Skip to main content

Education: The Holocaust

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to Holocaust Memorial Day, what steps they are taking to improve education in schools about the Holocaust in order (1) to promote tolerance, and (2) to combat racism.

My Lords, with respect and sombre reflection, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are fully committed to Holocaust education and believe that every young person should learn the lessons it teaches us today. That is why it is the only compulsory topic in the history curriculum. It is important that pupils understand the appalling events of the Holocaust and the possible consequences of anti-Semitism and extremism in order to understand how society can prevent the repeat of such a catastrophe. I am grateful to my noble friend for laying this Question on Holocaust Memorial Day.

My Lords, survivors play such a profound role in our education programmes. As they become fewer in number, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that all their testimony is taken down and transformed through all modern means, not least AI, AR and VR, to ensure that all that testimony is available to future generations for ever? There are six million reasons.

My Lords, the Government have funded several initiatives of the nature my noble friend outlines. The new national memorial will ensure that the voices of survivors and witnesses are retained. We have included support for initiatives such as the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark, which uses AI to capture survivors’ testimony.

My Lords, how have the Government ensured that schoolchildren know also about the Roma element of the Holocaust, which is so little known but was responsible for the annihilation of such a large proportion of Europe’s Roma population? For instance, the Government could put Gypsy, Traveller and Roma history on the school curriculum, as requested by the Council of Europe, and as included in previous Holocaust Education Trust memorial day ceremonies. Would not this help to reduce the race hatred experienced by these communities?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her involvement in the stakeholder group for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and for the group’s contribution to the national strategy that is being led by the Government for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the UK. There are resources available. When the Holocaust is taught on the curriculum it is of course open to schools to include other genocides. It is good to note that the IHRA has produced a non-legally binding definition of the genocide and discrimination against the Roma people.

My Lords, I was able to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during a visit arranged by the Holocaust Education Trust. There were more than 100 people in the party, mainly students, and it was an experience none of us is ever likely to forget. The Holocaust Education Trust is to be congratulated on the work it does in this respect. Has the Minister visited this camp? If not, a visit of this nature would be helpful in projecting the work of the trust. Perhaps I might add that I am trustee and patron of the Holocaust Education Trust and would be able to assist in this exercise.

My Lords, it is always good to hear of the valuable work that the HET is doing. That is why the Government give nearly £2.2 million a year to enable such visits by students. I am grateful for the invitation. I will take it up remotely because I believe that during the pandemic the HET has been very successful in moving trips online. I thank the noble Lord for his invitation, which I will duly consider.

I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for asking this Question on Holocaust Memorial Day. I praise Her Majesty’s Government and the department for their support for Holocaust education, but this Holocaust Memorial Day is different from any other Holocaust Memorial Day. The newly formed interfaith group Sharaka, or “partnership”, was set up last year in the wake of the historic Abraham Accords. Young leaders from Bahrain, the UAE and Israel have just committed themselves to a five-point action plan to include promoting Holocaust awareness, combating online anti-Semitism and countering anti-Semitic delegitimisation of Israel. Does the Minister agree that the promotion of Holocaust education in the Gulf region is a most welcome difference in this year’s observance of Holocaust Memorial Day? Would she be prepared to share good practice and education materials with Sharaka, a great organisation of forward-thinking young people?

My Lords, I welcome the extension of that education to the countries that my noble friend outlined. I will write to the CPD element of the University College London project that we also fund to make sure it is aware of it so that teaching staff can also be made aware of these resources that will help them teach that curriculum well.

My Lords, yesterday President Biden abolished Trump’s 1776 Commission, which sought to deny the ugly truths about America’s slavery history and its treatment of indigenous Americans. We cannot eradicate intolerance and racism unless we face our own true full history, so is it not now time that Her Majesty’s Government boldly set up a history curriculum commission to incorporate the truths and the facts, ugly or not, about our own slavery history, to honour the six million killed in the Holocaust and the millions killed and affected by institutional racist abuse, and teach the full truth of European history?

My Lords, within the history, English and citizenship curriculums there is flexibility for schools to teach the matters outlined. They are inspected against producing a broad and balanced curriculum. As I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, characters such as Mary Seacole have had increasing prominence in the curriculum for key stages 1 and 2. The key stage 2 and 3 curriculums outline studying, for instance, a non-European society as a contrast, and it was encouraging to note that a Historical Association survey of teachers stated that there is increasing prominence of black British history.

My Lords, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Be the light in the darkness”. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths that humanity can sink to, and also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to be the light during and after genocide. Schools are key in ensuring that young people understand history and the need to be more tolerant and respectful of those who are different. Five years ago, a House of Commons Education Committee inquiry into the provision of Holocaust education in schools noted that in many academies the Holocaust was not required to be taught because they do not follow the national curriculum, and urged the Government to take action. Can the Minister say what proportion of all schools now teach the lessons of the Holocaust?

As I have outlined, the Holocaust is the only compulsory element of the national curriculum for history. The department does not have a role in inspecting schools to see how many schools are teaching a particular subject. That is a matter for Ofsted, which has a new excellence framework in education. Schools are inspected against the fact that they are teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, and of course schools need to teach the content that is outlined by awarding organisations for GCSEs and A-levels.

My Lords, I am on a similar theme, and I want to press the Minister. In a Foreign Office commemoration yesterday, the Foreign Secretary quoted Holocaust survivor Gena Turgel about being “secure in the knowledge” that others would keep the candle alight, but in preparing the 2016 report on Holocaust education referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the Commons Education Committee heard shocking evidence from the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education that

“the expectation of universal Holocaust education is no longer matched by reality.”

Even in schools obliged to follow the national curriculum, Holocaust education can be cursory or patchy, and more than 50% of secondary schools in England, such as academies, are not even required to follow it. The Government’s response to that recommendation was vague. So I press the Minister now for a more forceful commitment to ensure that all schools teach about the Holocaust, preferably not only in history but in civic education.

My Lords, it is open to schools within various subjects such as citizenship, English and history to teach the Holocaust. The Government maintain that Ofsted inspects against a broad and balanced curriculum. Academies will retain the freedom that they have, but they are inspected, like maintained schools, by Ofsted. We have committed to not only a national Holocaust memorial but to a learning centre alongside it to ensure that children learn about these events.

I pay tribute to the amazing survivors who use their experience of these terrible events to teach young people about where racism and prejudice can lead. However, there will be a time when they are no longer able to speak directly to students so I reiterate the importance of ensuring that their testimony will still be available for schools to use. I ask the Government to consider how they could work with training providers to expand programmes such as Lessons from Auschwitz so that apprentices can benefit from that brilliant work as well.

My Lords, as I have outlined, the Government fund several initiatives to ensure that that testimony is available to future generations, and I will ensure that providers of apprenticeships and other courses are made aware of the work that we fund for the Holocaust Education Trust.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and I apologise to the three noble Lords who were unable to ask their questions.