Four out of five older teenagers in Bristol have witnessed racism, and almost three quarters believe they haven’t been taught enough in school to be able to stand up to it.
They are some of the findings of new research by an international education charity, who said that across the country, barely more than a third of 14 to 17-year-olds thought they are being taught a representative version of history.
The research asked 2,000 students across the country, including in Bristol, about their experiences of racism, and about the education they received, following the publication of the Government’s controversial Sewell Report, which found not enough evidence for claims of institutional racism in Britain.
The survey from an organisation called Facing History and Ourselves, found that while the vast majority of students had been taught something about Martin Luther King and the US civil rights struggle, only four per cent of students in Britain had heard of Paul Stephenson, the leader of the Bristol Bus Boycott, the British equivalent which brought in equality legislation in the 1960s.
Education and civic leaders in Bristol itself have made strides in recent years to create a ‘Bristol Curriculum’, which includes subjects like the Bus Boycott, and the results appear to be starting to make a difference, with students in Bristol slightly more likely to view their education on these issues more favourably than in the rest of the country.
The results from the survey showed that in Bristol, 70 per cent of the 14 to 17-year-olds had experienced prejudice and discrimination personally. Almost 80 per cent of respondents in Bristol have witnessed racism, and more than 90 per cent think it is important to challenge racism and discrimination when you see it.
In terms of education, more than 70 per cent of 14 to 17-year-olds in Bristol believe they aren’t taught enough in schools to be able to stand up to it.
Facing History and Ourselves UK is the British branch of an American organisation set up in the US in 1976, with a mission to “use lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate”.
It trains teachers and organises things like visits by survivors of the Nazi holocaust to speak to schoolchildren.
The survey of 2,000 students in Britain followed the publication of the Sewell Report, which critics said downplayed the severity of racism in Britain.
Facing History and Ourselves said that despite the findings of the Sewell Report, 77 per cent of young people in Britain reported that racism is ‘one of the most significant issues for them in modern times’.
Only 35 per cent of 14 to 17-year-olds in Britain said they felt as though they are being taught a representative version of history at school.
Over two thirds of young people have experienced prejudice and discrimination in an area of their lives, with more than two in five (43 per cent) 16 year olds having personally experienced racism.
A total of 41 per cent of young people have also witnessed racism towards others. In Bristol, the findings showed that Bristol teenagers were more likely to have experienced discrimination or witnessed racism than the average for the rest of the country.
The survey also found that 86 per cent considered Martin Luther King an ‘important historical figure’, but only four per cent ‘knew UK equivalents such as Paul Stephenson’, a Facing History spokesperson said.
“These results show us that urgent reform is needed in the education system,” said Beki Martin, the executive director at Facing History and Ourselves UK.
“Discrimination is a global issue that must be stamped out, and with nearly half of young people believing that they are not being taught a representative version of history, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are inspiring students to become agents for change for the future.
“Facing History’s approach to education heightens students’ understanding of prejudice in all forms, increases students’ ability to relate history to their own lives, and promotes greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities in a democracy. We provide teachers with the resources and information they need to confidently discuss sensitive issues with students.
“By introducing this approach to teaching into the classroom, we can equip younger generations to be informed, get involved and work together to address all inequities and injustices in society, something that is clearly needed in the current climate,” she added.
A spokesperson for Facing History said the UK civil rights struggle, in which Bristol played an important part, should be taught in schools.
“Only 35 per cent of 14-17 years feel as though they are being taught a representative version of history at school,” she said.
“This is demonstrated when looking at the key historical figures they find influential today. It is clear to see that many don’t know about the key figures or issues of the civil rights movement in the UK.
“For example, the research found that a majority of young people cited Martin Luther King – 86 per cent – as one of the most influential historical figures that they had been taught about at school, but were significantly less aware of pioneering Black figures in the UK such as civil rights campaigner, Paul Stephenson – four per cent.
“Similar discrepancies can be seen when relaying key historical events. When asked what the most relevant lessons from history are today, only 56 per cent cited the civil rights movement, despite ongoing Black Lives Matter protests in the UK over the past year. The most popular answer was World War 2 and The Holocaust – 72 per cent.
“With almost half, 41 per cent, of the respondents having witnessed discrimination towards others, 50 per cent of the young people interviewed think that racial inequality affects them more than any other social issue. Therefore, the data shows that urgent reform is needed in the curriculum to ensure we are creating a future society that is empathetic, equitable and just,” she added.