Teaching the British Empire – Debunking the Myths

During a recent episode of The Big Questions, Maya Goodfellow stated that learning about the British Empire is not taught as a statutory part of the Curriculum and retweeted stating it was not a ‘key, compulsory part of the curriculum’. She is not the only one to continually reiterate claims about the British Empire being absent from or not being taught on the curriculum.

The 2013 History Curriculum for both Primary and Secondary (Key Stage 1 – 3) sets out broad areas of history which need to be taught which are statutory.

This table shows these:

The British Empire is a statutory area of study in Key Stage 3.

The reason why it is not taught before then is due to the chronological sequencing of the history curriculum.

The National Curriculum includes examples of what could be taught which are non-statutory. This is the same for ALL the areas of study.

Here is a comparison for you (with units of studying relating to colonialism and empire highlighted in red):

It is disingenuous to express outrage that no single unit relating to the British Empire is statutory in the context of the current National Curriculum. The slave trade is non-statutory but so is the Magna Carta, so is the War of the Roses, so is the Enlightenment and so are the two World Wars. The only statutory unit is the Holocaust.

Not only are there several potential units for studying the British Empire in KS3, the possibility of teaching about the empire at KS1 and KS2 does exist and there is nothing to stop teachers from incorporating people, events and an in-depth study into their school curriculum.

The table below shows where this could be done:

History subject leaders, teachers and departments cannot and should not be bound by the preferences of political activists. Their job is to create a broad and balanced history curriculum for their pupils to study.

What is required is actual research into the units studied under the current curriculum and not simply repeated unevidenced claims about what is and is not being taught.

Moreover, it’s time that those criticising drew up an example of a history curriculum that would be acceptable instead of expecting those in the education system to engage in a pointless game of ‘guess what’s in my head’ with them.

Tarjinder Gill

Tarjinder Gill Written by:


  1. Bill Parsons
    July 4, 2021

    Tarjinder Gill makes a much needed point.

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