Call Made to 'Decolonise' the Curriculum in Wandsworth

Council to publish an anti-racism strategy for schools

Picture: DFID


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November 24, 2020

Wandsworth Council has voted to publish a public strategy around anti-racism in the borough’s schools.

The motion was put forward by Labour opposition councillors at last week’s Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee (November 19), where it narrowly passed with the help of parent and teacher delegates who are allowed to vote on the committee.

Councillors discussed a paper on equalities, diversity and inclusion in the borough which showed pupils from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background perform less well than their peers overall, with Black Caribbean pupils the lowest performing.

The report also noted that most referrals for statutory need or protection related to BAME children (57 per cent) and the majority of children that become looked after by the authority are also BAME (72 per cent).

The report praised some schools across the borough that had run unconscious bias training for staff, introduced an Anti-Racist Charter, and set up a ‘change group’ to look at diversity and inclusion issues.

Officers said they will provide periodic updates “to ensure there is sustained momentum and focus on this matter at the most senior level.”

Debating the Labour motion, Conservative councillors appeared to agree on most issues, which were similar to those in their motion, but challenged Labour’s use of the word “decolonise”.

The word is generally understood to mean changing the way we understand, talk about, and teach how race and Britain’s colonial legacy affects what is taught in schools.

When learning about the British empire, for example, campaigners argue it is important to discuss the harmful effects of the slave trade.

Chair Cllr George Crivelli said there are many different interpretations of what it means to decolonise the curriculum.

“It is quite an ambiguous phrase in its own context,” he said.

He added, “I think we’ve taken on a lot of the stuff about how we make progress and [what] the officers have done to come up with this really good equalities paper.

“We’re working in partnership with the schools and also we do acknowledge the points about the curriculum, and we will work with the schools on that, but we’re not going to prescribe one particular thing to them.”

Labour councillors argued that the council should show leadership in decolonising the curriculum, and the way schools teach the past.

Cabinet member Will Sweet said he largely agreed with Labour, but the key issue was about the curriculum.

“The council does not decide the curriculum in schools. So when you start talking in particular ways about how we would tell schools what to do, I feel very uncomfortable,” he said.

The Labour motion passed with the help of co-opted members by six votes to five.

The Conservative motion also passed with nine votes in favour, and two abstentions.

Both motions will go to the executive for final approval on November 23.


Sian Bayley - Local Democracy Reporter