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Hoxton teacher raises funds for a library to represent all pupils

PUBLISHED: 14:53 07 September 2020 | UPDATED: 16:53 07 September 2020

Riley Can Be Anything by Mrs Davina Hamilton is one of the books in Rachel Sewell's classroom  library . Picture: Rachel Sewell

Riley Can Be Anything by Mrs Davina Hamilton is one of the books in Rachel Sewell's classroom library . Picture: Rachel Sewell

Rachel Sewell

A Hoxton teacher is raising money to fill her school with books on Black history and culture.

“Dylan’s Dilemma” author Mr. Richard Osei-Akota at a Network and VibesLdn event with teacher Rachel Sewell.“Dylan’s Dilemma” author Mr. Richard Osei-Akota at a Network and VibesLdn event with teacher Rachel Sewell.

Newly qualified teacher, Rachel Sewell, decided to set up The Black Literacy Fund after her training revealed a curriculum which was not representative of the diversity she saw in her Hackney classroom.

Rachel told the Gazette: “My initiative is just to get black representation into schools.

“I thought, the way I could start, was crowd funding and getting as many books as I could for my classroom.

“Then, building on that and putting them throughout my school and then, hopefully, throughout Hackney and anywhere else I can do it.”

Another book in the library is Dr Maggie's Grand Tour of the Solar System by Maggie Aderin-Pocock. Picture: Rachel SewellAnother book in the library is Dr Maggie's Grand Tour of the Solar System by Maggie Aderin-Pocock. Picture: Rachel Sewell

Rachel says her school, St John the Baptist in Hoxton, was “extremely supportive.”

“To a point where they were like: ‘We want to get books not just in your classroom but in every classroom and throughout our library’,” she said.

READ MORE: Hackney and Haringey schoolchildren work hard to develop their literacy skills

Her school started an initiative called Rise Up about two years ago to ensure its teaching of the national curriculum reflected and incorporated students’ cultures and heritage.

A copy of the book “Later”, written by Mr. Curtis Ackie, was donated by independent self-publisher Formy Books. Picture: Rachel SewellA copy of the book “Later”, written by Mr. Curtis Ackie, was donated by independent self-publisher Formy Books. Picture: Rachel Sewell

For teachers in year one, for example, the national curriculum offers a choice between teaching about 19th Century Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole or the English founder of nursing Florence Nightingale.

Rachel thinks all schools should teach about both historical figures and believes black students do not “see themselves” enough in the subjects they are taught.

Having grown up in both the UK and the Caribbean country of Dominica she has seen first-hand the differences in educational systems.

She says it was empowering to see black teachers and learn about black leaders, slave revolts and independence movements when living abroad, but was disappointed when she returned to the UK and heard a teacher say Christopher Columbus “discovered” America despite indigenous people having lived there for centuries.

Copies of “I Am Confident In God and Fearless: Psalm 27” were donated by author Tayo Oshaye. Picture: Rachel SewellCopies of “I Am Confident In God and Fearless: Psalm 27” were donated by author Tayo Oshaye. Picture: Rachel Sewell

READ MORE: Communal meditations held in London Fields in support of Black Lives Matter

Rachel says the curriculum has “not changed much” since she was at school and that the role of slavery in Black history is overemphasised.

She said: “When we talk about black history in schools we talk about slavery but slavery isn’t our history – it interrupted our history and disrupted it.

“There is lots of positive rich history and, in schools they teach slavery from a point of view of empires and conquering.

The Band Family reading book. Picture: Rachel SewellThe Band Family reading book. Picture: Rachel Sewell

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“How great we were to conquer this place and colonise this place but it’s not actually taught from a human rights perspective - what did we do to a group of people.”

As far back as 1985, The Swann Report, on education and children from ethnic minority groups, was recommending that a multi-cultural understanding “permeate all aspects of a school’s work.”

Yet in 2020 teachers like Rachel and Black Lives Matter activists are still calling for a more inclusive, less euro-centric curriculum in the UK.

READ MORE: Hackney friends prepare to cycle hundreds of kilometres across country for charity

Rachel thinks books written from a variety of cultural perspectives could help foster understanding and heal inequalities revealed in Department For Education school exclusion figures.

Mixed White and Black Caribbean, and Black Caribbean pupils were nearly three times as likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupils in 2018/19.

Meanwhile, Gypsy and Roma, and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils had the highest school exclusion rates in the same school year

“There’s so much we could teach, not just about black people and where they come from, but about other cultures in the world and how they have all helped to make the world a better place,” she said.

“All I want to do is be the change I wish to see and if that means I reach one child I have done something, through that one child I will reach another and another - that’s all I wish to do.”

The Black Literacy Fund is supporting authors by purchasing their books for schools as well as educational initiatives which are diverse and inclusive in their approach, such as London-based Kudos Tuition.

To donate to The Black Literacy Fund visit gf.me/u/yarfzq

Follow the fund on:

Facebook: @theblackliteracyfund

Instagram: @theblackliteracyfund

Twitter: @blackliteracy1

For more information about Kudos Tuition click here


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