English teachers in the UK want to diversify the curriculum further, study finds
Words from Sophie McMahon, Commentary Print Editor
A new survey by Teacher Tapp has revealed that drastic reforms are still needed to diversify the English curriculum, as primary and secondary teachers continue to call for change. This comes more than a year after the publication of Penguin results which showed that only 0.7% of students studied texts by a black or ethnic minority writer.
The survey of 2,270 teachers was conducted on behalf of publisher Pearson and looked at changes that could be made to the English curriculum to help students. Its findings showed that 80% of secondary school teachers and 69% of primary school teachers said they wanted more representation in exam board texts.
With 34.4% of children in classrooms of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, it is hoped that introducing more texts will better reflect modern society and help inspire a new generation of pupils. .
In Teach First’s 2020 ‘Missing Pages’ report, Welling School’s Suhayla Omar said: ‘I thought it was unfair that children had no interaction with any form of multicultural representation in my subject ”. As a compulsory subject at GCSE, English Literature requires students to identify with the emotions of other individuals, so accessing this representation is increasingly important.
Implementing changes to cause this increase in diversity is not done in a single layer. The government-established National Syllabus for Key Stage 4 (GCSE) currently requires the study of at least one Shakespeare play, one post-1914 British Isles fiction or drama, one 19th century novel and a selection of poetry published since 1789.
From there, review boards offer a range of texts that conform to these government guidelines. For example, the largest English Literature exam board, the AQA, offers Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and Pride and Prejudice as options in the 19and Category novel of the century. Each school then decides which examination board to use and which predefined texts they wish to study.
Most of the set texts that exam boards opt for could be diversified to allow schools the flexibility to portray BAME people, both as writers and as characters. The program requires the study of canonical texts, which are those considered particularly important and influential, such as Dickens and Bronte. Lit in colora campaign by Penguin and The Runnymede Trust that aims to support schools with inclusive learning, encouraged these texts to be taught in a way that engages with the socio-historical context.
Some exam boards have already expanded their offerings since the findings of the 2020 reports. From September 2022, OCR will provide 28% of texts for GCSE and A-Level written by writers of color, up from 13% previously. They added the Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, as well as parable of the sower by Octavia Butler and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. These selections were based on the valuable opinions of English teachers and a panel of pedagogical and academic experts.
Jill Duffy, Chief Executive of the OCR, said: “The quality of this diverse work will not only help students develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of English literature, but will also provide them with the opportunity to engage in work that is more relevant to their lives and to the lives of other students.