All pupils aged between 11 and 14 will be taught about the slave trade and the British empire when term begins next month to help them understand modern-day issues such as immigration.
The two subjects, aimed at highlighting the influence of ethnic minorities, will join the two world wars and the Holocaust as periods that must form part of the history syllabus.
Schoolchildren will learn about the roles of William Wilberforce, the MP who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, and Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who drew attention to the horrors of the trade after buying his freedom and writing an autobiography.
They will also be taught about the origins of the empire, with one unit looking at rise and fall of the Mughals in India and the arrival of the British. Another is titled “How was it that, by 1900, Britain controlled nearly a quarter of the world?”
Kevin Brennan, the children’s minister, said: “Although we may be ashamed to admit it, the slave trade is an integral part of British history. It is inextricably linked to trade, colonisation, industrialisation and the British Empire.
“It is important that children learn about this and its links to wider world history, such as the American civil rights movement—the repercussions of which are still being felt today. That is why the slave trade will join the British Empire, the two world wars and the Holocaust as compulsory parts of the secondary school history curriculum from this September.”
Under the guidelines 25 per cent of the course must cover British history.
There will also be a change of emphasis away from historical dates to learning about themes—such as religion and social issues—which could be relevant to other subjects.
Mick Waters, director of curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the revised history curriculum for pupils in England gives a broader view of the subject.
“Core British history such as both the world wars is present, but it also includes curricular content which provides the opportunity for pupils to explore the social, cultural, religious and ethnic roots of modern society,” he said.
“Black history is not just about slavery—it is much broader than that. It is about the contribution that black and Asian people have made throughout history. The benefits are that pupils gain a better appreciation of the multicultural society around them and the contribution they can make.”
The change follows a comprehensive overhaul of the secondary curriculum.
According to a Government briefing document one of the aims of the switch is to “put immigration, the Commonwealth and the legacy of the Empire into a clear historical context. . . . This can help pupils prepare for life in a diverse and multi-ethnic society”.
However, the decision last year to omit Sir Winston Churchill from the list of figures that must be studied in history angered traditionalists.
Michael Gove, shadow secretary for children, schools and families, said: “Winston Churchill is the towering figure of 20th century British history. His fight against facsism was Britain’s finest hour. Our national story can’t be told without Churchill at the centre.”
A QCA spokesman said teachers were aware that they would be unable to teach the Second World War without mentioning Churchill.