Black children should still study the works of “dead white men”, as a more equal society is not going to be created by a decolonised curriculum, the schools minister has said.
Nick Gibb addressed growing calls among academics and students to overhaul what children are taught in schools for GCSEs, including by changing the texts they study.
Several exam boards have purged reading lists for subjects such as English and updated textbooks to remove phrases that campaigners now consider to be contentious.
Speaking on Wednesday in a virtual speech to the Social Market Foundation think tank, Mr Gibb said the country “should not be ashamed of who we are and where we came from”.
He also hit back at calls from figures including Sir John Major for the abolition of GCSEs, saying it would set the education system back decades and fail the most disadvantaged.
Mr Gibb said Britain would not create a “more harmonious, tolerant and equal society” simply by “promoting a curriculum based on relevance to, or representativeness of, any one group”.
He continued: "We will not create a more harmonious, tolerant and equal society through promoting a curriculum based on relevance to, or representativeness of, any one group.
"Nor will we do so by being ashamed of who we are and where we came from."
It comes after a report released this week found that less than a quarter of the public supports “decolonising” the curriculum.
Just 23 per cent of people in England believe that universities should actively remove material in university courses which reflects a "western dominated view of the world", according to research by the UPP Foundation and Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi).
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, has previously urged schools to look beyond teaching about “dead white men”.
On Wednesday, however, Mr Gibb said: "I believe the job of the teacher – and our best teachers indeed do this – is to teach a curriculum which opens up a world of wonder and beauty from people of all creeds and colours far beyond the narrow experience of an individual child.
"A curriculum based on relevance to pupils is to deny them an introduction to the best that has been taught and said, and of course there is no reason why the work of a dead white man is not appropriate for children from ethnic minorities to learn about it."
But he added: "Of course, children need to know how Britain became Britain as it is today. And there are important events – Windrush just to pick one event – that children do need to be taught about.
"But they also need to be taught about all the other events that led to Britain as it is today."
Ministers are also under increasing pressure for GCSEs to be reformed after summer exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.
Sir John, the former prime minister, last week said a reform of the exam system was needed, because of the “stress and strain” that GCSEs impose on students.
Mr Gibb said it would be a “huge mistake” to try to abolish the qualification, telling the event: "Some have been using the pandemic to argue for a different approach, for a reheated so-called progressive agenda to abolish GCSEs for example, which will take our education system back decades and once again fail the most disadvantaged children."