BRITAIN: COLONIALISM: Home Office Tried To ‘sanitise’ Staff Education Module On Colonialism – The Guardian UK

Disagreements have led to delay in course rollout as civil servants think empire material ‘too controversial’

Amelia Gentleman | The Guardian UK

Civil servants have attempted to “sanitise” a Home Office teaching module on race, empire and colonialism, according to those involved in devising a mandatory course on British history for the department’s 36,000 employees.

Disagreements have led to a year-long delay in the rollout of the project, which was due to be launched in June 2021. Home Office civil servants are understood to be nervous that some of the proposed material addressing issues of race, colonialism and empire is “too controversial” and have urged academics to tone down some of the content.                   

One academic said civil servants seemed “reluctant to engage with Britain’s violent past as a colonial power”, and were more concerned with protecting Home Office employees from being made to feel “browbeaten” by the course.

Staff at Coventry University were contracted to provide the teaching module last year. The university is understood to have been paid about £600,000 to create a course for the Home Office on empire, migration, race and Britain’s place in the world. The Home Office made a commitment to teaching its staff about Britain’s colonial and imperial history after an independent review concluded that the Windrush scandal was caused in part by the department’s “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on the issue of race and history.

Prof Jason Arday, a sociologist at the University of Glasgow, said he had been contracted to help devise teaching material for the course and had registered his concerns over edits to the content during a meeting in April.

“There seemed to be a reluctance to fully engage with how bad Britain has been in terms of its role in upholding empire and its subsequent hangover. It felt as though the material had been sanitised by civil servants and parliamentarians who did not want to engage with the crux of racism. I felt like we were being asked to engage in historical amnesia,” Prof Arday said.

“I was told that the Home Office wanted certain bits of information omitted because there was a feeling that this might leave people feeling browbeaten.”

Before agreeing to take on the contract, the pro-vice-chancellor of Coventry, Prof Paul Noon, was cautious and said he wanted to be sure that it would not be just a tick-box exercise. In a letter reassuring academics that the project would be independent, he wrote that he had been assured “there is a robust commitment from the Home Office to engage with these challenging and sensitive subjects”.

Sathnam Sanghera, the author of the prize-winning book Empireland, a study of the negative legacies of the British empire, was also contracted to provide content for the module, although his continued involvement has been paused as officials review the material.

As part of a “comprehensive improvement programme” launched after the Windrush scandal, in which thousands of people were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants, the Home Office said it would devise a learning and development programme to ensure all its existing and new staff learn about the history of the UK, “including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons”.

But the commitment has caused considerable unease internally. Last month it emerged that the department had attempted to bury a history, commissioned by the Home Office as part of the same education exercise, which found that the “deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal” lies in the fact that “during the period 1950-1981, every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK”.

A Home Office spokesperson said the programme’s launch was now planned for “later this year” and would be delivered to staff by a mix of videos, podcasts and online workshop sessions. 

“This is a unique programme of training, which we are committed to getting right. We know there is more to do. Many people suffered terrible injustices at the hands of successive governments and we will continue working hard to deliver a Home Office worthy of every community we serve,” the spokesperson said.

The project has been controversial since its launch and some academics have refused to be involved. Gus John, a human rights campaigner and an academic at Coventry University, declined an invitation to contribute to the teaching module, saying: “The urgent imperative is not to train Home Office staff so that they operate draconian and racist immigration policies more humanely, but to get rid of those policies altogether.”  

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  • Dennis Albert  On 06/13/2022 at 9:58 am

    Why would the ABCEU countries invade other countries, steal the lands from the Amerindians, enslave the Africans, mislead the Asians into indentured servitude, yet don’t want to share the stolen riches in their cultureless and backwards Babylon?

    Why go to South Africa & Zimbabwe and tell the locals that they don’t belong there Dutch people?

    Why write racist manifestos justifying the murder of unarmed African American seniors in Buffalo?

    The ABCEU countries are HYPOCRITES!

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