19 JUN 2019

Speech on teaching migration

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary.

It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), but I will take a slightly different approach to her on this issue. Before I do so, however, I should declare an interest; I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and I state that now because I will use examples from the Royal Geographical Society as I continue.

The point I want to make is essentially this: what the hon. Lady has described as "history" is really "geography". I know that we could argue for ages about the difference between the two, but I agree that what she has described is appropriate for teaching. I just think that it should be taught under a geographical syllabus rather than under a historical one. I will also give some examples of what the Royal Geographical Society already offers, which schools are already taking up to take forward the teaching of these issues.

The first example is an international one, which is material that is made available to answer the question, "Why has unprecedented migration occurred in the Mediterranean in recent years?" The sort of material that the RGS has produced is related to the work of Professor Heaven Crawley, who has done a lot of work with 500 migrants; that is the actual physical work of interviewing them and talking to them. They have shared their experience of what has driven them to migrate, and of how they went about migrating. That is a valuable lesson to be learned from migrants. Professor Crawley has concentrated a lot on the UK, so let me turn to some of the things on offer from the UK.​

One of them is about migration and the skills and job market. What it sets out to do is to get students thinking about who is migrating, about the impacts that migration has made, and about how the current financial crisis may affect patterns and volumes of migration. That brings the course right up to date, to include a lot of the political aspects of migration, because geography is about the current politics and sociology of the situation.

I will give another example. Our Migration Story has made available to schools a series of courses that answer the question, "How has our local area been shaped by migration?" That includes a lot of the historical background that the hon. Lady mentioned, and the sort of questions that it asks include, "How might migrant groups change the local area?" It also asks, "What evidence is there to show how migrant groups have changed the local area over time?" And it goes on to ask, "How has that changed over time and how can we identify the different parts of it?"

Our Migration Story also looks at the background of migrants, including the fact that many of them have come from a small number of countries over the years, although that number is now increasing. So, comparisons can be made between the two—that is, between the UK and other countries.

Another example that I think will appeal to Opposition Members is "Migrants on the margins". That too is produced by the Royal Geographical Society and includes a range of posters, podcasts, animations, videos, factsheets and lesson plans for teachers. It has been funded by the global learning programme, and provides the context for the idea of migrants on the margins, covering things such as how cities are changing, the causes of migration and why people move. The materials being produced by the Royal Geographical Society are very good and should not go unnoticed.

Jim Shannon

Does the Royal Geographical Society take cognisance of the persecution of those with religious beliefs across the world, in particular Christians, and of how they have migrated because of that? Is that part of the background that the society uses? If it is not, may I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he proposes, as a member of the society, that it should be?

John Howell

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have not seen in any of the material any detailed work on that, but I suspect that it is included as part of the thinking that goes on to produce the result. The subject that he identifies is valuable in teaching, in understanding not just how things have happened historically but how they are still happening to Christian groups around the world. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.

The last Royal Geographical Society project is a complex one, but it starts from the position that although migration to Britain in the past has been overwhelmingly the story of a small number of nations, recent immigrants have come from a larger number and the numbers of immigrants who were born in the Caribbean and, indeed, in Ireland—traditionally key migrant groups—have fallen and the numbers of others have risen in their place.

In summary, why do I think that this is more part of geography? We have seen the historical context in all the modules put forward by the Royal Geographical Society, ​ but migration is about place. It is about spatial relationships and it is also about social science, and I think that the issues about place and spatial relationships are more appropriate to a geographical course, given that those modules are already being offered.

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