Lack of representation in the English literature curriculum leads to calls for change from Penguin Books campaign

  •  Research shows that since 2016 there has been a 25% decrease in students studying English literature at A-level
  •  Lit in Colour aims to make teaching of English literature more inclusive of black and Asian students by engaging young people in stories which reflect them
  • Pne GCSE English course features a novel or play written by a black author

Penguin Books has launched a new programme to promote writers from ethnic minority backgrounds in English literature.

Partnered with the Runnymede Trust, the charity and the company are working together on a campaign called Lit in Colour to create resources for schools to use.

It follows criticism school boards have been facing over the current canon taught in schools. Critics believe that by updating the curriculum to reflect the UK’s current multicultural society, this will increase the interest in subjects like English.

Bernadine Evaristo, the first black woman to win the Booker prize, asks: “Where are we in the pages of the novel? Where are our narrative possibilities? Does this mean that we are not worthy, and that our experiences have no value?”

Research shows since 2016 here has been a 25% decrease in students studying English Literature at A Level.

A petition has been started to persuade the Department of Education to update the curriculum.

Currently the petition has 489,008 signatures with a goal of 500,000. The petition suggests that The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla and Why I am no longer talking to white people about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge should be added to educate young people about racism.

A report entitled The Race and Racism in English secondary schools, produced by the Runnymede Trust, explores how racism impacts the teaching workforce, curriculum, police and school policies in secondary school.

In the report, Remi Joseph-Salisbury, professor at the University of Manchester states that “(the) school curriculum too often fail to reflect the diversity of contemporary society, and the national curriculum does not mandate for engagement with the colonial-legacies or racist underpinning of contemporary Britain”.

The report adds that “the population of a racially literate society should be considered a fundamentally important aspect of school. This should be implemented though an extensive review of the national curriculum, conducted in consultation with anti-racist organisations, individuals and educators”.


The Parisian by Isabella Hammad


The Runnymede Trust is the UK’s leading race equality think tank and was founded in 1968 to provide evidence on racial inequaly, to inform policymakers and public opinion about the reality of inequality, and to work with local communities and policymakers to tackle them.

Alba Kapoor, a representative from the trust, said:  “Almost every 16 year old in this country is currently studying English literature at GCSE level. Despite this, Teach First research published earlier this year shows that many will leave school without reading a single novel by an author of colour.”

When questioned on the petition, she said: “It is time to include the stories of Black and ethnic minority people, our values and our possibilities in the national curriculum.

“As research by the Runnymede Trust illustrates, changes to diversifying our curriculum has a fundamental role in ending racism in our schools and giving a strong sense of collective belonging. 

“In history classes, most students do not learn the contribution that migration has made to Britain’s present, or the realities of British colonialism and empire.

In English lessons, most students are left without any knowledge of plays or novels written by a writer of colour. The lack of representation of Black and ethnic minority groups is felt across subjects and our education system, and it is time to change that”.

However, representation in teaching staff is also an issue.

Kapoor stated: “We urgently need more black and ethnic minority teachers in our schools. Analysis of the Department of Education’s figures in 2017, illustrates that schools need 68,000 more BME teachers to accurately reflect the school population in England.

“People of colour teaching in our schools are also more likely to experience discrimination when applying for work, and to be lower paid than their white peers.

“Over a quarter of English classrooms are made up of BME pupils. A failure to employ teachers who represent them has huge implications on promoting an anti-racist environment in schools.

“Having more teachers of colour in schools is vital not just for BME students, but for the school population as a whole. It is extremely important that action is taken to tackle the racial barriers to teaching across Britain”.

Studies show that only one GCSE English course features a novel or play written by a black author.