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Decolonising the curriculum: a reading list

A collection of key reading. Updated as new learning takes place.

Last updated: November 2022

Defining decolonisation

Adebisi. 2019.
‘Without critical thought, representation can become toxic and tokenistic, people could be included into spaces that are not safe for them, spaces historically and repeatedly designed to harm and exclude them. Diversity is a fact of life that cannot be promoted without explaining why it has been demoted. General statements of equality often ignore the process of othering and set an unequal normative standard of equality. In all of these schemes we focus on what we are fighting for, rather than what we are fighting against. All our lofty sounding words and good intentions pave the way to hell for groups who are almost routinely left out of our institutions.’
Bhanot, 2015
‘One of the problems with quick-fixes to the ‘diversity’ problem: they usually involve reaching out for the handful of well-known names, writers, organisations that immediately come to mind, promoting them or asking them for advice and recommendations…
This approach ensures that literature remains in the same circles of power, within one class and caste. Such tokenism also means that it is often the writers of colour who are most visible, who work the hardest to turn themselves into shiny friendly packages, who are most acceptable and amenable, that are reached for.’
‘As described by Kavita Bhanot (2015) efforts to diversify without attempts to decolonise invite marginalised groups to the institution, but do not give those marginalised a seat at the table. This is to say that power imbalances are still maintained as well as systems and experiences of oppression. Without decolonising work, diversification exists as ‘tick-boxing’ and tokenism – work which does not listen to, or act on, the needs of those marginalised concerning equal and inclusive experiences within the workplace and the classroom.’
O’Dowd. Heckenberg. 2020.
‘Colonisation is more than physical. It is also cultural and psychological in determining whose knowledge is privileged. In this, colonisation not only impacts the first generation colonised but creates enduring issues.’
‘The urgency dictated by white guilt leaves little space and time for actual reflection, deconstructing, deconditioning, relationship-building, and structural dismantling. Thus, grassroots indigenous and Majority World leaders are left in the dust, their ideas co-opted in the rush to “solutions”, while colonial power paradigms and dynamics are left intact, patterns of oppression and structural injustices remaining unfettered and reinforced.’

Decolonising the curriculum

Abdi, Maharasingham, Oxby and Richards. 2020.
‘Very deeply rooted in our education system is an unconscious belief that based on your race or your class, you have a certain level of intelligence… unless you start to attack that, notice those behaviours in your practice, you can have a great decolonised curriculum but you’re still practising oppressively’ (Maharasingham)
‘Decolonising the curriculum involves viewing the curriculum through a critical lens, both teachers and students alike. Essentially, it means viewing teaching and learning from multiple perspectives, and questioning what is being taught. For instance, by asking: Where has this knowledge come from? Whose knowledge is this? Whose viewpoint does it represent?’
‘It is clear that the aim is not to make race the focus of every discipline. Rather, a simple explanation is that when teaching or learning any subject, we should “question whose viewpoint the information is coming from”.
Alexander, Chatterji and Weekes-Bernard. 2012
‘What history should we be teaching in Britain in the 21st century?’ ‘the question allows space for an alternative vision – one which tells a different story of who we are and who we have been, one which allows us space to revisit the role of history in understanding how contemporary diverse Britain has come into being…
It points to the need for rethinking of the way in which British history is considered apart from, and counterposed to, ‘world history’. This is not just an issue of balance, but of definition and of fundamental reorientation.’

The Black Curriculum 2020

Arday, Stennett, Kennedy. 2020.


‘Consider how to develop a discourse that interweaves the contribution of Black History to the canon as a form or body of legitimate knowledge.’
‘The cognition which ensues allows us as a nation to collectively pause and reflect on race relations… Can also help society to unravel many of the racial stereotypes that longer into the present.’
‘The need for a more critical engagement with issues around Empire and slavery is essential in understanding Britain’s troubled and oppressive history in its absolute unfiltered entirety.’

The Black Curriculum 2021

Arday, Kennedy, Thompson, Williams, Triumph. 2021.


‘Mobilising a curriculum that embraces Britain’s diverse and multi-cultural history does not only hinge upon the content taught to pupils, but perhaps of equal importance, is how teachers are supported pedagogically and professionally to teach diverse curricula effectively, accurately and confidently (Alexander and Arday, 2015; D’Avray et al., 2013)’
‘The teaching and learning of diverse histories serves a dual purpose; it facilitates a sense of belonging and reflection. In addition, it can engage those disengaged minority ethnic students, in preparing them through adolescence to adulthood, in taking their place within a multicultural British society.’
BBC. 2020
Rochelle: “There’s no point having tokenistic things like Black History Month, when there’s not actually real commitment to ensuring that in every single facet of education our stories are being told. And making sure that our narratives are being included.”
‘For me, Black history is broader than just teaching about “significant” Black people from the past and it is certainly more than just the transatlantic slave trade…
So alongside teaching about Mary Seacole, Mansa Musa and Martin Luther King Jr I believe we must also teach about how European countries interacted with the African continent and how the African diaspora influenced the world.’
MA Education Consultancy, 2021.
‘The world we know is built upon racist and colonial ideas that disenfranchise people of colour…
Decolonisation, especially in education, is necessary for achieving a just and equitable society.’
‘Every member of staff needs to be involved in that process, and students should be engaged with it too. Much as institutions may like to think the issue can be solved by working their way through a checklist of actions, decolonising begins with individuals deconstructing themselves and looking inward to the roots of their own identity.’
Hughes. 2021.
‘Decolonising the curriculum does not mean, as detractors might suggest, rather disingenuously, a superficial and rushed replacement of authors on book lists or merely throwing the Western canon out the window for the sake of doing it. The project has been slow in the making—even if it is something of a bandwagon today—and reposes on those central goals of education, which are to think deeply, to consider multiple perspectives, and to situate knowledge in time, power and politics.’
‘History has and continues to be a powerful force in European society. Traditional national narratives may ignore or not fully address the history and lived experiences of colonised people. Critically questioning what stories are left out and why helps to dismantle systems that can privilege some groups over others.’
‘Curriculum thinking is fundamentally about power; whom it belongs to, whom it elevates and whom it places at the centre of the discourse…
A curriculum in which the taught, and therefore, valued knowledge is the product of white, western, colonial European origin. To decentre the inherent power in this – so that our future citizens can engage in power dynamics with cultural reciprocity – it is incumbent upon those who decide the what of the curriculum to engage with a much broader field of knowledge.’
Kara. 2021.
‘In short, my argument was for the inclusion of more knowledge, not less, for the sole purpose that our students deserve to be able to do more than fit into the culture of one country. They might, if we find space to colour in the black and white, learn the interconnectedness of the world they live in.’
McIntosh, Todd and Nandini Das, 2019
‘Inclusion and representation are important. However, teaching migration, belonging, and empire is not relevant to students from current ethnic minorities alone. It offers all young people the opportunity to better understand the dynamic world they inhabit. It will give British students of all ethnic backgrounds a fuller understanding of the varied and wide-ranging cultural inputs that have contributed to the making of Britain. It is important to recognise that the complex, diverse, and often fraught history of Britain’s engagement with other nations, races, and cultures happened both within its shores and beyond. It is not an addendum to British history, literature, and culture, but an intrinsic part of it.’
Miller, Maharasingham. 2020.
‘Whose culture has capital?… This is a profoundly reflective process but it is also a process that is involved with activism because to decolonise involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships and working to challenge these systems. It is not an integration or simply token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-whites. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledges. It is a culture shift. It is adjusting to cultural perceptions and power relations in real and significant ways.’
‘Time: decolonising the curriculum involves work over and above the usual requirements for leading a module. It requires new learning, especially for academics who have been taught in Western frameworks. It takes time to find sources and to fundamentally re-shape (and not just cosmetically diversify) courses.’
‘Whhat gets included in the curriculum, and perhaps more importantly, what gets excluded from the curriculum, sends out powerful messages to young people about what is valued. Excluding the presence and voice of people from minority ethnic backgrounds therefore sends out a clear signal to all students that somehow the past activities of these groups is not worthy of attention.’
‘The knock-on effect of this can serve to alienate and disengage young people from minority ethnic backgrounds from education generally. Why should young people engage with a curriculum from which they are ignored and absent, or if present are often cast as victims of slavery and oppression.’
‘Historical consciousness provides a range of theoretical lenses for seeing how human beings position themselves in time and take account of their past (Lee, 2004). It seeks to provide a full awareness of the historicity of everything present and the relativity of all opinions through complementary stories; competing stories; and stories that clash with the single dominant version of the past (Sexias, 2004).’
Moncrieffe. 2020.
‘We have to have some kind of stimulus but imposing names… means that we’re telling people who to study. That’s what curriculum does…’
‘Primary school teachers and trainees must be empowered to engage in questions and debate the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of curriculum implementation in their teaching and learning. Not simply to become ‘curriculum makers’, but to become ‘critical curriculum thinkers’ in actively challenging the educational worth of the statutory content directives and guidance of the national history curriculum.’
‘Our main question considered how diversifying the curriculum could be highlighted as an institutional priority, while ensuring the issue doesn’t get transformed into a tick box exercise. Moreover, diversifying the curriculum isn’t limited to expanding reading lists. While reading lists play an important part in this conversation, diversifying the curriculum also looks at learning spaces, forms of assessment and support for marginalized communities.’
‘It is lamentable that a child can grow up in late 20th century Britain and attend its educational institutions yet find next to no cultural, racial or historical reference points that speak to them. What does this lack of clear historical trajectory mean for ‘Black and Asian’ identities if we are not meaningfully anchored in the place we call home?’
Notman, 2021
‘We should be talking more about how climate change is going to affect different countries differently,’ she says. With the Global South to be hit harder than the Global North, technologies such as those to improve water purity in the Global South should also appear more prominently in the curriculum.’
O’Dowd. Heckenberg. 2020.
‘Colonisation is more than physical. It is also cultural and psychological in determining whose knowledge is privileged. In this, colonisation not only impacts the first generation colonised but creates enduring issues.’
‘A focus on problems raises other issues: the balance and sequence of theory and practice, and the plurality of theories and methods required to solve the problems. Very few of today’s “wicked” problems can be solved through one perspective or one method of investigation. These kinds of curriculum change are highly complex and contested but are being tackled in many disciplines’

Why representation really matters

Thomas. 2020.


‘Every day BAME children are educated without seeing themselves in the curriculum or their environment. They hear about the greatness of others, all that they have conquered and contributed. Then they look at their own skin and think, what have my people achieved?’
Uthmani, no date
‘Traditionally, much of our curriculum is framed around the successes of the British Empire. It fails to acknowledge the contribution of communities and nations without which the empire would not have been as successful or wealthy as it once was. The stories of what those nations sacrificed as a result has been hidden away for centuries. Decolonising the curriculum refers to the inclusion of those stories, characters and contributions of others around the world that has impacted on the lives that we live today.’

Decolonising the curriculum in action

Adcock. 2021.
‘At the launch event for our enriched curriculum the historian and broadcaster Professor David Olusoga compared British history to a great decaying mansion in which only a few rooms are inhabited, while the others are firmly locked. He challenged us to open up these rooms and face up to the nuanced reality of our national story, where good and evil, dark and light, hope and despair, sit side by side; to give the story of slavery the same attention as the story of abolition; to acknowledge the complexity, diversity and globalism of our past rather than revel in tales of heroism and exceptionalism.’
Akhter, 2020.
‘History is often told through the viewpoint of the coloniser country. Decolonisation of the curriculum calls for us to consider the stories and accounts of those countries shaped by colonialism. It is about centring marginalised voices. Suppose in our teaching of Ideas in Politics A level we examine Mill. In that case, we should also acknowledge his views on Empire and learn the stories of those impacted by colonial practices whose legacies continue to shape politics today.’
‘Sympathy for a victim of racism is well-meaning, but does it show true allyship? Is it more powerful to say- “I’m so sorry that happened to you, that is totally unacceptable”?
Ellie. 2021.
‘Unfortunately, often tokenistic gestures of “diversity” or “multiculturalism” take the place of actual, concrete action to address the underlying issues that lead to lack of representation within the curriculum. The problem with the concept of “diversity” is that it is based on the idea that there is a neutral point from which “others” are “diverse” (with the dominant aspect of this “neutrality” being whiteness). The concept of decolonising the curriculum goes further than simply ensuring that there are more black and brown faces in text books and the resources we create. It asks us to move beyond what we think we know, to question things that we may have assumed were fact and to move away from a Eurocentric view of the world.’
Glowach. 2019
‘I have a large cohort of Somali students, and I want to recognise and share the cultural capital they offer.’
‘One mistake I’ve made over and over again: teaching traumatic events in history without understanding the need to embed them within a wider, and more empowering, social-historical narrative.’
‘The result? Assemblies run by these female students across 7-11 year groups, changes to the Religious Education curriculum, visits from Muslim community leaders, and changes in mind-set and the distribution of leadership. In short, a very real commitment to change’
‘If you’re asking people to put Toni Morrison or Chinua Achebe on the curriculum, you’re hardly asking for tokenism, and in a multi-ethnic society, teaching white kids that they have nothing to learn from anybody else, that they should never have to put themselves in the shoes of anybody else, how are you equipping these kids for life in an increasingly diverse society?
In other words, we don’t need a diverse curriculum to ‘save’ BAME kids, we need diversity because it yields powerful knowledge.’
‘Decolonising the curriculum can involve interrogating white-centric texts by questioning the assumptions of white moral authority. This can be achieved by contrasting texts such as George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” with Ken Saro-Wiwa’s “Robert and the Dog”. In class I encourage students to reckon with their reactions: for whom or what are we made to sympathise – the animals or the people? Do some writers present the suffering of BAME people as an accepted norm? Do some writers position BAME people as less human than white people? How do they do this? Why? I regularly invite a critical perspective using texts that facilitate this approach – we English teachers love a difficult and important conversation.’
‘Model what colonial frameworks and lenses look like in textbooks and in practice – have discussions about the limitations of these, how they position the global majority and the Global South, and the way they reproduce racial hierarchies…
Staff need reading and training on how to talk about race, and how to structure and deliver a curriculum that empowers rather than silences, humiliates and traumatises. Just like students, they need to see this modelled in their own discipline (not just yours).’
‘The key here is that, by making the content we teach more representative of the individuals involved in historical events; their impact and the range of attitudes and motivations they had, we’re giving them the knowledge they need to see more than just a narrow perspective of events…
This in turn gives them the tools they need to understand a historical process in much greater detail and to ensure that the arguments they form rest upon stronger foundations because they cover a much greater range of the actors and actions that shaped events.’
‘All the above approaches however, while crucial and important, still don’t necessarily get students to question the narratives that they have been given in our curriculum. Teachers have an active role to play in the process of ‘silencing the past’; we provide the ‘archives’ for our students by the sources we show are students, and we choose which narratives we show our students’
Mangal. 2020.
‘Decolonisation within education can empower all students, giving minority students a greater sense of belonging and engagement and other students a fuller, richer awareness of society, history and help understand and accept differences.’
Mountstevens. 2021
‘So while I still think we are right to prioritise using the curriculum as a window for our students, I reckon we write off the mirror at our peril. We can’t hope to reflect every student’s experience, but when we do, there is nothing quite like it, and it can be a gateway to something more.
Onanda. 2020
‘Schools need to start with an unashamed and thorough baseline analysis of where they are as a school and encourage as much student voice in this review as possible. Opportunities/ gaps in the curriculum should be identified and utilised to refresh learning and engage students. The temptation to focus on ‘just’ colonial history should be avoided. All nations and peoples had an identity before, during and after any colonial struggle/ occupation. Positive and enriching aspects of world culture, history and contributions to society should be considered.’
Rotherham. 2020.
‘As McCauley states, “Learning about our music in a way that is authentic, rather than continuing to propagate stereotypes and further spread misinformation, is an integral part of being a culturally responsive and respectful music educator. It’s also easier than it’s ever been.”
‘Rewriting a whole curriculum is something that takes time and collective decisions. So, for practicality, first of all I ask, is it possible to adapt our current curriculum in order to better represent the history of BAME people and to begin to deconstruct systemic racism?’
‘I’ve been really wrestling with how to approach racially offensive language in sources. In the classroom, my instinct is always to leave the language in and be able to contextualise it and explain that why this language is so offensive today is because of its historical roots. But I’m starting to think about this more carefully after listening to our students and the problems that can emerge in the classroom and playground after such language is used.’

Decolonising literature

Aronson, O’Brien and Breau, no date
‘Ask yourself: Whose knowledge is being drawn on? Are there author/illustrator notes about the process of creating the book? Was there research undertaken, or does the story draw on personal experience, or both? If it’s not an #OwnVoices book: Are there notes explaining how/why the author or illustrator came to the material? Do they have a personal connection or direct experience with the characters they’re portraying? Were members of the portrayed group involved or consulted in the creation of the book? Are there #OwnVoices reviews of the book that might aid in your assessment?’

Aronson and O’Brien, 2014

‘Even more rare are the picture books that depict children making positive connections across racial differences. This absence sends a subtle message to children, as if we were telling them, “It’s okay to only play with children who are like you” or that “children like you don’t play with children who are racially different from you.”
Bishop. 1990.
‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’
Degrees of Erasure section: ‘In the process of reviewing the titles submitted in the second cycle, we were struck by the range of ways in which ethnic minority characters were effectively rendered visibly invisible. We encountered repeated instances in which the presence of ethnic minority characters was diminished.’
The benefit is twofold as it serves as affirmation in one instance and broadens world outlook in another. To encounter characters and worlds that resemble your own can allow for powerful connections to be forged between the reader and the world of the book. To experience people, cultures and worlds beyond your own can deepen and enrich a reader’s understanding of the world and their place in it. A representative and inclusive shelf therefore benefits all readers and should be an entitlement for all of our pupils.’
Cole. 2019.
‘Most white children are still growing up in a house of mirrors with books offering up only slightly altered replicas of themselves, and rarely visions of the world they encounter when they step outside (whether that be the communities they are growing up in, or the communities they witness in other forms of popular culture). Meantime, vast numbers of BAME children never see their lives reflected in the literature they have access to – or, if they do, they will often see themselves only via lazy clichés of their identities or pushed away from the narrative’s main action…as a sidekick or as a speck in a ‘multicultural’ crowd.’
Djikic, Oatley and Moldoveanu. 2013.


‘The world of literature encourages us to become others in imagination, and this may be one of most benign means of improving one’s abilities in the social domain. Of course, we can understand others by interacting with them, but in real life misunderstanding often causes severe upsets. Fictional literature, in which we can misunderstand without suffering negative consequences, may be a gentler teacher.’
Elliott, Nelson-Addy, Chantiluke and Courtney. 2020
“For too long, many of our students have been marginalised, gazing at the curriculum from the outside while never given the opportunity to see their lived experiences reflected in the stories we share with them. Through our omission and failure to be inclusive, we have subtly communicated with them that their lives, their language and their stories do not matter. While this was never our intention, this was the inevitable outcome as we upheld and revered certain stories while simultaneously failing to tell others.” Joy Mbakwe, Secondary Head of English, Lilian Baylis Technology School
‘Holding up a ‘mirror’ to learner’s personal realities is not enough; we need to also show the children ‘windows’ into other cultures – and honour the core themes at the heart of our new curriculum. It’s crucial that teachers and children work with texts that broaden horizons and offer wider views of the world.’
Kneen. no date – 2020?
‘Male writers predominate. There is one female author in the Year 7 list and this rises to three in Year 8 and three in Year 9. More concerning, perhaps, is the dearth of female protagonists. There are no female protagonists in the top-ranking texts for Year 7 and only two in Year 8 and two in Year 9.’
‘Not only did the teaching sequence have a marked impact on the children’s writing and motivation, but it also ensured there was greater diversity embedded within our curriculum offer, in a meaningful and non-tokenistic way.’
Lander. 2020.
‘As gatekeepers we have a duty to challenge authors to write stories for children that break down traditional stereotypes and move beyond the BAME character who has suffered racism.’
O’Connor. 2019.
The CLPE must continue publishing the Reflecting Realities reports, not as a way to criticize the publishing industry, but to show change over time, and indicate areas where growth is needed.’
‘Stories about people of colour often revolve around tales of pain, anguish and death. Where are the books by and about people of colour just having normal lives? We have to be bolder in our pursuit of change. Diversifying the texts and authors that all children study can only enrich and empower their lives.’
‘diversifying literature (and the rest of the curriculum) is finally being seen as a collective responsibility. But there’s still a lot of work to be done before the young people we teach, who love to discover the world through reading, do so without a gap they’ll be left to fill in for themselves later.’
‘less than 1% of GCSE students in England study a book by a writer of colour’
‘These boys are going to live, work, learn and prosper and flourish in a world which includes men and women. A world, which includes the young and the old. A diverse world which includes people from all walks of life. So why is our Literature curriculum not reflecting this and preparing them for the alternative view? For the different perspective? For the obscure or the distance or the far-reaching? Why is it so inward looking and insular? Surely, this is then a potential breeding ground to consider anything different as ‘The Other’?’
‘The causes of under-representation of people of colour among children’s book creators are complex, multifaceted and embedded in broader social inequalities. However, common barriers, identified in this study, can be expressed as a negative cycle that not only prevents them from pursuing creative careers but can also hinder their careers once they have been published.
This cycle begins with children not seeing themselves in books and not experiencing creative role models, with whom they identify, at a time when young people of colour might be considering their future professions. Even when a person of colour does make the decision to pursue a career in this precarious profession, they may face barriers when looking for an agent or publisher. Lastly, when they manage to enter the children’s book industry, creators of colour struggle to publish as many titles as their white counterparts and feel unsupported at various stages in the publishing process.
In brief, these are systemic problems that will continue until the systemic inequalities that give rise to them are addressed.’
‘It is essential to incorporate the study of Black figures and communities across historical eras to counter any misconception that Black presence in UK society is only a contemporary phenomenon. Look for books that situate migration as part of a wider chronology of how we have come to be in the place that we are as a society in the modern day and which give children the opportunity to delve into remarkable stories featuring interesting and strong Black leads. Find stories that will help your young readers recognise and appreciate that Black histories form an integral part of British history, the threads of the former make up the fabric of the latter and you cannot have one without the other.’
Reading canonical texts in multicultural classrooms
Shah. 2013
‘As Harold Rosen aptly commented, ‘stories do not arrive in a package complete with their cultural context and ethnic origins. Another context slides easily into place’ (Rosen 1999, 345). Rosen illustrates the ease with which literature can oscillate between multiple cultures, often simultaneously.’
The Royal African Society. 2021
‘Some of the barriers to accessing more representative books for teachers were primarily around confidence and knowledge. Many teachers were eager to diversify their book lists but didn’t know where to start and were afraid of getting it wrong. By first identifying where teachers’ knowledge base for poetry was, we could adequately build upon that at a pace that was appropriate. It also helped to ensure that we were working towards their already established curriculum, so that they could incorporate their poetry. learning without it feeling like an additional piece of work.’

Decolonising the curriculum: resources

Resources to support decolonising the curriculum in education. Books and literature Beyond the Secret Garden Book Love Diverse book finder Letterbox Library Lighthouse Bookshop Little Box of Books Moon Lane New Beacon Books Poetry in the primary classroom Round Table Books The Willesden Bookshop Tiny Owl Books Wider Reads Maps, timelines and interactive tours Beyond Banglatown – a story of empire and migration, of

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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Last month, I attended the BAMEed Network conference, ‘Creating the future with everyone on board’. The first workshop I selected was one facilitated by Chelsea


Decolonising the curriculum: resources

Resources to support decolonising the curriculum in education. Books and literature Beyond the Secret Garden Book Love Diverse book finder Letterbox Library Lighthouse Bookshop Little Box of Books Moon Lane New Beacon

A lighted pink Exit sign

BAME leaders exiting the profession

Over lunch at the BAMEed Network conference a few weeks ago, I sat with a group of teachers and leaders. Much ground was covered in conversations. One