Stop 'playing culture wars' with education, says MP Diane Abbott
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A Hackney MP has called for a more diverse curriculum and has criticised a recent education report for its cherry picking of data and playing into "culture wars".
Diane Abbott called out a Committee's report, published on June 16, which "examines the decades-long neglect of the let-down White working class".
Ms Abbott said at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Race Equality in Education event on Windrush Day (June 22): “I think we need to encourage all of our children to do the very best that they can and to excel educationally but this particular report has cherry picked data. [It] has managed not to talk about the cuts to education which has hurt all children's results educationally and, just to say, we should not be playing culture wars with education.
“Some of you will know that out of the 65 materials in the GCSE literature specifications, 56 are written by White authors. It’s clear we can do better than that and if we don’t provide our children with course materials that are representative of the richness of our society than we are failing our children.”
The report showed White British pupils on free school meals lagged behind most other ethnic groups, except Irish Traveller, Gypsy/Roma and White Irish free school meal-eligible students, when comparing metrics on early years development, attainment and access to higher education.
The report said: "We are aware of a pressing need to tackle social injustices for pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds, from school exclusions, to degree classifications, to disparities in the workplace, healthcare and justice systems.
"However, we also believe that the size of the White majority means that addressing their relatively low educational outcomes could significantly shift the overall attainment gap."
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The report also criticised wide-spread use of the term "White privilege", stating concern that the phrase may be "alienating to disadvantaged White communities, and it may have contributed towards a systemic neglect of White people facing hardship who also need specific support."
Meanwhile, Ms Abbott also called for a more diverse curricula in schools and higher education and, for more Black history to be taught to students at the event which saw her and other prominent Black voices reflect on the importance of Windrush Day.
She said: “You need a school curriculum that reflects that global world if British children are going to be able to go out there and compete.
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"This country has a rich history, but part of that rich history is about people from the Caribbean, Africa and India and the whole of what was the empire. So we want children to know about British History in it’s entirety.”
Ms Abbott mentioned how despite a reasonable education at a grammar school and then Cambridge University she "never learnt about Black history" until taking it upon herself to go to libraries and Black bookshops.
"I don’t think it should be like that," she said.
"I think we need a proper rich curriculum for all our children. All our children would benefit from learning about the world and particularly British history in all its diversity.”
Asked whether MPs are trying to create a culture war, committee chairman and Conservative MP Robert Halfon said that members are addressing decades of neglect of those from disadvantaged backgrounds with the report calling for a network of family hubs to be introduced to boost parental engagement and mitigate the effects of multi-generational disadvantage.
A DfE spokesperson said: “The knowledge-rich curriculum in our schools offers pupils the opportunity to study significant figures from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds and the contributions they have made to the nation, as well as helping them understand our shared history with countries from across the world.
“Schools play a crucial role in helping young people understand the world around them and their place within it and we continue to be informed by the work of committed individuals and groups when it comes to supporting the teaching of Black and minority ethnic history.”