Most English teachers want a more diverse syllabus, research finds

Fifteen months after it was revealed that students could end up leaving school in England without studying a single piece of literature by a Black or minority ethnic author, research has found that teachers are still crying out for more diverse texts on the English syllabus.

Asked which changes to the English syllabus they felt would most help their students, 80% of secondary school teachers, and 69% of primary school teachers, said they wanted more diverse and representative set texts. The survey of 2,270 teachers was made by Teacher Tapp for publisher Pearson.

The research follows the report last year that just 0.7% of GCSE students in England study a book by a writer of colour, compared with the 34.4% of school-age students in England who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic. The research was done by Penguin and race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, which teamed up to form the campaign Lit in Colour to help support schools diversify the teaching of English literature.

Although exam boards have since expanded their offerings, Lit in Colour found that lack of budget, and books, were key barriers facing those teachers looking to introduce new texts to their classes. In its first year, Lit in Colour offered resources and guidance to 119 GCSE and A-Level year groups around the country, and almost 12,000 students, in diversifying their English Literature curricula. Those participating received the four new texts introduced by Pearson to its A-Level and GCSE set texts – Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, Sweat by Lynn Nottage, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and The Cutting Season by Attica Locke – as well as access to set texts ranging from Malorie Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The programme is now opening for a second year to schools looking to diversify their English literature offering.

Programme manager Zaahida Nabagereka said Lit in Colour’s aim was “to normalise Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers within the literature curriculum by providing the necessary tools to teachers and students”. She added that, in its first year, the programme had received messages from librarians “who received their mini library donations excited to share the new books with students, but also from students saying they felt inspired after attending an author event”.

At Westonbirt school, teacher Tabatha Sheehan said that children need a more diverse curriculum. “As a predominantly white, middle-class school out in the Cotswolds, we knew that we needed to better explore and fully acknowledge the wealth of talent that exists beyond the ‘canon’ of English literature and to move beyond the ‘intellectual’ prescriptivism and elitism in studying the linguistics, narratives and contexts of stories from other cultures,” she said. “We are more committed than ever to making the curriculum as representative as possible, to opening up our students’ minds to the world outside their neighbourhoods, and to ensuring that no young person feels excluded by the books we teach and read.”

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