Missing Pages - campaign for greater diversity in the GCSE English literature syllabus
No pupil should leave school having never studied a book by an ethnic minority author - Teach First is launching the #MissingPages campaign to call for change.
Teach First’s latest report reveals that the largest exam board in the country does not feature a single book by a Black author in their set texts for GCSE English literature.
Furthermore, it includes only two texts in total by ethnic minority authors.
As a result, the charity is launching a new campaign calling for a more inclusive education system, having found that a pupil could finish secondary school without studying a single book written by an author who is not White.
In its report released today, Missing Pages: Increasing racial diversity in the literature we teach, Teach First has found that the importance of pupils studying books by authors from different ethnic backgrounds is almost undisputed by teachers. A Teacher Tapp poll, reveals that:
- nearly all teachers (98%) believe it is “important” or “very important” that books written by ethnic minority authors are studied as part of the English curriculum in secondary schools
- three quarters (75%) of English teachers have concerns about a lack of ethnic diversity in the curriculum as a whole across schools
- over a quarter (27%) of headteachers say students have raised concerns about a lack of ethnic diversity in the curriculum with them
To tackle this, the charity is calling for exam boards to ensure that at least a quarter of authors in their GCSE English literature specifications are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Teach First, like many organisations campaigning for equality, argues that addressing this underrepresentation could play a key role in widening all young people’s horizons, supporting them to develop a love of literature and get the grades that will open doors later in life.
Jason Arthur, Teach First trustee said:
“I left school without studying a single book by a black author. Many years on and in the wake of worldwide attention on the Black Lives Matters movement it’s a tragedy that this is still the case for many young people today. Representation matters and the classroom is the perfect place to show children that people from all backgrounds deserve to tell and star in the stories our society celebrates. But instead we’re normalising marginalisation.
“Many teachers, in spite of the system, include authors from a range of backgrounds in their lessons, but we need to get behind them to make this the norm, not an exception. It would help to not only unlock a love of literature in children– but also help to build a more cohesive society based on mutual respect and understanding.”
The report also gathers perspectives of ethnic minority teachers and leaders across the country – who are already leading the way in ensuring their English lessons are more reflective of the young people they teach and wider society.
Djamila Boothman, an English teacher and Assistant Headteacher at Woodside High School in North London, who is quoted in the report, said:
“My catchphrase at school is ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’, and that wholeheartedly applies throughout all of education - from what you’re learning to who is teaching you. Changing the English curriculum to include more positive representations of all heritages would ensure that our young people are proud of where they come from and strengthen their relationships with other cultures.
“We need our diverse communities to feel reflected in our curriculum and to be placed in well-deserved positions of authority so that we can challenge the existing position of privilege and lack of understanding that so much of our society holds. As one of only 10% of teachers who identify as an ethnic minority, compared to the 26% of pupils in England who do, I’ll continue to ensure that all of my students feel reflected in what I teach, feel proud of their heritages while understanding others, and never feel held back because of the colour of their skin.”
Teach First argues that the texts pupils study must continue to include the literary classics studied today, but urgent support is needed to give children access to additional brilliant books by ethnically diverse authors.
The charity is recommending:
- exam boards should ensure that at least a quarter of authors in their GCSE English literature specifications are from ethnic minority backgrounds, also ensuring that a mix of ethnicities are represented. The charity believes that this will immediately give schools the flexibility to represent more varied experiences and demonstrate that literary excellence is not limited to White authors
- extra funding is needed to train and support teachers to appropriately explore racism with their pupils. Teach First believes this will help teachers to feel more equipped and confident to appropriately discuss this issue with their pupils, empowering them to cover sensitive topics in their teaching
- a fund for schools to buy books specifically by ethnic minority authors should be created. This could be achieved in a collaboration between the private and public sector. A practical reason many schools aren’t able to add new books to their teaching of English literature is that books are not cheap
To find out more about the Missing Pages campaign, please visit the Teach First website.
Notes to editor
For case studies or interview requests with a Teach First spokesperson please contact Teach First’s media team via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0203 841 8483.
About Teach First
Teach First is an education charity with a mission to build a fair education for all. Through a range of school leadership programmes, the charity supports teachers, leaders and schools facing the biggest challenges, serving the most disadvantaged communities.
The charity has now recruited over 15,000 teachers and leaders, has 75 head teachers in its alumni and has supported over a million pupils.
Those on the Training Programme commit to a minimum of two years at their partner school, where they teach a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) timetable; and around half stay on for a third year. More than half of all the teachers who’ve completed training since 2003 are currently teaching.
The charity supports whole leadership teams through Leading Together. Develops individuals to become effective leaders through Middle Leader, Senior Leader and Headship programmes leading to a National Professional Qualification. And provides Career Leader training to develop a long-term, school wide careers strategy to improve student opportunities after school.
Teach First currently operates in all regions across England: London, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire the Humber, North West, North East, South East, South Coast, South West and the East of England.