Lit In Colour: Diversity in Literature in English Schools

Written by:
Victoria Elliott, Lesley Nelson-Addy, Roseanne Chantiluke and Matthew Courtney
Read time:

Fewer than 1% of students at GCSE study a book by a writer of colour

Books create belonging. They help us see each other and understand one another. They shine a light on the world.

It’s vital that the books we read in our formative years reflect the rich diversity of the society we live in.

That’s why we are excited to have partnered with Penguin Random House to explore how to support schools to make the teaching and learning of English Literature more inclusive. We want to increase students’ access to more books by writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Every young person deserves an educational experience that more fully reflects Britain’s past and the lives of its young people today. There has been much debate about the need to reform the History curriculum – but we believe there is a real need to reconsider English literature too. After all, almost every young person studies English literature until the age of 16.

Our ground-breaking research shines a light on barriers preventing more books by Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers being taught in the classroom and to make recommendations for what needs to change.

A 10 minute read version of the research is available here.

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Change happens when people work together, which is why we’re excited to be working in partnership with organisations and individuals who have been campaigning for educational reform for many years.

We would be delighted to hear from other organisations and individuals interested in collaborating with us.

Lit in Colour teaching resources

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As part of our commitment to support teachers and school librarians to celebrate and teach more books by writers of colour, Penguin will be releasing a range of free resources over time, for all age groups. These resources will be aimed both at the English literature and language curriculum, and also to support reading for pleasure and extracurricular activity.

Explore Penguin's teaching resources for all ages, which are being added to all the time. This includes a recommended reading list by Key Stage including books by Penguin and other publishers, and interactive lesson plans including author videos from Bernardine Evaristo and Avni Doshi.

We'd love to hear from you if you have ideas for future resources we might be able to create, or if you know of other great resources available which we could sign-post.  

Our Supporting Partners

Pearson is the UK’s largest awarding body. Over 25% of set texts offered by Pearson at GCSE (9-1) English Literature comprise authors of colour, and over the next two years we will be working in partnership with Pearson to incentivise and support 100 secondary schools across the UK to integrate a new text by a BAME writer into their English Literature curriculum, from September 2021. Click here to find out more the Lit in Colour Pioneers pilot.

The Black Writers’ Guild was set up in June 2020 and represents professional and emerging British writers of Black African and Black African-Caribbean descent. It aims to create a sustainable, profitable, and equal ecosystem of and for Black writers and literary talent in the UK.

OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) is a leading UK awarding body, providing a range of qualifications to meet the needs of learners of all ages and abilities. OCR qualifications include AS/A Levels, GCSEs, and vocational qualifications such as Cambridge Nationals and  Cambridge Technicals. Well over half a million students gain OCR qualifications every year, which are offered by nearly 6,000 centres including schools, sixth form colleges, FE colleges, training providers, voluntary organisations, local authorities, and businesses. OCR is part of the Cambridge Assessment Group which is a department of the University of Cambridge. We will be working with them as they continue to diversify the texts they offer across their English Literature GCSE and A Level specifications.

The National Literacy Trust is a charity dedicated to improving the literacy skills of those who need it most. Penguin and the National Literacy Trust have worked in partnership for over a decade, including developing Puffin World of Stories to re-imagine primary school libraries and inspire children to fall in love with reading. Building on the charity’s ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, we will work together to embed the principles of Lit in Colour into our existing joint school programmes.

Our school partners

We work with many different schools across the country over the course of this multi-year campaign.

Initially, we're  working with teachers and students at Penguin’s existing partner secondary schools - Lillian Baylis Technology School and Barking Abbey School.

Penguin will also aim to embed Lit in Colour into their flagship programme with the National Literacy Trust, Puffin World of Stories, which has so far supported over 200 primary schools to revitalise their library into a hub of creativity and imagination.

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