria, Sloane Square, London Bridge and Elephant and Castle tube stations.
Fill in the Blanks is led by sixth form students from South London, all of whom have family from former British colonies. The campaign demands the teaching of British colonial history for all students in the UK, where there is currently only one optional insufficient module available. By implementing this curriculum change, British society will have a chance to take accountability for the atrocities performed by, and in the name of, the Empire and ensure they can be avoided as Britain forms its post-Brexit identity.
In 2014, 59% of Brits declared that they were “proud of the British Empire”. But was this with the knowledge of the mass use of concentration camps in the Boer war? Or knowledge of the violence of the partition plan in India, along with the displacement of 10–12 million people and killing of an unknown number? The British Government has systematically absolved itself of responsibility for these crimes. By excluding the full story from the National Curriculum, the Department for Education do not allow the next generation to critically examine the crimes of our past.
Fill in the Blanks is passionate about combatting the violence perpetrated by the governments’ inaction to confront its history. The tide is beginning to change regarding the public’s attitude towards providing a more truthful curriculum in our schools. 69% of adults believe that “historical injustice, colonialism and the role of the British Empire should be taught as part of the national curriculum”. In the 2019 election, Labour’s manifesto acknowledged the importance of educating “around migration and colonialism” especially in teaching “how it interrupted a rich and powerful black history which is also British history”. We must ensure that the teaching of colonial history is a non-partisan issue.
Antonia, 17 year old student: “After a lesson at school where Britain and its Empire was glorified, with my teacher stating “look how powerful we were”, it took four years for me to go and find a book which accurately articulated the impact that colonialism has had on this country.”
Dr. Corinne Fowler, Associate Professor at the University of Leicester: “In today’s Britain there is insufficient understanding of the extent to which empire shaped modern Britain. Nor is there enough consciousness of how closely our individual lives intersect with it. Our families were either impoverished by empire or enriched by it. Meanwhile, the legacy of colonialism can be seen in sanitised references to empire, denial of its historical relevance and also nostalgia about colonial times. Good quality history education can change that. It does not shrink from accounts of colonial violence but it also responds to recent research in British imperial history and to all the nuances and fresh stories that new investigations are bringing to light”
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Thursday 9 January 2020
BORIS BACKS EMPIRE EDUCATION
New curriculum will look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Britain’s colonial past
Boris Johnson began setting out his post-Brexit agenda today by announcing a shake up to the education curriculum that will see every Key Stage Three pupil study British colonial history.
In his Parliamentary statement, Mr Johnson said: “As Britain forms its post-Brexit identity, the Conservative Party recognises the importance of providing a balanced assessment of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery.”
He added: “In order to avoid replicating our past mistakes, this new era of national sovereignty must be built on a realistic appraisal of our history. Colonialism, migration and empire are central themes of our national story and, from today, the telling will no longer be incomplete.”
The reform, backed by £10 million, a website and apps, will include Government-funded courses and conferences for history teachers and PGCE students. This comes in the wake of a 2019 study by the Runnymede Trust that found 78% of educators would like further training on how to teach migration.
All Year 9 pupils will be required to visit the newly refurbished International Museum of Slavery in Liverpool, a move that has been welcomed by Mayor Joe Anderson.
The Lambeth Head Teachers Conference has released a statement expressing their support for the Government’s plans, saying: “We believe this curriculum reform will have a positive impact on our schools and students. Seeing their histories reflect- ed on the curriculum will encourage more pupils than ever to study history and a wider demographic of teachers to enter the profession.”
South London student activist group Fill In The Blanks said: “Growing up in Britain, we knew nothing of the many crimes the British Empire committed against our ancestors. Today, 457 years after the first British slave voyage, it is about time our schools accurately depicted the devastating cost of Britain’s actions around the world.”
The new module will look at key moments of Britain’s bloodier past including the Bengal famine, the Mau Mau Uprising, the Boer War concentration camps and the Amritsar massacre.
“We need better education and more open public debate on all aspects of British colonial history, ‘warts and all’”, said Dr Andrea Major, Professor of British colonial history at the University of Leeds. This is needed to successfully combat “our collective amnesia about the levels of violence, exploitation and racism involved in many aspects of imperialism”.
The announcement has also been praised by author and broadcaster Afua Hirsch, who tweeted: “This is needed now more than ever”.
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