History Lessons: teaching community, heritage and diversity in the National History Curriculum

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


In January 2011, the Secretary of State for Education announced a review of the National Curriculum. The widereaching reforms laid the foundation for an English Baccalaureate, which included the compulsory teaching of history to the age of 16, as a means of generating a renewed national pride and sense of citizenship and collective identity in schools. The proposals proved controversial in terms both of intent and content, with particular concerns raised about the place of the revised curriculum in promoting an overly homogenous view of 'British identity' and 'British history' which erased its global/imperial past and its diverse contemporary contours. The place, or denial, of 'black histories' proved particularly controversial and sparked a nationwide campaign to retain black history in the Curriculum, which garnered over 36,000 votes. In addition, concerns have been raised about the retreat to more 'traditional' methods of teaching and learning, focusing on linear narratives and 'facts and dates' rather than more detailed and participatory teaching methods, which deal with thematic approaches through 'patch' courses which facilitate the critical engagement with primary sources - on 'doing' rather than 'learning' history.

The revised curriculum comes into effect in September 2014, with many of these issues still unresolved. In particular the ways in which 'national history' can be made inclusive and relevant to Britain's increasingly superdiverse pupil cohorts have not been adequately explored. Research has suggested, further, that many history teachers remain uncomfortable with teaching diversity - especially issues of slavery and Imperialism - in ethnically mixed classrooms.

The current project draws upon, and extends, two recent successful AHRC funded projects which have explored migration to Britain through the use of oral history and life history methods, working with young people in schools. The original 'Bengal diaspora' project explored the history of migration and settlement of Muslim migrants from the Indian state of Bengal in the period after Partition, drawing on oral and life history and visual methods. Developed in conjunction with The Runnymede Trust, the Banglastories website (www.banglastories.org) and educational resource pack, brought these stories into British classrooms, aiming to engage young people in understanding the creation of multicultural Britain. The follow on project, 'Telling Community Histories about Migration and Belonging' worked with over 120 young people in schools in Cardiff, Leicester and Sheffield, to create their own family and community histories, drawing on oral and life history methods and visual/digital methods, including filmmaking (http://www.makinghistories.org.uk).

The 'Telling Community Histories' project found that young people of all backgrounds engaged constructively with family and community histories as a means of generating a shared sense of belonging focused on local places, particularly when this exploration was embedded in, and supported by, the mainstream curriculum. With the new curriculum set to be launched in September 2014, the current project aims to build on these earlier findings in two ways: 1) working closely with teachers, schools and local institutions to develop resources and innovative methods for recognising Britain's diverse histories within the remit of the new national curriculum; 2)working with young people and teachers to explore the ways in which the new curriculum can be taught in an inclusive way, engaging constructively and critically with the focus on 'heritage' and personal and local histories . The project will focus on small scale, intensive partnership work with schools in London and Greater Manchester to generate new ways of looking at national and local histories and heritage through a focus on local space and sites. This work will inform methods and approaches that can be implemented on a national scale.

Planned Impact

The Banglastories website, and the follow-on 'Telling Community Histories' project, represent a groundbreaking partnership between the AHRC, academic researchers and the Runnymede Trust. The work to date has disseminated the findings of the original 'Bengal diaspora' project to a broad audience outside of the academy, including community groups, national, local and community media, policymakers and practitioners working on issues of migration and race equality, and young people and schools. To date, the website has received over 61,000 'hits' worldwide, and has sparked interest from politicians and a range of media (print, radio and TV). The 'Telling Community History' site, launched in November 2012 has had nearly 700 unique visitor visits, whilst a co-authored publication on the project (Alexander, Chatterji & Weekes-Bernard 2012) published in the prestigious Runnymede Perspectives series, and launched at an expert roundtable has received nearly 400 downloads to date. This publication informed Runnymede's invited briefing to Michael Gove's office on the history curriculum and played a significant role in the successful OBV campaign to retain black history in the curriculum, which gathered 36,000 signatories.

The success of these two earlier projects provides a template for dissemination and impact maximisation for the current work. The timing of the project ensures a significant interest in the project and its findings, notably the work with teachers in developing practical resources for teaching history. The project will be of particular relevance to:
1) Government/policymakers: using Runnymede's parliamentary networks and the APPG on Community Cohesion, the project will engage MPs and education specialists/policymakers through a 1 day expert roundtable focused on the project findings. We will also provide briefings to inform policy formation.
2) Education sector, teachers' unions and training organisations, schools and teachers: the project will engage with national and local organisations, schools and individuals throughout the project to design, implement, evaluate and embed the project findings in policy and practice. Runnymede has well established links with teachers' unions and training organisations (Teach First). This sector will be represented on the advisory group and invited to the expert roundtable and final launch event, and will consult on the teaching resources developed. The focus on teachers' voices and experiences, and on teaching diversity in practice, are a defining feature of this project and will inform briefings to government.
3) Third sector/civil society/community organisations: past research suggests a strong engagement/interest from across this sector in issues of history and education as it relates to BME young people in particular. Runnymede has extensive links across this sector which will be mobilised to inform and disseminate research, and will partner with relevant local organisations in designing, conducting and disseminating the research.
4) Young people: the previous research suggests a strong engagement by young people in learning history, and this project works with them in schools to embed alternative perspectives/methods in the curriculum. Young people will publish their work online, will contribute to policy formation/discussion through launch events and will link to local universities WP schemes to engage them in the HE sector.
5) Media/General public: as previous projects and the OBV campaign suggest, there is a strong interest from across the media and the general public in issues around British history and diversity. This project will engage with Runnymede's 'End Racism This Generation' campaign to publicise the research to a mass audience and will engage national and local media through the project website and publications, launch events, press releases and the Runnymede Bulletin.


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Title History Lessons 
Description Short film discussing the History Lessons project 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Added to website and viewed as part of the ongoing discussions around a diverse curriculum 
URL http://www.runnymedetrust.org/projects-and-publications/education/history-lessons-2.html
Description This project worked with teachers and young people around developing an inclusive history curriculum, focused on the idea of heritage. We were able to discover a strong appetite amongst teachers and pupils for local history and the understanding of how migration has shaped local places and spaces. We also engaged young people and teachers with primary historical research, using local museums, archives and local historians. We worked with young people on doing primary research and using visual methods, including photography and film. We identified a need for more support for teachers in developing resources to support this work.
Exploitation Route We have identified a need for teachers to develop an inclusive curriculum using local and primary resources. We have provided guidance for teachers on the website on how this might be done.
Sectors Education

URL http://www.makinghistories.org.uk/
Description We worked with historical associations, museums, schools, teachers and young people to develop an inclusive curriculum. The work in schools has been taken up as part of the participating school's KS3 activities. We also worked with historical associations and academics to identify some of the barriers for teaching inclusive histories. We are working with OCR to provide supporting resources for their new GCSE module. The project has been used by the AHRC 'Common Cause' project as a case study on academic/BME third sector partnerships, and has been mentioned in a briefing by the Runnymede Trust
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Common Cause case study
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The research was presented as a cast study in the AHRC funded Common Cause project, as an example of partnership working between academics and the BME third sector. This formed a briefing from the Runnymede Trust.
URL https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/publications/Runnymede%20Common%20Cause%20briefing%20FINAL.pd...
Description History Matters: creating joined up resources for a diverse history curriculum
Amount £93,626 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N003772/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 09/2016
Description The Partition Project - research grants
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation Kirby Laing Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 12/2016
Description Banglastories/Making Histories 
Organisation Runnymede Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution AHRC funding allowed us to work with Runnymede on dissemination of work from the Bengal diaspora project in schools. We worked together to conduct project work in 7 schools in Leicester, Sheffield, Cardiff, Manchester and London to engage young people in oral and local history work. As PI, Alexander undertook project planning, undertook sessions in schools, participated in launch activities and writing publications.
Collaborator Contribution Runnymede staff undertook the majority of project planning in schools, providing links to our partner schools, and to local civil society institutions (museums, archives, universities, filmmakers etc) for project work. Dr Weekes-Bernard organised all local and national launch events, oversaw project work, website and dissemination activities, and collaborated on writing/publication
Impact Making Histories website and short film 2 x perspectives publications - Making British Histories and History Lessons.
Start Year 2011
Description History Lessons - East London launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Local launch at Queen Mary and Westfield University campus, in collaboration with WP team. Launch of project materials and presentations by school pupils and presentation on university life. Filming for short film 'Aiming Higher'

Presentation of project work and preparation for national launch. Students were introduced to university life by the WP team and history lecturers. They also took part in a short film for the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description History Lessons - London launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Local launch for participating school in History Lessons project, held at Goldsmiths College, in collaboration with Widening Participation team. The students presented their work, engaged in discussion around the project and were introduced to life at University

Increased interest in project and preparation for national launch. Learned about university life.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description History Lessons - expert roundtable 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This expert roundtable brought together the project team, academic historians, representatives of museums and archives, teachers and teacher trainers to discuss the history curriculum and how it is transmitted in classrooms

The discussions raised here informed the 'History Lessons' Perspectives paper and an associated journal article (currently under review). The publication has been disseminated widely at events around the curriculum, amongst community groups, teacher trainers and stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description History Lessons local launch - Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Project presentations by pupils and presentation by University of Manchester WP team. Preparation for national launch

The students presented their work and learned more about university life. They also met history students and lecturers. They were able to engage more with history as a subject
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description History Lessons national launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The national launch was held in the House of Commons and brought together the participating schools to present work to each other and an invited audience of MPs, policymakers and stakeholders. The event was held on 5th November 2014.

The students were able to debate the history curriculum and present their work to policymakers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014