Books shine a light on the world. They increase our awareness of different cultures, ethnicities and perspectives. Reading books that inspire us at a young age can also help to encourage reading for pleasure – which in turn boosts resilience, wellbeing and communication skills. So the books we study in school have a critical role to play.
Yet the authors, stories and characters currently available on the English Literature curriculum do not represent the rich diversity of society or the lives of young people today.
Our nationwide research underlines this. Fewer than 1 percent of GCSE English literature students study a book by a writer of colour. This is compared to the 34 percent of school-age people in England who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic.
There is systematic underrepresentation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers in the curriculum – relative to both to their place in contemporary literary excellence and the demographics of society.
This lack of representation risks negatively impacting the next generation of readers. Reading for pleasure is declining among young people; and one reason behind this is that young people do not feel the books they study are relevant to their lives. One in three young people say they don’t see themselves in what they read.
There is a clear desire among both students and teachers for change. 70 percent of young people in our nationwide survey agreed that diversity should be represented in the school curriculum – rising to 77 percent of Black, Asian and minority ethnic young people.