Jonathan Kennedy, Head of Humanities, Belle Vue Girls’ Academy

Partition education is a vital pillar of the History curriculum at Belle Vue Girls’ Academy (BVGA). Whilst Partition education adds a very specific dimension to the development of wider historical knowledge beyond the British Isles, it also facilitates reflection on universal themes of prejudice and social cohesion. As a part of a Humanities faculty team, the History department hold a shared commitment to the development of students as global citizens. We shape our curriculum intent around powerful knowledge which is powerful in the sense that it promotes social mobility, but also powerful in the respect that it empowers students to take a stand against inequality, prejudice and discrimination. The past has taught us the dangers of viewing communities and nations in isolation, therefore the History team is committed to the development of British, European and world history. In a post-Brexit and post-Covid world, wider cultural histories, alongside more traditional established histories, are central in enabling students to challenge extremist narratives and misinformation. Partition education builds upon the knowledge of non-European societies developed in our Year 7 unit on powerful women of the ancient world which includes Zenobia, a third century queen of the Palmyrene Empire. Further understanding of global history is secured through a consideration of change and continuity in African kingdoms from c.900-c.1600. Following a timely focus in Year 8 upon how the extent to which the British Empire has shaped today’s world, with a key emphasis upon the role of the East India Company, students develop an international dimension which sits neatly with the ‘Our Island Story’. The links and connections between global, national and local histories enable students to make sense of the world of the past, but also the world of today. Our Year 8 programme of study encompasses the impact of slavery on Britain through the use of examples such as Harewood House in Leeds, built upon the slave money of the Lascelles family. British history can help illuminate the global picture, for example case studies of the Luddites and supporters of parliamentary reform conceptually pave the way for a consideration of the specific motives of those who sought independence in India which is introduced in Year 9. In such ways, the teaching of History can be broken out of narrow ‘silos’.

The History team’s focus for a key Year 9 enquiry is ‘What was the Partition of India, and how did it impact on people’s lives?’ In shaping this enquiry, we were heavily influenced by our involvement in Holocaust Beacon School programme led by University College London (UCL). Through participation in UCL professional development, the team gained a sound grasp of the importance of using individual life stories and authentic encounters. Thus, we decided to commence the enquiry with the case study of Sudershana Kumari. Her experiences as an eight year old Hindu refugee from Sheikhupura provide a moving and engaging initial stimulus to Partition education. Following UCL’s pedagogical emphasis upon ‘ordinary things’, the image of the tin box which Sudershana discovered in a ruined house, and then decided she would take with her to keep her dolls in her new home, facilitates poignant reflection on the human experience of mass migration. With student engagement secured, the focus in our enquiry switches to the political aspects of Partition, before shifting to case studies of the ‘forgotten heroes’. This is a crucial element to the enquiry, as it enables us to focus upon the lesser known stories of those individuals and groups who put themselves at risk to protect those from other communities during Partition. One particularly striking example is the story of Amarnath Chand, a Hindu boy who went to fetch insulin from his father’s shop for a Muslim. Amarnath never returned, as he was murdered for helping a Muslim. By considering such ‘forgotten heroes’, students reflect on those who took a stand against prejudice and consider the importance of social cohesion. Building on the knowledge and understanding developed, students view Partition through the lens of the American photojournalist Margaret Bourke- White. This enables wider links to be consolidated, as the material on Bourke-White encompasses her photojournalism prior to Partition, including her coverage of the ‘Dust Bowl’ in America and Buchenwald camp. Bourke-White’s work capturing the human experience of Partition is thus placed in the context of twentieth-century history and her personal worldview. The Year 9 unit facilitates the development of specific knowledge about Partition through the eyes of individuals who lived through that time but it also encourages students to consider their own attitudes and challenges them to become ‘upstanders’ rather than bystanders or collaborators in prejudice. Partition education thus plays a vital role in enabling students to find their place in the world, and to cherish and protect the values of others. Post-Brexit and post-Covid, and in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, Partition education is an extremely powerful force in re-imagining communities and re-shaping identities in Britain. Powerful knowledge indeed.

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