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Black History Month: Are history lessons truly diverse?

History teaching should reflect the UK’s diversity, argue the founders of an inclusive First World War project

Walter Tull, a top division footballer, was one of the first black officers in the Great War

History teaching should reflect the UK’s diversity, argue the founders of an inclusive First World War project

October is Black History Month and schools across the country will be marking the occasion with assemblies, displays and special events.

But how much does our history curriculum reflect black experiences? Not enough, many would argue.

One project seeking to change this is Tull100, which aims to make learning about the First World War more inclusive – and to recognise the contributions of black soldiers in that conflict.

One of those soldiers was Walter Tull, who was born in 1888 to a Barbadian father and English mother.

Despite the widespread discrimination that he encountered, Tull grew up to become one of the first black football players in the English top division when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 1909. And when the First World War broke out in 1914, he enlisted in the British Army, where he rose to the rank of lance sergeant and fought in the Battle of the Somme. He went on to become one of the British Army’s first black officers.

Commemorating Walter Tull

Dr Virginia Crompton, CEO of Big Ideas, the organisation running Tull100, hopes that by incorporating stories such as Tull's into their lessons, history teachers can not only make the subject more inclusive, but also spark discussions about race and society. 

“We want people to have a meaningful conversation around discrimination. We’ve seen some amazing examples of that across the country. People are taking a heritage story and finding that it has real contemporary relevance,” says Crompton.

Telling these stories doesn’t rewrite the past, she adds, but it highlights a side of history that isn’t always taught in the classroom.

So, what does the Tull100 project involve? As well as providing a free resource pack to support teaching about Tull, Tull100 is running a challenge called "No Barriers", which awards medals to students who make their communities more inclusive. The challenge was launched with a video featuring England and Tottenham football players Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose.

Black History Month

But why should teachers get involved? Tottenham-based history teacher Dan Lyndon believes that it is essential that schools incorporate more black history into lessons.

“The Tull story is not just about the fact that he was a great guy, a great footballer or a great officer. It’s about how he overcame racism in all aspects of his life to be able to achieve what he did. It’s a really powerful message which is still relevant today," says Lyndon.

“For students, it is so important that they understand how we got into that situation back then and the situation we are in today,” he adds. “In the past, I didn’t always focus on Black History Month. I think the failure of that is that some students don’t really see that they’re being taught an integrated curriculum.”

Lyndon, who became so fascinated by Tull's story that he wrote a book about it (Walter Tull: Footballer, Soldier, Hero (2011)) believes that in an ideal world, our history curriculum would be truly diverse – presenting many different narratives – but until then, events such as Black History Month provide important reminders of the need to further diversify our teaching.

“The more people that read stories like Walter Tull’s, the better our conversations and relationships will be,” says Lyndon.

If you would like to get involved in the Tull100 project, visit the website or follow the project on Twitter @Big_Ideas_Co

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