Assessing the Value of Community-led Black History Month and Black History in Leeds

Academic Lead: Dr Nadena Doharty

This one year research will explore the extent to which Black community organisations and Local Authorities co-create content for Black History Month events, seminars and workshops in Leeds. The research will lead to exploring how schools are able to draw from these wider resources (collaborating with Black community organisations or local authorities) to embed Black History within secondary schools in a culturally relevant way.


Black History is no longer compulsory in English secondary schools; rather, from September 2014 there is a non-statutory choice for schools to engage with its content through the Key Stage 3 History curriculum. Essentially, this could signal the end to Black History in English secondary schools if they decide not to teach it. The schools have instead, to embed Fundamental British Values which incorporates some aspects of tolerance and respect; though it is unclear how this should be promoted (Department for Education, 2014). The revisions by then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, was designed to turn the teaching of History back to ‘traditional’ values and chronology of which, British history would take a central place. Upon closer, critical analysis of the history curriculum, the statutory content stresses the requirement for Anglocentric history and thus, it has been argued that the British history curriculum privileges those persons who identify as White English (Doharty, 2015; Doharty 2017; Traille, 2006). Invariably this excludes large sections of the British population, including non-Whites who learn about ‘their’ seemingly homogenous histories post-1945 under the topic of ‘World History’, or during Black History Month (Alexander et al. 2012).

It remains unclear how many schools are now teaching Black History as part of their Key Stage 3 History curriculum and, the extent to which they are supported by wider Black community organisations and their local authorities to make their content accessible, culturally-sensitive and relevant to Black students. There has been several instances of schools apologising for asking students to engage in ‘slave auctions’ or ‘slave performances’ for empathy and the rationale for this was to encourage empathy (The Guardian, 2017). Less is known about the impact of this, why this approach is deemed more sufficient than others and, where the boundaries should lie between encouraging empathy and being culturally insensitive. In addition, there is a growing body of research that demonstrates that teachers are increasingly not engaging with Black history because either they do not have the materials/resources; they feel their schools do not need Black History; they are only able to draw on American Black History such as the token figures such as Martin Luther King Jnr, or Rosa Parks; or they do not feel comfortable engaging with elements of it (Bracey, 2016; Doharty, 2017; Harris and Reynolds, 2014). This creates a deficit approach to Black History and could lead to Black children growing up in an education system that teaches them to ignore or deny their Black Britishness, or compensating them for not being White through tokenism (Stone, 1981).


This research will draw upon critical race methodologies which starts with the assumption that knowledge gained from marginalised communities is valued and should be centred in race research. Critical race methodologies accepts that racism is normal and embedded and thus, serves to privilege the voices of those who are subordinated by it. Therefore compatible methods will ensure that minority voices (Black History community organisations) are able to ‘speak’ and be heard and, that their contributions should lead to positive changes in terms of embedding Black histories more uniformly across Leeds.

Research questions

  1. How many secondary schools are engaging in the teaching of Black History Month and Black History in Leeds?
  2. Which types of schools are engaged in Black History Month/Black History (free schools, academies, state-maintained?)
  3. How many Black History community organisations are there in Leeds and/or is there a central Black History community organisation responsible for events across the county?
  4. What is the role of the local authority or council in organising Black History Month events, workshops and/or seminars?
  5. To what extent are these 3 stakeholders working in collaboration with each other to co-ordinate events, share knowledge and financially support each other?

I will update you on my progress in due course.