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12,000 UK students access pioneering programme as ‘Lit in Colour’ levels up diversity in secondary education

Delivered by Pearson (@Pearson_UK) and Penguin Random House (@PenguinUKBooks), the Lit in Colour Pioneers programme issued an open call in spring 2021 for secondary schools in England to sign up for the first-ever year of the programme.

Following significant interest from schools across the breadth and depth of the country, the 119 participating cohorts will receive extensive guidance and resources for teaching GCSE and A Level English Literature set texts by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers, beginning in the 2021/22 academic year.

One teacher at a confirmed Pioneers setting expressed the profound need to address representation in their school’s English curriculum. They explained: “The demographic of our students and local community is almost exclusively white British, resulting in a lack of knowledge and understanding of anybody from minority ethnic backgrounds. The limit of our students’ world is the end of the village. A result of this is a sense of apathy and lack of importance placed on education and academic achievement. I feel that the English Literature GCSE texts up to now have only served to further alienate our students from the study of English, and strengthened their belief that it is of little relevance to them and their lives, due to the age of the texts and the ethnicities of their writers.”

As Lit in Colour Pioneers, participating schools will enjoy free access to:

  • Copies of relevant 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), Coram Boy (Farshore) plus the Snap GCSE Revision Guide for Coram Boy (Collins) and Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman (Penguin)
  • 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 student ambassador programme

Lit in Colour set texts include ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker, who became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction as a result; Sam Selvon’s acclaimed 1950s novel ‘The Lonely Londoners’, which explores the West Indian immigrant experience; and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, the bestseller by Afghani-American author Khaled Hosseini.

In addition to the bespoke support being given to Pioneer schools, the Lit in Colour Pioneers programme will also offer all secondary schools across the UK free access to the online training events and workshops, as well as free digital teaching resources.

The fantastic initial uptake to the Lit in Colour Pioneers scheme puts the programme on a strong footing, as the initiative takes its first steps towards encouraging and inspiring other schools to switch to more diverse curricula. Celebrating the programme’s extraordinary early reception, Katy Lewis, Head of English, Drama and Languages at Pearson, said:

“From our many conversations with schools across the country, it is clear that the Lit in Colours Pioneers initiative is meeting a significant need in UK education. Time and again, we’ve heard staff and students crying out for a breadth of set texts that truly represents the diverse world in which we live. To have almost 12,000 students participate in the first stage of the programme is an awe-inspiring start, and our team will be striving to increase that number year on year.

“As the first awarding organisation to ensure over 25% of our GCSE English Literature texts are written by authors from ethnic minority backgrounds, Pearson is committed to continuing these positive changes for students, and are eager to continue the journey to fully diversify our curricula across the board. Our sincerest hope is that, step by step, setting by setting, fair representation will flourish across the sector, opening doors to empathy, perception and possibility for each and every student in Britain. We’re so grateful to Hachette, Harper Collins and Bloomsbury for joining us and Penguin Random House in the spirit of open collaboration to provide much-needed support for these schools.”

Jenny Ridout, Managing Director of Non-Consumer Publishing at Bloomsbury and Executive Sponsor for DE&I initiatives commented:

“Bloomsbury is delighted to be part of Lit in Colour and grateful to the authors and playwrights involved for their support. Our vibrant fiction and new playwriting lists offer a myriad of titles to increase the choice of texts, reflecting the diverse and inclusive society from which, and for which, they are written. We look forward to playing our part in inspiring new generations of readers in this way.”

Cally Poplak, Executive Publisher Farshore said:

“We are very pleased to be joining the Lit in Colour programme and are delighted that titles from two HarperCollins divisions, Farshore’s Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin and the accompanying Snap Revision Guide from Collins, will join other fantastic books from our fellow publishers. They will help increase the diversity of titles available in schools and support teachers in sharing a diverse English curricula at GCSE and A level which better reflects the world in which we live.”

Jenny Lord, Publisher of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, commented: “It is vital that the teaching and learning of English Literature reflects contemporary culture and society, and our English curriculum has long needed diversifying. Our mission at Hachette UK is to make it easy for everyone everywhere to unlock new worlds and we are delighted to be able to contribute to Lit in Colour, a brilliant scheme that will help meet a significant need in UK education and is sure to inspire and empower teachers and students for years to come.”

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. The world’s learning company, 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.

In recent research conducted by the National Literacy Trust, 32.7% of children and young people in the UK aged 9 to 18 reported that they do not see themselves in what they read, while 39.8% wanted more books with characters that are similar to them. This was particularly true for readers from ethnic minority backgrounds, where 40% say they don’t see themselves in what they read, versus 30% of readers from white backgrounds.

In late 2020, Penguin and Runnymede announced they had commissioned a major piece of research to review the current state of play in English Literature education, gathering views from teachers, parents and young people, and make practical recommendations for change. The research found that just 1% of young people study a book by a writer of colour at GCSE in England.

Joy Mbakwe, Head of English at Lilian Baylis Technology School, another confirmed Lit in Colour Pioneer school, added: “For too long, many of our students have been marginalised, gazing at the curriculum from the outside while never given the opportunity to see their lived experiences reflected in the stories we share with them. Through our omission and failure to be inclusive, we have subtly communicated with them that their lives, their language and their stories do not matter. While this was never our intention, this was the inevitable outcome as we upheld and revered certain stories while simultaneously failing to tell others.

“Our English curriculum is now radically different to what was being taught but I know there is more to be done. Our teaching is indeed anti-racist but the texts we teach are not. We want to shift away from this. We want to be part of the change and I know that being a pioneer will give us the support and direction that we need in order to take on this giant. Steps, while incremental, are happening here. However, we want to do more and I believe, through this partnership, this will become a reality.”  

Over 25% of set texts offered by Pearson at GCSE comprise authors of colour, including Malorie Blackman, Meera Syal, Tanika Gupta, Jamila Gavin and Benjamin Zephaniah / Lemn Sissay. In coming together to offer the Pioneers programme, Pearson and Penguin want to inspire and empower more teachers to consider teaching these set texts by offering support, resources and training.

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