Lit in Colour pioneers launches second year to help address teachers' calls for greater diversity in English texts
Two thirds of teachers (66%) want more diverse and representative texts to be incorporated into the English syllabus according to new research, released today (1). The findings come as Pearson and Penguin Books launch the second year of their Lit in Colour Pioneers programme, through which hundreds of schools across the UK are supported to diversify their English curricula for free.
Pearson’s latest research, conducted independently by pollster Teacher Tapp, found that diverse texts top the list of teachers’ desired changes in both secondary and primary schools (at 80% and 69% respectively). Respondents also expressed a desire for more modern texts and content (59% and 47% at secondary and primary) to be covered in the curriculum.
In addition, the study highlighted concerns that certain key groups of pupils are more likely than others to think that English and associated careers are not accessible or appealing, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds (45%), pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (42%), Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic pupils (21%), boys (19%) and LGBTQ+ pupils (9%).
In research published last year, Lit in Colour found that fewer than 1% (0.7%) of GCSE students in England study a book by a writer of colour, compared to 34.4% of school-age students in England who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic. Seeking to address this significant lack of representation, the first-ever year of the Lit in Colour Pioneers programme (delivered by Pearson and Penguin Random House) supported an impressive 119 GCSE and A Level year groups nationwide to diversify their English Literature curricula, resulting in direct outreach to almost 12,000 UK students.
In February, the Pioneers programme will open for its second year of applications, and will support any school or college looking to diversify their English Literature curriculum by changing to a text by a writer of colour from Pearson’s A level or GCSE set texts in September 2022. Publishers Bloomsbury, Hachette, HarperCollins, Serpent’s Tail, Farshore, Nick Hern Books, Concord Theatricals Ltd and Penguin will once again join forces to donate books to participating schools.
Lack of budget and teaching resources were found by Lit in Colour to be two key barriers facing teachers looking to introduce new texts to students. As part of the Pioneers programme, participating schools receive extensive guidance and resources for teaching GCSE and A Level English Literature set texts by Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, including the four new GCE texts that have been introduced by Pearson for first teaching in September 2022, as well as free access to:
- Copies of chosen set texts for every student in the relevant year group donated by publishers, including The Empress by Tanika Gupta (Bloomsbury), The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Hachette), Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman (Penguin), Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin (Farshore), the Snap GCSE Revision Guide for Coram Boy (Collins), Sweat by Lynn Nottage (Nick Hern Books) and The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (Serpent’s Tail). Though not a set text, copies of August Wilson’s Fences, donated by Concord Theatricals Ltd, will also be provided
- A programme of work and series of free resources including CPD training webinars for teachers and school librarians, plus qualification-switching support and training where required
- Support programmes of work for each set text, with creative content from authors including videos and a range of specific resources
- A Lit in Colour mini library including 300 free Penguin books by writers of colour designed for all age groups, together with colourful posters and artwork
- A reading for pleasure club.
In addition to the bespoke support being given to Pioneer schools, the Lit in Colour Pioneers programme also offers free access to related online training events and workshops for all secondary schools across the UK, as well as free digital teaching resources.
Tabatha Sheehan of Westonbirt School, a 2021 Lit in Colour Pioneer, explains the impact the programme has had for her students: "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.
“Our pupils have been really enthusiastic in response to the Lit in Colour programme and we feel strongly that it makes us all more compassionate, emotionally intelligent, and inclusive in our attitudes and beliefs.
“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. Our curricula needs this. Our children need this. It’s time for change, and we’re thrilled to be a part of this movement towards achieving genuine diversity.”
Katy Lewis, Head of English, Drama and Languages at Pearson, said: “In its first year, the Pioneers programme took huge strides in encouraging schools to switch to more diverse curricula, supporting much-needed conversations around ethnicity, representation and the student experience. Over 25% of our GCSE set texts at Pearson comprise authors of colour, including Meera Syal, Benjamin Zephaniah and Lemn Sissay. Our new GCE texts support our desire to increase female and global non-majority representation with the introduction of authors Lorraine Hansberry, Lynne Nottage, Kamila Shamsie and Attica Locke. By continuing this exciting partnership with Penguin and a host of fantastic publishers, we can work to inspire and empower more UK teachers, and keep the drive for diversity in motion.”
Zaahida Nabagereka, Lit in Colour Programme Manager, said: “The reception and engagement we have seen so far from participating schools has been brilliant; we’ve had 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. Having students be able to ask Malorie Blackman about the characters in her novel Boys Don’t Cry was a great opportunity. The rerun of the Pioneers pilot for 2022 is very exciting as we are continuing to move forward with our goal to normalise Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers within the Literature curriculum by providing the necessary tools to teachers and students.”
Lit in Colour was launched by Penguin and The Runnymede Trust in 2020 to explore how to increase UK students’ access to books by writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, and ensure the teaching and learning of English Literature better reflects contemporary culture and society. Pearson became a Lit in Colour partner in February 2021 as part of its ongoing commitment to maximise diversity in all areas of the curriculum, and empower schools to give students access to a wide range of authors, characters and books that fully represent the richness of the UK population.
Schools can register their interest for the Lit in Colour Pioneers programme at go.pearson.com/litincolour
 The survey was carried out on 2,270 primary and Secondary English teachers* by Teacher Tapp on 28 September 2021. Teachers include classroom teachers, middle leaders and school leaders including Headteacher
 The four new texts introduced are: Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, Sweat by Lynn Nottage, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and The Cutting Season, Attica Locke