Race report boss wanted schools to teach 'the truth' about modern Britain

Figcaption Race Report Boss Wanted Schools To Teach The Truth About Modern Britain
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

The chairman of the controversial review of racial disparities drew up plans to introduce a new compulsory school subject to teach children “the truth” about modern Britain, the Observer has been told.

Tony Sewell suggested that an official textbook would be deployed in all schools as part of the new course. According to sources involved in the discussions, he said that the idea had been successfully deployed in Russia.

His proposal emerged amid a mounting backlash over the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which Sewell chaired. It concluded the “claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence”, but experts on race, education, health and economics have accused it of misrepresenting evidence of racism. Black and ethnic minority business leaders who contributed to it also told the Observer their recommendations were ignored.

The plan for a new compulsory school subject and official textbook on modern Britain and its racial make-up emerged during evidence-gathering discussions late last year, the Observer understands. Sewell’s presentation of the idea was regarded as “outrageous” by many of those present.

Various concerns were raised, including the danger of drawing up a quasi-official history of how modern Britain was formed, and the difficulty of teaching the subject. One person involved said it would have led to a revolt by history teachers keen to teach children about the subjectivity of historical sources. Others pointed out that Russia was not a good model to follow.

The “modern Britain” lessons did not feature in Sewell’s final report. Since its publication, some of those who were presented with the new subject idea said they were concerned that disputed claims in the report about racial disparities would have found their way into official textbooks.

A source close to the commission said there were several ideas that did not make the final report. They said Sewell was in no way suggesting the UK should follow Russia’s example.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities said: “Frank and open discussion underpins all stakeholder engagement under the Chatham House rule. The commission spoke to experts on this basis regarding how to promote integration and belonging in 21st-century Britain.

Levi Roots was among the business leaders who gave evidence. Photograph: Teri Pengilley/The Guardian

“The final report includes a clear recommendation for the Department for Education to work with an independent panel to produce high-quality teaching resources to tell the multiple, nuanced stories of the contributions made by different groups that have made this country the one it is today. The proposal would see these resources embedded into the existing curriculum.”

Black and ethnic minority business leaders who contributed to the report have condemned its findings. They have accused the government of tokenism and of conducting the study in bad faith.

The working group on employment and enterprise, led by the British Business Bank, began meetings last September and included business academics, financial services professionals, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. In documents shared with the Observer, the group submitted 11 recommendations emphasising the need for greater access to capital for minority ethnic entrepreneurs, embedded institutional support and mandatory reporting on ethnic pay gaps.

“We were commissioned by No 10 to feed directly into the enterprise section of the report,” said Gary Stewart, chief executive of FounderTribes, which supports young entrepreneurs. “The reality we discussed, a reality informed by brave research, data and lived experience, highlighted the impact of institutional racism on entrepreneurship. We explained. We offered solutions. But it appears the exercise was always about PR and our work was not convenient for the conclusions they wanted to reach. It was four very muddled pages, some anecdotal evidence from [former Dragon’s Den contestant] Levi Roots and a big plug for HSBC bank to run a competition for aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Michael Eboda, chief executive of Powerful Media, said he was approached to recommend senior black talent for the commission but was told his candidates were not suitable due to their positions on race. He said: “The enterprise section of the report is laughably simplistic in its treatment of what anyone who knows about these things understands are complex problems. The report’s recommendations, quite incredibly, include looking to the TV programme Dragon’s Den for answers. It’s patronising, it’s tokenistic.”

Izzy Obeng, part of the working group and managing director of Foundervine, set up to encourage new business ventures, said she was disappointed by what the commission decided to focus on. “It was such a huge missed opportunity ... as someone who knows and has lived with the impact of systemic underinvestment in minority ethnic communities, it is difficult to hear that everything is fine or that it’s just a case of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps if you want to be successful.”

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