We've done our best to answer questions you might have for us here. If you're an education professional or organisation working on education reform, we'd love to hear any more questions or comments you have. You can sign up at the bottom of the page to get involved, or get in touch at email@example.com.
What is Penguin hoping to achieve through this project?
We want to make the teaching of English literature in UK schools more inclusive, increase understanding around racial equality, and give students access to more books by and about people of colour. Now, more than ever, books should – and must – play a vital role in challenging racial inequalities and promoting a common sense of belonging.
As a first step, we have commissioned major research to review the current state of play in English literature education, building on The Runnymede Trust's previous work on race equality in schools and the History curriculum.
Using the findings from this research, which will be published next year, we aim to:
1) Help bring about change to the teaching and learning of English literature in the classroom, ensuring books by writers of colour are front and centre, and;
2) Provide direct support to schools and teachers with practical, inspirational and effective tools and resources.
Is this initiative targeted at all schools, across all ages?
The research we’re commissioning from The Runnymede Trust will explore Key Stages 2-5, which covers ages 7-16. The ongoing programme will be informed by the findings of the research.
Is Penguin looking for any additional partners or funders to join in this project?
Through Lit in Colour we hope to work with many different organisations and individuals making change in educational reform over the coming years. If this is an area you work in, and you have experiences to share – or contributions to make – we would love to hear from you by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can teachers share views or ideas?
We know that teachers are under enormous pressure and have to juggle a lot of different responsibilities, as well as adapting to significant curriculum change over the last few years.
That’s why a core part of Lit in Colour is a commitment from us to provide teachers with practical support, including book donations, training and free digital resources.
We are also keen to hear from all teachers of English in primary and secondary schools in the UK and their experiences of teaching diverse texts, and what they need to support them in doing so in the future. You can take part in this independent survey by clicking here.
When will the research findings be published?
We are aiming to release the completed research in summer 2021, along with some concrete recommendations to support inclusive teaching and learning in schools.
What books do you think should be on the curriculum?
We can think of many wonderful writers of colour who could be studied, but ultimately we’re not educational experts, and so don’t think it’s our place to suggest them. Moreover, it’s really important to us that at this stage of the initiative that we’re not trying to identify solutions or make recommendations before the findings of the research are published.
Why are you focusing on race when you could be focusing on gender and the lack of representation of women, or other under-represented areas like sexuality or disability?
We believe that books people read should be fully representative of all aspects of society, but this piece of research is specifically focusing on race. Of course, we hope that working towards a more inclusive approach to the teaching of English literature will both support and enable greater representation in all areas. We’d love to hear from people who are looking into other areas of under-representation to that we can connect and share findings.
Are you saying that writers like Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck should no longer be studied?
Absolutely not! These books are an incredibly important part of the rich heritage of English literature – there’s a very good reason they have been studied in schools around the country for many years. We wholeheartedly believe that readers need to be able to access the books that tell the story of our past in order to understand why we are where we are today.
However, it’s clear that books, authors, characters and stories that are available on the English literature curriculum and taught in classrooms do not represent the rich diversity of our society, or the lives of its young people.
For example, only one GCSE English Literature specification features a novel or play written by a Black author. Yet we know that books and reading are so important for developing empathy and understanding of other people’s culture, ethnicity, class and political perspectives. That’s why we want to give students’ access to a more diverse range of books, including those by writers of colour and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
What is Penguin doing to increase the representation across its own list of authors?
Our WriteNow programme, which has been in place since 2016, focuses on seeking out and publishing writers from communities underrepresented in books, including writers of colour. The programme has been successful in helping us identify, publish and amplify more representative voices – we’ve worked directly with over 500 writers and have so far offered 13 publishing deals.
In addition, we’re working to diversify our editorial teams to ensure a wider diversity of experience, background and thought, which we hope will ultimately result in a greater diversity of authors acquired. Our editorial traineeship, The Scheme, for example, is a positive action programme for young editors of colour and those from socio-economically marginalised backgrounds, and we’ll be introducing a senior editorial positive action traineeship in 2021, open to Black people and people of colour at Commissioning Editor level.
We know we must do more to live up to our goal of publishing books for everyone, and that, ultimately, we need to work towards an environment in which a programme like WriteNow is not needed. Since 2016 we’ve had an ambition for the new authors we publish to be representative of UK society by 2025. We’ve recently brought that forward to 2023 as part of our accelerated inclusion action plan, and have committed that by this date at least 5% will come from Black writers. Our action plan outlines some of the ways in which we are aiming to do this.