Aldenham School, Founded 1597

Black History Month at Aldenham

Every year, schools use October as a time to celebrate black history whilst reinforcing messages around anti–racism. This year, however, the Aldenham community has embraced Black History Month as never before. In some ways we have been led by our students, whose articulate response to this summer’s events has inspired their teachers to think more deeply about these issues.

In the first week of October, tutor time was devoted to the theme of anti–racism. Some tutors chose to open a discussion with their group about race and racism: an important part of promoting an actively anti-racist culture is engaging everyone in what may be occasionally uncomfortable conversations. Other tutors took a different approach, choosing to teach about the history of racism using resources that ranged from the Boer War to Jim Crow.

We believe that Black History Month is most powerful when it moves beyond vague celebrations of diversity and truly focuses on black history. To that end, Mr Frais, Head of History and Politics, led an assembly in which he talked in some detail about the part black history has played in the UK’s national story. He offered an overview of the history of black people in Britain and introduced us to some lesser-known historical figures, such as Ignatius Sancho, the 18th century writer and composer. Anyone wanting to take their interest in this subject further could start with the excellent Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Mr Frais and the History team have been using their departmental meetings to plan their teaching of black history beyond October. They want to ensure that black stories are accurately presented in each topic studied from Years 7 to 9 (from Year 10 onwards, the curriculum is more determined by public examinations). By collaboratively reworking each scheme of learning, the History department is pioneering a general curriculum review which is currently being planned by the Senior School Academic Committee. This review will begin with an audit of our entire curriculum, with each department finding authentic ways to address possible gaps in their syllabi. We look forward with excitement to the new approaches, topics and insights which will come out of this process of enrichment.

Finally, we are seeking simply to learn. Our staff professional development library is now stocked with a number of titles that deal with the black experience, whilst our librarian, Mr Nelson, has amalgamated relevant books for students into an impressive display. From the dazzling poetry of Derek Walcott to teen fiction such as The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, and from autobiographies to satire, it is refreshing to see the latest titles sit alongside established classics by black writers.

In the past, October may have been the only month when the achievements of black Britons were celebrated. At Aldenham School, we are determined that the black contribution to British life will be recognised throughout the year and in ways that enhance the education of all our students.

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