Embedding Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into Welsh education

“Black history is Welsh history, and Welsh history is Black history”

Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales (October 2020)


The new Curriculum for Wales 2022 presents an interesting challenge for progressing the ambition to see the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic perspectives, histories and contributions embedded in the educational diet of every child in Wales. How can we ensure that relevant, robust and adequate attention is paid to this theme in the absence of prescription, in a highly autonomous curriculum? The answer is not as simple as it may seem. Curriculum resourcing and professional development are important, but contain significant caveats in tackling what is demonstrably evidenced: that racial inequalities blight the education system in Wales, in terms of attainment, the profile of the workforce and the lived experience of schooling for children and young people from a range of minority ethnic backgrounds. And, that this has been the case for a long time.

The brief of the ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group commissioned by the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, was to consider how to bolster this theme within all of the ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ of the new curriculum for Wales – not solely within the humanities and arts. So, grasping the attention of a maths teacher becomes as important as grasping the attention of a music teacher. In addition, attention to these concerns is not simply the prerogative of teachers in highly multi-ethnic schools but crucially needs to be captured, explored and made salient in schools beyond the metropolis; effectively in all schools in Wales.

Too often this curriculum theme is interpreted as lessons on slavery, or add-on bits of US civil rights history such as the Rosa Parks story or Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. Or another tendency is to excavate local stories of individual characters from minority ethnic backgrounds, such as John Ystumllun, Dorothy Bonarjee or the boys attending The Congo Institute at the turn of the 20th century, without connecting them to the broader history of diversity – that is, Welsh history – or placing them in the context of the socio-economic development of Wales in the world.

Almost missing altogether is a thorough understanding of anti-racism, both historical and contemporary, such that this focus on narratives of the contribution of individuals shifts attention away from a focus on fundamental rights, dignity and equality.  This broader knowledge of difference and diversity, solidarities and coalitions, and of conflict and contestation, past and present, are a gift for every child in Wales; an entitlement to a knowledge base that isn’t fixed or final but a work in progress. Addressing the current knowledge deficit, will, of course, be much more than filling up content. It will require a thorough culture shift – a new paradigm reflecting the ambition of the Curriculum for Wales for practitioners to think afresh about what they teach, how they teach, and about what we want young people to be as well as to learn’.

The work of reimagining the knowledge deficit dimension of curriculum reform cannot be seen in isolation from a range of measures needed to address socio-economic inequalities based on racial and ethnic difference if there is to be any lasting impact. Every educationalist would acknowledge the now classic Bernstein’s assertion (1970) that ‘Education cannot compensate for society’. Welsh society reveals deeply embedded racial and socio-economic inequalities that impact significantly on learners and which will need significant, broad and ongoing actions, and no small measure of commitment to realise change. But equally, education has a critical role to play, particularly in promoting transformative (not just transmissive) bodies of knowledge, and in establishing frameworks and principles within which critical and contested ideas can be explored and reworked in seeking to equip Wales’ youth as ‘ethical and informed citizens of Wales and the world’.

See the Interim Report here. The final report of the working group will be published on the 19th of March.


About the author:

Professor Charlotte Williams OBE is chair of the ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group, who will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. Charlotte advised on the WCPP’s work in supporting the Welsh Government’s Race Equality Action Plan, based on her work and expertise in improving race equality in the education space, as well as in Wales more widely.