In my last two articles, I focused on the effects that the British Empire had on India, including the examples of Jallianwala Bagh - more popularly known as the Amritsar massacre- and the revolutionary that was Udham Singh. However, I’d like to ask the question. “Why did I have to write an article on these two topics to feel as if someone is finally being educated on them?” and “What goes in to deciding our history curriculum and how does that impact students?” in an attempt to find an answer, I interviewed my history teacher (Will Jones).

What are some of the deciding factors when choosing a topic to teach students?

Mr Jones: A lot of it is teacher subject knowledge. Subject knowledge is a massive factor in that. At GCSE we are bound by the exam board, in terms of what are the topics available. There are a lot of diverse topics available, but again a lot of it comes down to subject knowledge. It also comes down to resourcing. For example, all the textbooks we have now, we’ve spent hundreds of pounds on. For us to choose a new topic, it would cost hundreds of pounds to buy a whole new set of textbooks. Also, it comes down to what topics we are familiar with for teaching the questions, so we can get the best out of the students as well. At Key Stage 3, we’ve done a lot of work on trying to add diversity to our curriculum over the last two or three years.

Do you believe there is any bias when it comes to choosing the topics we are taught?

Mr Jones: I’m sure there probably is bias, in that if someone with a different background to me came in and taught and they had massive expertise in different areas, that would probably shape the topics they chose. If I taught a topic from a part of the world where I had no experience and I didn’t even know what it meant to live in that system. If I didn’t know what it meant to vote, to pay taxes, to do all of those things. It would make it very difficult for me to impart that knowledge. So, yes, it’s to some extent biased.

Is it ever uncomfortable or awkward to teach students of colour about how their ancestors were treated by Britain?

Mr Jones: I think I am becoming more confident in it; I’ve certainly felt uncomfortable before. More through, not wanting to say the wrong thing, or totally getting the history wrong or making some kind of inference or a nuance about a way of living in a certain part of the world. What I’ve actually found is it’s really important to be open, honest and develop communication. So, if I have been teaching about the transatlantic slave trade to students whose family can be traced back to the slave trade or those parts of Africa, it’s to just have that conversation about it. What we have been trying to make a conscious effort to do though, is to understand the impact of the way that we teach the curriculum.

Has racism ever been a prevalent issue that you’ve noticed within history lessons? Maybe bias to do with where certain students are from and their past with the country?

Mr Jones: I’ve never seen anyone be directly racist, to someone in terms of the language that they use. I’m always aware that as much as I try to be in control of my classroom. I’m always aware that there are things going on that I don’t know and can’t see. I have had people say inappropriate things quite a lot of the time.

Are they inappropriate because they didn’t know or inappropriate because they meant it to be inappropriate?

Mr Jones: I would say, working in a school with teenagers. 19 times out of 20, most things are said out of pure ignorance. Some students say things for effect and it’s largely because of something that is going on in their life, that they are trying to deflect. Which is why if you look at our approach to dealing with a lot of these behaviours it’s largely getting a balance between passion and assertiveness. Sometimes it is really hard to find that balance. If something did happen in my classroom, of a racist nature. I think I’d probably approach it in a similar way. Actually, I did have two year eight students who reported to me incidents of racism. One girl who because she wears a hijab had been called a terrorist and one girl who is from Germany keeps getting called a Nazi or a dirty German. We ended up having a conversation with the boy who had said the things. They confronted it, in a very structured way and he couldn’t justify what he had said. If anything, he apologised profusely, he was really upset. He hated how the fact that he had said it had labelled him a racist because he was adamant that he wasn’t racist. Actually, his actions were. And I think his actions came out of naivety or childishness or wanting to pick on girls in front of his mates. Those kinds of actions are quite typical in schools.

In conclusion, history as a subject in schools is tremendously valued by both students and teachers alike. It’s a subject that allows progression not only within the topics that we learn, but the way that it is taught, which is an important requirement. As subjects in school must be able progress with the generations that the subject is being taught to.