Black History is British History: Adapting the curriculum to tackle the ‘tricky bits’ – one school’s journey.

In March, Deputy Head Teacher Philip Hynan, gave an inspirational online presentation. He outlined how his school, Harper Bell SDA Primary, had reshaped the curriculum to meet the needs of its pupils.

Here is an overview of the process the school went through to achieve this goal.

School ethos and curriculum drivers

First the school considered its ethos and the drivers that would affect curriculum choices. These included the school’s vision to inspire its pupils to achieve a university education, its values of love, learning and laughter, and the cultural heritage of its pupils.

Next a detailed analysis was done of various school curricula from around the country. The objective was to find out how, if at all, three very diverse schools had adapted their curriculums to reflect the heritage of their students. Despite one school representing a majority of pupils from culturally diverse backgrounds, its curriculum still remained largely white, Eurocentric.

Harper Bell staff set about establishing a rationale for altering their curriculum. This included looking at national statistics for attainment of different groups and how children within those groups were disadvantaged by the current national curriculum.

Creating a relevant curriculum

The school then highlighted aspects of the national curriculum that could be adapted to meet the needs of their children.

For example:

Hi2/2.3 Ancient Civilisations

Pupils should be taught about achievements of the earliest civilisations – an overview of where and when the first civilisations appeared and a depth study of one of the following:

  • Ancient Sumer
  • The Indus Valley
  • Ancient Egypt; or
  • The Shang Dynasty of Ancient China

Areas of historical knowledge were then identified for inclusion into the curriculum. For example, when WWI was taught it was NOT positioned as a European War but a conflict that saw contributions from nations across the British Empire.

Key themes and concepts identified

Key themes and concepts were then decided on. In History, these included larger themes like Invasion and Migration, Rebellion and Social Justice. The skills required to access these themes were also defined – for example, Cause and Effect, Chronology, Empathy.

The skills were then matched to each year group, according to topic.  So, for Changes Within Living Memory: All About Me, children would be expected to use and understand Chronology as well as Continuity and Change during their studies. Year 3, on the other hand, would need these skills plus an understanding of Cause and Effect as well as Evidence in order to engage with the topic Stone Age to Iron Age.

Adapting key themes for each year group

For each key theme, every year group had an area of study assigned to it. For example,


  • EYFS – Family History
  • Year 1 – Our lives: Coming to England, the Windrush Story
  • Year 2 – Human Geography of the Caribbean
  • Year 3 – Digbeth and migration; Beaker people; asylum seekers and refugees: Granny Ting Ting – first generation British
  • Year 4 – Anglo-Saxons and Vikings
  • Year 5 – Windrush Generation: Syrian civil war/asylum seekers
  • Year 5 – WWI, Empire/Commonwealth citizens, Lebanon civil war/ asylum seekers

Within these Key themes, specific areas of study were picked out and matched across the curriculum so that in History, for Example, Year 6 could be studying Imperialism via the Scramble for Africa, while in English they discussed the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Supporting staff, parents and pupils with relevant skills and knowledge

The creation of a detailed and diverse curriculum was a large undertaking. To ensure that all members of staff were prepared and onboard with the challenge of delivering it, the school produced detailed documents outlining all the key information required for each topic. It also created a set of pupil workbooks so that every child and parent understood the expectations from each topic.

Supplementing books to reflect the school population

Alongside this work, the school reviewed the books it used throughout the curriculum and supplemented its library with more culturally diverse and relevant stories. The Deputy Head explained that while 4% of books have Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic characters in them, 36% of all primary story books contain animals as the main character. The school wanted to redress this massive imbalance and ensure that children read stories about protagonists they could relate to.

Was this overhaul of the curriculum worth the effort?

In 2016 only 20% of pupils were reaching age related targets in Reading, Writing and Maths. In the latest reported data (2020) that figure has risen to 70%.

The answer is therefore a resounding ‘Yes’. And this despite a highly transient school population.

Congratulations to Harper Bell SDA Primary School and its innovative, hardworking, visionary staff.

Get in touch with our team