Learning the lessons of history?

Published 30/10/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On 4 November, the Senedd will debate two separate but related petitions which call for a change in what and how children are taught history in Wales. One petition calls on the Welsh Government to create a common body of knowledge about Welsh history that all pupils will learn. The other seeks to make it compulsory for Black and people of colour UK histories to be taught in the Welsh education curriculum. The petitions collected 7,927 and 34,736 signatures respectively.

There has been considerable interest in the teaching of the history of Wales. In June 2019, the Senedd debated a motion that sought to ensure that all school pupils were taught Welsh history. Our blog post on that debate set out what is currently taught in the history curriculum and what the Welsh Government was proposing for the new curriculum. Senedd debates in July 2020 and October 2020 have already considered proposals that mandatory elements of the curriculum should include Black and people of colour history and the history of Wales.

The new curriculum

A new age 3-16 Curriculum for Wales will be introduced in all maintained schools and publicly funded nursery settings from September 2022 on a phased basis. The Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill was introduced on 6 July 2020 and is currently making its progress through the Senedd. The new curriculum is intended to be purpose-driven rather than content-driven and specific learning content is not stipulated in the same way as under the current national curriculum. Further information on the Bill can be seen in the Senedd Research Paper, Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill: Bill Summary [PDF 810KB)

The Bill sets out six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) for the new curriculum and mandatory elements within them. The AoLEs are:

  • Expressive Arts;
  • Health and Well-being;
  • Humanities;
  • Languages, Literacy and Communication;
  • Mathematics and Numeracy; and
  • Science and Technology.

The mandatory elements within the AoLEs are English; Welsh; Relationships and Sexuality Education; and Religion, Values and Ethics.

History will be taught within the Humanities Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE). The Humanities AoLE also encompasses geography, religious education, business studies and social studies.

A previous petition and a Committee inquiry

The Petitions Committee has previously considered a petition, Change the National Curriculum and teach Welsh history, from a Welsh perspective, in our Primary, Secondary and Sixth form Schools during 2018. It heard from, Dr Elin Jones, who had been the Chair of the, Cwricwlwm Cymreig, history and the story of Wales (PDF 154KB) (September 2013) and Kirsty Williams, the Minister for Education.

In 2019, following a public poll, the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications (CWLC) Committee began an inquiry into the teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage in schools. This took forward the work that had already been undertaken by the Petitions Committee. The Committee’s report, Inquiry into the teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage [PDF1.2KB] was published in November 2019 and was debated in Plenary on 15 January 2020. The Welsh Government published its response [PDF 235KB] on 8 January 2020.

A common body and Black history

Many of those giving evidence to the 2019 CWLC Committee inquiry spoke of the need for there to be key events or topics that all learners should know and that there should be a common knowledge of key events in Wales’ national story. The Committee went on to say that the new curriculum should include guidance setting out a common body of knowledge for all pupils studying history. It said this would allow all pupils to have an understanding of how their country has been shaped by local and national events within the context of Welsh, British and international histories.

The Minister rejected the recommendation stating that:

The Humanities AoLE guidance outlines a methodology for selecting content and refers to the need for consistent exposure to the story of learners’ locality and the story of Wales, as well as to the story of the wider world, to enable learners to develop an understanding of the complex and diverse nature of societies, past and present.

The Minister wrote to the Petitions Committee [PDF 335] saying that the new curriculum framework gives every school in Wales the opportunity to design their own curriculum within a national approach that ensures consistency. She said that all aspects of learning will have a Welsh dimension, and learners will have the opportunity to understand their locality, country and its contribution to the world in every part of the curriculum.

After hearing evidence from Race Council Cymru, the Ethnic Minorities & Youth Support Team Wales (EYST) and the Heritage and Cultural Exchange. CWLC Committee made a number of recommendations in relation to diversity in the teaching of history. These included that the new curriculum should have diversity as a core element and that Estyn should assess how diversity is currently being taught in schools.

The Welsh Government accepted these recommendations. It also accepted in principle recommendations that the Welsh Government should set out its efforts to increase the number of Black and Minority Ethnic teachers and that the histories of Wales’ racial and religious diversity should be included in initial teacher education and reflected in teaching materials for the Humanities AoLE.

A new impetus

In May 2020, the killing of George Floyd, an African-American who died while being detained by police in Minneapolis, prompted mass protests in the USA, the UK and internationally, and calls for better education in Black and people of colour history.

Against this backdrop, in July 2020, the Minister announced that Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, would chair a Communities, Contributions and Cynefin: BAME Experiences and the New Curriculum Working Group. The group will review existing resources available to teachers and good practice, and professional learning related to Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. The aim is for this work to be aligned to the Estyn review of Welsh history which will take full account of Welsh, and wider, BAME history, identity and culture.

Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip announced funding of £40,000 in 2020 to support Race Council Cymru to educate people and promote awareness of Black history in Wales. The purpose of Black History Wales is to promote a better understanding of Black history, change perspectives on Black culture, challenge inequalities experienced by many Black communities and promote respect for cultural differences. There will be educational and celebratory programme of events that was launched in October and is to continue throughout the year through Black History Cymru 365 (BHC365).

You can watch Senedd Members debate these and other issues affecting children and young people on Senedd TV at around 6.15 pm on Wednesday 4 November.

Article by Sian Hughes, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament