Penguin Random House launches Lit in Colour campaign to diversify school reading lists

Sophie Rainbow
·3 min read
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Getty Images

Penguin Random House has partnered with think tank The Runnymede Trust to promote diverse reading lists in schools.

The Lit in Colour campaign follows a recent report by Teach First, which claimed that many students will leave school having never studied a book by an author of colour or ethnic minority background.

Djamila Boothman, an English teacher at Woodside High School in Haringey who contributed to the Teach First report, said: “My catchphrase at school is ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’, and that wholeheartedly applies throughout all of education – from what you’re learning, to who is teaching you.

“Changing the English curriculum to include more positive representations of all heritages would ensure that our young people are proud of where they come from and strengthen their relationships with other cultures.”

GCSE English Literature teachers can currently choose between 65 novels and plays across three exam boards. Of these, only nine are written by non-white authors, and four were introduced only last year, making them less likely to be chosen for a syllabus.

Only one list features a work of literature by a black author.

Penguin CEO Tom Weldon outlined the need to make reading lists more inclusive and representative of the students who study the subject.

"At its best, English Literature offers young people a passport to see and understand the world through others' eyes, inspire a lifelong love of reading and a fundamental sense of belonging. Access to a diverse and representative range of books, authors and characters is key — in classrooms, school libraries and at home.

(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

"But the reality is that our young people are still studying a mostly white, mostly male English Literature curriculum: one which neither reflects contemporary society nor inspires a generation to read outside of their classes. We are joining forces with The Runnymede Trust to support the many schools and teachers working hard to make change on the ground, and to better understand the depth and breadth of this issue.”

Director of the Runnymede Trust, Dr Halima Begum, added: “It is a sad reality that the dearth of ethnic minority authors, dramatists and poets means that our national curriculum fails to offer a true reflection of UK society, our bond to the Commonwealth and our migration story, which underpin the rich tapestry of our country’s diversity."

Research for #Merky Books in 2019 found that books studied at school can actively deter young people from reading, so with A-level English Literature uptake down 25 per cent between 2016 and 2020, the initiative hopes to ensure that students find literature they can personally connect with.

The campaign will begin by commissioning research by Oxford University's Department of Education, examining what is being taught in classrooms, and how young people, teachers, and parents feel about the material. This is to be followed by a programme of practical support for teachers and schools.

At its best, English Literature offers young people a passport to see and understand the world through others' eyes

Booker Prize winning author Bernardine Evaristo said of the campaign: "This is an incredibly important, exciting and essential initiative that aims to redress an education system overwhelmingly delivered through a white filter that marginalises and excludes people of colour.

“I am hopeful that the impact of the report will be seismic, and I feel positive that the measures put in place to offer schools literature that better reflects our society will expand and enrich young people’s ideas about our country and the world, as they engage with a rich array of experiences and perspectives, and through this deepen their understanding of our shared humanity.”

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