Swinney: We will improve in teaching black history

Pupils don't always get ‘responsible and respectful’ teaching of black history, writes Scotland’s education secretary

John Swinney

Tackling racism: In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Scotland's education secretary, John Swinney, says the country's schools will focus more on teaching black history

The Scottish government stands in solidarity with the worldwide anti-racism movement.

Education has a key role to play in building a society which actively challenges racism, eliminates racial discrimination and advances equality.

I have received many items of correspondence asking that more is done to ensure that social inequality, racism and black history are covered in the curriculum.


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Correspondents are right that what is taught in schools is crucially important to ensure that our young people have a strong knowledge of Scotland’s past, so they understand the importance of tolerance and anti-racism in Scotland’s present.

Our curriculum already provides opportunities for young people to learn about all aspects of the history, heritage and culture of Scotland, including the role that Scotland played in the slave trade – both as part of the broad general education and as part of courses at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher level.

More broadly, our whole curriculum is founded on the values of wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity and respect for human rights.

Tackling racism: Teaching black history in Scottish schools

This means that learning in the classroom, combined with whole-school approaches based on those values, supports young people to develop an understanding of human rights and to grow as empowered, empathetic global citizens.

While I am confident that there is a strong basis for responsible and respectful teaching of black history and human rights across our schools, I am also clear this is not always the experience for our pupils.

We must ensure that teachers and learners have the skills and resources necessary to support and deliver that learning.

Education Scotland is already looking at how to shine a light on existing teaching resources and develop further materials and professional learning, to support investigations into Scotland’s black history and to teach about black heritage and culture as well as the slave trade and Scotland’s role in it.

This will help teachers to plan and provide black history in schools in ways that reflect their learners’ needs and local contexts.

This takes place within the flexible framework that is a valued feature of our curriculum in Scotland, whereby teachers use their professional judgement to decide what is taught in the classroom.

To ensure we are making the right progress at the right pace, I will meet stakeholders myself at the earliest opportunity to identify what further steps can be taken.

In the meantime, officials are already taking forward discussions with stakeholders to understand the key opportunities for change.

Education alone cannot right the wrongs of racial inequality in the past and in our society today.

However, it can and must be part of the necessary wider social and systemic improvements required to ensure equality for all in Scotland.

John Swinney is Scotland's education secretary and deputy first minister. This article first appeared as a blog

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