Missing pages: increasing racial diversity in the literature we teach

We believe in a fair education for all. And that won’t exist until racism is eradicated.  

The authors and books we celebrate through teaching can broaden all young people’s horizons and develop a love of literature. Especially if there are authors and characters you can identify with.

But today you can finish school without reading a single book by a person of colour. This needs to change.

This is why we are launching the paper Missing Pages: Increasing racial diversity in the literature we teach, calling for an increase to the representation of ethnic minority authors in English literature lessons. Currently, the biggest exam board does not include a single book by a Black author in their English literature specifications, and only two ethnic minority authors. Teachers would like to teach a more diverse curriculum, with 75% of English teachers having concerns about a current lack of ethnic diversity. An overwhelming 98% of English teachers think it’s important that students study literature by ethnic minority authors.

In the paper, four English teachers share their perspectives on why representation matters and how they have introduced a greater diversity of authors in their own lessons.

The paper also recommends measures that could help us progress. While pupils should continue to study and enjoy the literary classics already included, schools also need support to give them access to additional brilliant books by ethnically diverse authors.

Report recommendations:

  • Exam boards should ensure that at least a quarter of authors in their GCSE English literature specifications are from ethnic minority backgrounds. They should also ensure that multiple ethnicities are represented.
  • Teachers should have access to professional development which helps them appropriately explore historical and current inequalities with their pupils. This also applies to initial teacher training, where we have been working to reflect these considerations more effectively in our own teacher training, but also know there is more work for us to do.
  • A fund for schools to buy books specifically by ethnic minority authors should be created to remove any remaining barriers to change. This could be achieved in a collaboration between the private and public sector. 

There are significant barriers that stand between us and a fair education for all. Here we look at ways to tackle the lack of diversity at English Literature GCSE. We’ll be investigating other topics delaying progress including the digital divide and understanding why too few BAME teachers are supported to progress to leadership positions. 

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