National Literacy Trust response to latest Lit in Colour report

29 Jun 2021

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Jonathan Douglas, CBE, Chief Executive of the National Literacy Trust discusses the findings of Penguin Random House’s latest Lit in Colour report and how this speaks to our partnership work and our wider work at the National Literacy Trust.

We are very proud supporters of Penguin Random House’s Lit in Colour campaign which, in partnership with The Runnymede Trust, explores how to support schools to make the teaching and learning of English Literature more inclusive and increases students’ access to books by writers from different backgrounds.

Today, the campaign has published a research report, which concluded that there is systematic underrepresentation of writers from ethnic minority backgrounds in the school curriculum, relative to both to their place in contemporary British literary excellence and compared to the demographics of the school population.

The study found that 82% of young people did not recall ever studying a text by a Black, Asian or minority ethnic author, and young people want to be given the opportunity to read and study a more representative range of books in school. This is consistent with research we conducted in 2020 which showed that a third of children and young people felt they did not see themselves in what they read.

We know how important the life-long benefits of reading are for young people’s futures. Low levels of literacy will hold them back at every stage of their lives. Reading for pleasure, plays a huge role in addressing this. We know that children who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the level expected for their age as those who don’t enjoy reading, which can have a significant influence on their future successes and decisions in life.

It only takes one book a child can really connect with to spark a love of reading which can change their life story. For many children, not seeing themselves, their family or friends reflected in the books they read can really impact their engagement with reading as well as the associated benefits. The recommendations made in the report also speak to our wider programmatic and communities-led work.

Notably, the report also found that poetry is often the place most students encounter writing by writers from ethnic minority backgrounds as part of the curriculum. The relationship between poetry, spoken word and song lyrics is a wonderful conduit to empower different voices to be heard and indeed is an approach embedded in our Young City Poets programme where secondary students are encouraged to explore writers outside of the canon and our sofa sessions of live poetry can still be accessed online. Diversity is also at the heart of our Behind the Cover audio book club which we delivered in partnership with Penguin Random House which over 1,000 young people participated in.

I am also delighted that the Lit in Colour report underlined the vital role of school libraries in stocking a wide range of extracurricular books for students to discover on their own terms. When effectively run by knowledgeable staff, with a range of high-quality books and resources, good school libraries can transform whole school reading provision. But we know many schools don’t have school libraries at all. In fact, 44% of schools serving the UK’s most disadvantaged communities do not have a school library.

This is why we set up Puffin World of Stories with Penguin Random House to address some of the key challenges to reading for pleasure in schools. These barriers range from budget constraints that make investing in new and diverse texts more challenging to the need to provide support and training to teachers and librarians.

We have curated lists of our resources and book lists, to help support teachers to include a diverse range of texts in their teaching and book collections. Some highlights include: A River of Stories - Tales and Poems from Across the Commonwealth, Black Lives Matter - Book lists for ages 0-16+, Tales from the inner city by Shaun Tan - literacy transition project and our International Women's Day book list and poster.

You’ll find more information on our Promoting diversity through literacy: our resources page.

We look forward to continuing to work closely with the publishing industry and education sector to support school libraries and help inform the expansion of the English curriculum to include diverse voices and cultural perspectives. As the report shows, it is greatly needed.

You can read the full report here

For lots of great book recommendations by writers from different backgrounds, check out The (incomplete) Lit in Colour book list.