10 Engaging Diversity Books for Children: Promoting Inclusion and Understanding

Rachelle Carter portrait

Written by Rachelle Carter

Rachelle Carter is co-director of Madeleine Lindley Ltd, a key children’s book supplier based in Chadderton, Oldham. Its staff are experienced and well-equipped to help primary schools rejuvenate and refresh their class libraries with the latest and most engaging books. The business has played a vital role in supplying many of the UK's primary school libraries for over 35 years.

Reading across a range of cultures and experiences not only broadens children’s worldviews but also nurtures an appreciation of the wider world. Being exposed to a range of books that cover different representations allows children to feel connected and included, and allowing a child to explore various narratives through books through a multitude of narratives is a cornerstone in exposing a child to inclusion and understanding.

Here, children’s literacy specialist Madeleine Lindley Ltd explores ten notable books that celebrate diversity, promote inclusivity, and stimulate the imagination. For primary school teachers, this list can serve as a great starting point from which to build a classroom library or wider school library with books that promote inclusion. It is important to remember that the representation of diversity will differ from classroom to classroom. Use this list to explore the types of books you can consider for your classroom, and explore the broad range of diversity and inclusion books yourself to find the perfect books for your children.

1. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S. Brannen

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding takes a delicate approach to introduce the concept of same-sex marriages. As the story unfolds, young readers journey alongside Chloe, the protagonist who initially fears she will lose her beloved Uncle Bobby when he announces his wedding. The story’s gentle narrative helps children understand that love transcends all boundaries and that families come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, it instils the idea that a change does not equate to loss, a valuable lesson for children.

2. The Best Me! by Marvyn Harrison

In The Best Me!, Marvyn Harrison promotes the importance of self-esteem and individuality, focusing on the central character’s journey, Nia. Nia learns to embrace her unique identity and sees the beauty in everyone’s differences, breaking away from societal expectations. The book delivers the fundamental message that everyone should feel empowered to be their true selves.

3. The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali

The story revolves around Asiya’s first day of school, with her wearing a bright blue hijab. Her younger sister, Faizah, sees Asiya’s hijab as a symbol of pride and strength. The Proudest Blue introduces children to the concept of faith in oneself and the richness of cultural diversity, helping them recognise and respect religious practices that might differ from their own.

4. Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate

Grandad’s Camper presents a loving relationship between Grandad and Gramps. Following Gramps’s passing, Grandad ceases his adventuring until his granddaughter reignites his passion. The book addresses LGBTQ+ relationships and loss sensitively, fostering understanding that love is universal, extending beyond conventional family setups.

5. Speak Up! by Nathan Bryon

Speak Up! is a compelling narrative about using one’s voice to champion what’s right. The protagonist, Rocket, inspires children with her bravery, as she stands up for her community’s park. This story encourages children to be courageous, fostering a sense of responsibility, and motivating them to stand up for what they believe in.

6. Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Just Like Me is a collection of poetic narratives, celebrating diversity, self-love, and acceptance. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s character-driven poems encourage children to explore and celebrate their identities, recognising that everyone’s story is unique and equally important.

7. The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster

The Bubble Boy introduces the character of Joe, a boy with severe combined immunodeficiency who lives in a sterile environment. This narrative fosters empathy, giving children a glimpse into the lives of those living with health conditions, ultimately encouraging them to be understanding and respectful.

8. Jamie: A Joyful Story of Friendship, Bravery and Acceptance by L. D. Lapinski

Jamie paints a picture of an inclusive world where each individual is unique and cherished. The story explores themes of friendship, bravery, and acceptance, helping children appreciate the diverse characteristics that make us all human.

9. Fight Back by A. M. Dassu

Fight Back explores the resilience of a young refugee, teaching children about the realities of displacement and courage. This book encourages understanding of global issues and empathy towards individuals who’ve experienced adversities beyond their control.

10. No Ballet Shoes In Syria by Catherine Bruton

This book captures the experiences of Aya, a refugee girl in Syria who finds solace in the world of ballet. No Ballet Shoes In Syria allows children to empathise with the struggles of refugees and appreciate the power of passion, dedication, and the arts.

Find diversity books for your library

Cultivating an environment that values diversity is an important part of fostering an enriching, inspiring, and inclusive environment for your children. To help you in doing this, Madeleine Lindley Ltd helps curate an inclusive, engaging, and ever-evolving reading environment for your primary school. By filling your library with books that celebrate differences, you are not just introducing children to a multitude of perspectives, but also instilling a lifelong love for reading.


Exciting changes in the English Curriculum

Samantha Wharton portrait

Written by Samantha Wharton

Samantha is a seasoned educator from East London, with ancestral roots tracing back to the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Guyana. She brings a wealth of academic achievements, including a degree in Communications and Media from Brunel University, a PGCE in English and Drama from the Institute of Education at University College London, and an MA in Black British Literature from Goldsmiths University.

English teacher Samantha Wharton takes us through some of the exciting changes to the English curriculum – featuring stories of the Windrush generation.

As well as it being the monumental milestone of 75 years since the Windrush ship docked at Tilbury forever changing the fabric of the nation; this year 2023, also marks significant changes in the English curriculum. For the first time, two playtexts by Black British female writers will feature on the English specification across three exam boards! AQA, Eduqas and OCR have added Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock and The Princess and the Hustler by Chinonyerem Odimba to their collection of texts for examination in 2025 (available to teach THIS September).  

The play Leave Taking is considerably significant in its relations to the Windrush as the writer Winsome Pinnock foreshadows some of the issues that later arise in the 2018 Scandal. The play written 1997 and produced at the National Theatre (marking the first black female playwright to have a production in this space) tells the story of Enid – a woman in her forties that arrived in England during the Windrush era. She raises her two daughter’s Viv and Del in this new British landscape where she navigates some of the challenges of being Black in Britain. I believe this is a wonderful play that documents an important story that needs to be heard. It is part of our shared British recent history. It shares the universal themes of migration, parent child relationships and belonging. It’s a text that is accessible to all GCSE students and a play that young people will relate to – especially the parent/child clashes and expectations that parents have for their children.  

This is a huge change in the curriculum and one that I feel is much needed. As a teacher of 18 years I have seen many changes in the curriculum that to some extent have narrowed the world scope for young people, especially those that do not read independently. There was very little to no diversity reflected in the texts available at GCSE in particular so this is incredible. I am excited to be teaching this play at my school: St Angela’s Ursuline in London, where we will be part of a  pioneering group to teach this text in the first year of official study! 

I believe that diversity in literature and a range of texts help to foster a love of reading. Generally, readers like to make observations about others and escape to new places through literature. Novels are our gateway to other cultures and ways of life that we may not be able to physically be a part of. It is important that students have this exposure to different texts within the classroom and not just as part of reading for pleasure.

I was also fortunate to be commissioned by Nick Hern Books alongside Lynette Carr Armstrong to create a study guide for Leave Taking. Combined we have over 50 years of teaching experience and have created a resource that will support the learning  of this text for  students and will also provide a source for teacher’s planning to teach this text in the future. 

I encourage teachers, parents and young people alike to engage with these stories! They are an important part of our history and need to be heard! 

For access to Leave Taking (play and guide) as well as AQA conversations for teachers see the following websites:

Text: https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/leave-taking 

Study guide:https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/leave-taking-gcse-student-guide

AQA: https://www.aqa.org.uk/professional-development/search?f.Themes%7CV=Spark 


Pupil Voice and Agency – DEI Pupil Leaders

Kiran Satti portrait

Written by Kiran Satti

Senior Assistant Principal; Primary Trust - Literacy Lead Practitioner; #WomenEd Regional Leader; Contributor to Diverse Educators: A Manifesto.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – what does it mean to the children we serve in our school communities? 

One of our DEI Pupil Leaders shares what it means to her… 

I am very proud of being a DEI leader because it is an important job. It is important because we are helping the children learn about the Protected Characteristics, we are reading important stories to the children to help them become aware and most importantly, help the children understand what it might be like for someone living with some of these Characteristics, such as disability. 

The stories she is referring to are our DEI Story Escapes. At the beginning of this year, the newly formed DEI Pupil Leaders (another branch to our Pupil Leadership Team) sat and discussed which books they believed were best representative of each of the Protected Characteristics. Most powerfully, this group of Pupil Leaders were representative of the increasingly diverse learning community they are part of. The DEI Pupil Team have 6 members who are very passionate about equal and human rights – this was evident when I was sharing the Pupil Training, where we learnt about the Protected Characteristics and the importance of understanding intersectionality. 

In alignment with the Pupil Training, I also delivered staff training to ensure the teachers and educators shared the same understanding of DEI as the Pupil Leaders. It was important everyone in our school community had a shared language and understanding to draw from as the children started to read the DEI Story escapes to the classes. 

Here are some of the Pupil Leader’s favourite DEI Story Escapes: 

My favourite DEI Story Escape we have shared so far is There is a Tiger in the garden! There is a tiger in my garden is my favourite book because it has amazing illustrations and lots of emotive language. “Wow!” says Nora is my favourite part of this book because of how beautiful the dragonflies were and how they drew them! This book is about the protected characteristic AGE – it doesn’t matter what your age is, we can all still use our imagination, young or old. 

My favourite DEI Story Escape is Pink is for Boys. My favourite page is where blue is for girls and pink is for boys. Ut is my favourite book because it tells us that colours are for everyone – they are not gendered. There are no colours for particular people – all colours are meant for everyone. 

Pink is for Boys is my favourite book because it shows us thar all of the colours are for everyone. My favourite pages are the ones with the unform and where it says pink is for girls and boys. 

Sulwe is my favourite DEI Story Escape. It is my favourite book because at first she thought she wasn’t pretty because she wasn’t the same skin colour as her sister but then she realised people needed the darkness to rest – my favourite page is where they told her, “When you are the darkest is when you are most beautiful.” 

The DEI Story escapes have been an incredible success, mostly because the Pupil Leaders have read and led the discussions. Pupil Voice is at the heart of our DEI work at Wallbrook Primary Academy because they are the future – the pupils are being enabled to use language which is instrumental to creating a future that accepts and nurtures differences. 

Developing the power of story, the Pupil Leaders are currently sharing Braille stories with their peers. They lead on teaching their peers how to decode using Braille, and have developed several games to enable the children to learn and practise reading and writing in Braille. 

I can not wait to see how DEI continues to grow and the DEI Pupil Leaders continue to flourish into the next academic year! 


An Exploration of the Persisting Legacy of Imperial Rhetoric in Modern Education through a Case Study on ‘Eugenics, Race, and Psychiatry in the Cape Colony, 1890-1908: Dr Thomas Duncan Greenlees’

Rosa Legeno-Bell portrait

Written by Rosa Legeno-Bell

Rosa is co-founder and Director of Diverse History UK (DHUK); an LGBTQ+ and female-owned business. DHUK provides educational consultancy to address diversification of educational curricula. Rosa has worked in the education sector for over a decade, mainly in inner-city London comprehensives; as a History Teacher, Head of History and Associate Assistant Principal. Rosa graduated with distinction from the University of East Anglia with a Master’s Degree in Modern History.

This blog examines imperial rhetoric around race and eugenics through a case study of colonial psychiatrist Dr Duncan T Greenlees and explores how the legacy of imperialism lives on in the education sector.

Greenlees was the medical superintendent of Grahamstown Asylum in the Cape Colony from 1890–1907, regarded by his peers as an authority on race and eugenics (T. Duncan Greenlees M.D., 1930).

Greenlees’ Theories on the Native Mind

‘[African natives’]… wants are simple and their habits primitive; they are… willing servants, and naturally look up to white people…’ (Greenlees, 1882)

Greenlees maintained that biological and cultural differences between Africans and Europeans explained native mindsets. He attributed native ‘insanity’ to the exposure of ‘savage’ minds to Western civilisation (Swartz, 1995). The myth of primitive natives was key to the justification of British paternalism in the colonies as well as the confinement of natives who refused to conform to their prescribed roles in colonial society (Summers, 2010). In A Statistical Contribution to the Pathology of Insanity (1902), Greenlees declared that:

‘…[if] brought under the artificial influences of civilisation…[the native] …is particularly liable to chest troubles.’

 And also claimed:

‘While mania is considered a disease of undeveloped [native]  brains, melancholia may be regarded as one of developed [European] brains’

 (Greenlees 1902, p. 12).

 The falsity that non-whites were incapable of melancholia was supported by later colonial psychiatrists and is still echoed in practice today (Rosenberg, 2019). Greenlees also appealed to the common myth of the unhygienic native, stating they are ‘extremely filthy in habits,’ (Greenlees, 1902. p. 17) a stereotype commonly used to underpin dehumanising imperial rhetoric.

The influence on Greenlees of Victorian hegemony, such as Darwin’s theory of natural selection, is discernible. Darwin’s theory was commonly misapplied by imperialists to claim racial superiority and, under the guise of Social Darwinism, to justify imperial actions (Dafler, 2005). In Insanity Among the Natives of South Africa Greenlees warns:

‘The time will soon come when civilisation will overshadow [native tribes] with its baneful pall, bringing innumerable diseases in its train and ultimately exterminating all races that oppose its progress.’

(Greenlees, 1895, p. 75)

Greenlees’ Principles of Eugenics

‘…how much suffering might be avoided if…men were allowed to exercise the same care in the selection of their mates as they do when breeding their cattle’ 

(Greenlees, 1892, p. 302). 

During the Nineteenth Century, white-working class British people were also dehumanised and infantalised by the British state. The white working classes were integral to imperial rule as they powered the industrial revolution on home soil through cheap labour and terrible working conditions.

Greenlees  worked in the Cape Colony after the emancipation of Transatlantic slaves and during the Second Boer War (Facing History and Ourselves, 2018). At this time, it was believed that many South African whites, particularly Afrikaans, were becoming less civilised, mirroring British stereotypes of native peoples (Klausen, 1997). For Greenlees it was paramount that the white race maintained an air of  supremacy. (Burdett, 2014), He argued that the breeding of ‘lunatics,’ ‘imbeciles’ and ‘drunks,’ constituted a grave threat to imperial rule (Klausen, 1997).

Greenlees’ also theorised about ‘coloured’ (mixed-raced) people, referring to them  as ‘the bastard.’ Highlighting his fears regarding race and degeneracy, he contended:

 ‘a mixture of white and black blood… seems to present the worst characteristics of both races.’ (Greenlees,1892, p. 71)

Greenlees opined that, mixed-race communities were degenerates and threatened British dominance (Kolsky, 2013), a view mirrored by segregationists in the southern states of America around the same time.

So, Greenlees advocated for people to make genetically ‘wise’ choices over their marriage partners and proclaimed that it is:

‘…absurd… that we should devote more…consideration to the mating of our horses and pigs than we do that of our sons and daughters’ (Greenlees, 1903, p. 11). 

The Impact of Colonial Rhetoric around race and class on the Current Education System

‘… decolonising and detoxifying the education regime are a sine qua non for… academics, especially those who are cognisant of the true meaning of education.’

(Nkwazi Nkuzi Mhango, 2018) 

Elhinnawy (2022) maintains that a diverse book collection does not suffice and that educators need to honestly explore their own internal prejudices and their origins. While Bentrovato (2018)  contends that colonialism is a ‘hallmark of modern world history.’ whose legacies survive because of modern institutions such as education.

But,  decolonisation has been controversial. Seemingly concerned, The Department for Education (2022), introduced a guidance on impartiality in schools in 2022 on the back of the growing call to decolonise education.But decolonisation is possible still, as the guidance does not include any additional statutory requirements, and there is still room to decolonise if a range of historical evidence is engaged with and views are not taught as objective fact. The dichotomy between a government and its institutions can cause friction. Leading governmental leadership posts are filled disproportionately by privately educated people (predominantly white and male) who attended Oxbridge colleges. In 2019, 57% of the government’s cabinet and 36% of those who work in the media had attended an Oxbridge university (The Sutton Trust, 2019). Notably, private schools and Oxbridge universities were avid mouthpieces for colonial rhetoric.

Despite the controversy over decolonisation, it is a no-brainer. As diversity increases, decolonisation becomes more urgent  –with 43% of young Black people saying that:

‘A lack of curriculum diversity was one of the biggest barriers to…achieving in schools,’(Anna Freud, 2021).

Yet many schools still pursue whitewashed curricula and old-fashioned pedagogies. Critics of decolonisation have argued against it on the basis that we should not eradicate history, but true decolonisation does not entail deleting history, it encourages adding to existing narratives and amplifying historically silenced  voices. Another criticism is that decolonisation only considers marginalised black voices, but that is too literal an understanding. Decolonisation believes in amplifying all marginalised voices such as the white working classes who too were  downtrodden and exploited for the empire.  One compelling reason for decolonisation is that the amplification of many voices and celebration of shared histories may also repair relationships between marginalised communities, too often pitted against each other.

Greenlees provides a significant insight into the ideologies that propped up the British empire, and serve as a shocking reminder of the philosophies on which modern Britain was founded. If educators work together to build a fairer education for our students, then we are playing a part in creating a kinder and more compassionate society for our students and our children.

Read more and find the references here:

https://www.diversehistory.co.uk/post/eugenics-race-and-psychiatry-in-the-cape-colony-1890-1908-the-case-of-dr-duncan-t-greenlees 


5 Ways to Imbed Inclusion and Diversity in EYFS Lessons

Jess Gosling portrait

Written by Jess Gosling

An experienced international Early Years teacher, blogger and writer. She is currently writing a book for international teachers, 'Becoming an International Teacher'.

I am currently in my ninth year as an international teacher, and this article was written when I was working in a school with mostly local children in Taiwan. The problem I aimed to solve then was how to showcase and embed diversity and inclusion into our classroom environment. 

Therefore, I have developed, and continue to develop here in Poland, a series of ways to bring up issues of diversity, gender, disability, and culture in a way that is relevant, informative, and engaging. 

These are big topics for EYFS pupils but there are ways to bring them up organically alongside other areas of learning – often using texts to help naturally raise questions and discussions.

Cultural cues

Although in an international school, the children are from a similar ethnicity and therefore notice differences often.

One example of this was when we viewed a speech over which the guest had a strong Spanish accent. A child remarked, ‘that sounds funny’, and laughed. 

As a class, we talked through her view. I related the experience to my own, speaking Mandarin with my ‘funny’ accent. I asked in this case if they would laugh at me. The class was in agreement that they would not. We explored the child’s perception and reasons why, overall, we have accents when speaking another language. I encouraged them to instead think about how smart the speaker was using a different language than their own. We created parallels with their own experience, as bilingual learners. 

Gender

We have had a few instances where we have challenged and discussed gender as a class.

A boy in my class expressed his love of ‘Frozen’ and the character of Elsa in particular. He frequently leapt up to sing ‘Let it go’. Gradually, other boys have begun to join him. In this context, however, initially, there were some giggles. We unpicked this reaction and talked about how some girls love ninjas and superheroes and does it matter. Reversing the context helped those children understand that we are free to like whatever we like. 

In another situation, I was concerned when several of my children were remarking that a new member of my team was a ‘boy’ as she had very short hair. I could see that the staff member was a little upset by the comments, so I stopped the whole class and I asked them to turn and look at the staff member. We do a lot of work on feelings and it was clear that she was upset. The children who had made the comments paused and looked at the floor. In this instance, I asked the class whether calling out gender names as a joke was a nice thing to do. The class, and the particular children involved, decided as a collective it was not. This behaviour was not repeated.

Discussing individuals who have taken different pathways

Integrity forms part of our school’s ‘learner profile’. To develop their understanding of this concept, I showed a recording of ‘We will Rock You’ by Queen and their frontman, Freddie Mercury, to prompt a discussion about him. 

I wanted to illustrate how being honest and true to yourself is as important as being honest to other people. 

We looked at how he took a different path in life than what he was expected to do, to remain honest with his hopes and dreams as a musician. The children were incredibly engaged in both the music and his life story. 

Recognising cultural differences

When texts are selected carefully, they can illustrate a diverse representation of cultures. This includes environments, rituals, clothing, and religions that differ from my students. Following a book share, we discuss any perceived differences and similarities, encouraging questions.

However, it is important these stories show children living around the world, often with similar experiences to the children. One example is ‘The Proudest Blue’ about a little girl’s first day at school experiencing at the same time her sister’s first day wearing a hijab. 

The little girl, Faizah, feels so excited for her sister but instead, other children use harsh words which confuses Faizah. 

The children are drawn into the book by the fabulous illustrations. They picked apart what was unkind about the situation but also why others’ may make these remarks. Often I find children are not sure why people would say cruel things to point out a difference. We discussed together how certain words can not only affect one individual (Faizah’s sister) but also ripples to others, who hear and see them.

Showing differences, such as disability, as part of the ‘norm’

Furthermore, I endeavour to show texts which show children and adults with disabilities. One such example is ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, which shows a child in a wheelchair. These messages are more discrete as it is not a central aspect of the book. Additionally, I don’t always point them out. As these differences have been already discussed early in the year, I want the children to recognise, as with different racial identities that diversity such as disability is commonplace and part of our lives. 


Indigenous Knowledge is Integral to Diversifying the Curriculum

Robert Power portrait

Written by Rob Power

Dr Rob Power is an award-winning teacher, educational consultant and cultural historian specialising in global history and indigenous knowledge. Before returning to academia as a lecturer at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2018, and more recently as founder of Powerful Histories, Rob was Head of History and Politics at a leading independent school in Oxfordshire.

Indigenous Knowledge should be central to curriculum diversity initiatives

On 13th September 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Enshrined in the document was a commitment to uphold standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world. 

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of incorporating indigenous knowledge into education. Indigenous knowledge refers to the unique knowledge, traditions, practices, and beliefs of indigenous communities. It is knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation and encompasses ways of knowing, being, and doing that are rooted in a deep understanding of the natural world and the relationship between humans and the environment. 

As schools throughout the world begin to consider ways in which to develop sustainable practices, the prioritisation of connection to our living environment occupies centre stage. It is in this context that Indigenous knowledge can be particularly impactful. Inclusion of non-appropriated Indigenous knowledge into our teaching – on issues such as the environment, community, climate, medicine, economics and science – isn’t just about creating a culturally relevant and culturally responsive curricula. It can also help to create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment that recognises and values diversity within our own communities. 

The community-based approach to problem-solving that lies at the core of Indigenous knowledge systems should have a place in every school. Whilst honouring the robust and deep knowledge held by Indigenous communities, we help our learners to bridge divisions between cultures and constructed knowledge hierarchies and develop a holistic understanding of history, culture and the natural world. It can be a powerful tool for promoting social justice, encouraging pupils to critically reflect on the effects of forced assimilation, cultural genocide, and ongoing social and economic marginalisation of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Knowledge in the Curriculum

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge into our teaching should go beyond rudimentary case studies. Prioritising the voices and experiences of indigenous peoples and communities, involving indigenous community members in design of curriculum and assessment materials, and utilising knowledge acquisition pathways of the communities we are studying is essential.  Prioritising Indigenous knowledge thus not only affords an opportunity to diversify our curriculum, but to globalise our teaching.

Valuing, respecting, and integrating Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum involves developing an understanding of knowledge and knowledge acquisition within Indigenous communities. Oral tradition, ceremony, connection with the natural world and spiritual practice are integral to the continuation of Indigenous ways of being and convey deep meanings and concepts that are not easily translatable in Western codes of learning. It can thus be helpful to focus on four principal pedagogical approaches when teaching Indigenous stories and experiences: land-based teaching, storytelling, performance-based teaching and experiential teaching. The incorporation of Indigenous languages can also be beneficial. 

When incorporating Indigenous knowledge into your curriculum, it is important that that knowledge takes centre stage. This means refraining from treating the study of Indigenous communities as case studies and instead placing those communities – and their ‘ways of knowing’ – as the lens through which we learn. Not only does this create an opportunity to truly globalise our pedagogy, but so too it affords space for interdisciplinary learning. Let us say, for instance, that rather than teaching the topic of ecology or biodiversity through a Geography or Biology curriculum, we instead delivered a series of lessons focusing on the semi-nomadic Chahdegal Balouch peoples in Iran. A focus on the community would not only allow the study syllabus-specific content – on environmental management, land distribution, sustainability and migration, for example – but would open opportunities to consider the interconnectedness of socio-cultural values and the living world. This is of course an isolated example, but think of the possibilities that a curriculum centred on Indigenous knowledge could offer.

Global Teaching in Practice:

Incorporating indigenous knowledge into the classroom is an essential step towards providing a more inclusive, diverse education. It is about reimagining what education means and looks like, developing an approach where knowledge hierarchies are deconstructed, disciplinary barriers are challenged and all communities are valued and respected. Collaborating with those communities is essential, not only in providing a culturally relevant education for pupils, but also as a means to develop culturally sustaining pedagogies that frame diversity in a truly global context.

My work with schools through the Global Teaching Project primarily involves supporting teachers to recognise the importance of Indigenous knowledge and de-centring dominant narratives responsible for the creation of exclusionary barriers. In a recent project at a school in West London, teachers came together to transform a Year 8 module on ‘The Americas Before Europe’. Together, they worked to challenge dominant Western narratives presenting Indigenous American communities as homogenous, passive, and situated within the past. Drawing on newly-made connections and interviews with Indigenous American artists and community leaders, teachers centred the perspectives of indigenous voices. Pupils responded by curating a virtual exhibition which celebrated the stories and experiences of Indigenous communities. This was not co-option of community knowledge but a conversation between learner and community members. 

The Global Teaching Project, and its focus on Indigenous knowledge and global pedagogies, forms an important part of ongoing learning and self-reflection about issues of power and privilege. More work is sorely needed in this regard, not only in critical reflection of what our pupils learn, but also in consideration of the impact that diversifying a curriculum through content change alone can have in the long term.

 


The Fight Against RSE

Ian Timbrell portrait

Written by Ian Timbrell

Ian is an education consultant and trainer, supporting schools develop their provision for LGBT+ pupils and their RSE curriculum. He has worked in education for 15 years; including as a class teacher and a deputy head teacher.

The cursory glance at social media and the internet suggests that UK RSE curricula include suggestions of bondage, is opposed by most people, is queering education and is a risk to safeguarding. But what is the truth behind this opposition?

The backlash

Broadly, objections can be categorised into three areas: secrecy around RSE; developmentally inappropriate materials; the inability to withdraw from lessons; and the ‘queering’ of education. 

The secrecy around RSE 

A common oppositional narrative is that schools refuse to show what materials they are using. This view essentially accuses all teachers of not safeguarding their children. We’re not asked to show all materials so why is RSE different? If schools were to publish every piece of planning and resource used, the workload would push an already overworked system to the brink of collapse. This is not to say that there is no transparency. Generally, schools will share this information upon request, or through parent consultations.

RSE is developmentally inappropriate

Opponents of RSE claim it contains messages of anal sex, bondage, pornography and self-stimulation at age 4-6. My son is 9 and I would be horrified if he learnt any of these at his age. But he’s not. Because none of it is in the RSE frameworks.

Proponents of this message often use excerpts of preparatory paperwork as evidence for inappropriate content. But these aren’t in the mandatory documents. As part of any curriculum design process, you look at a wide range of documents to find out everything that is out there. That doesn’t mean that Governments use them, or that you agree with them.

I am not saying that no school has ever used inappropriate materials, but critics fail to acknowledge that these mistakes are in the smallest percentage of schools and instead of banning RSE for all, the individual school should take the appropriate action to ensure appropriate nature of the materials they are using in lessons. 

The inability to withdraw from lessons

In Wales, parents are not allowed to withdraw pupils from RSE lessons. Being told that we cannot withdraw our children from any areas of their life is bound to put some people’s heckles up. However, the reality is that this is the case for pretty much every other area of the curriculum. Schools would not allow withdrawal from English or Maths, so why should it be allowed from a framework that aims to develop healthy, happy people?

One of the reasons that withdrawing from all RSE lessons is not as simple as some would like you to think, is that effective RSE is primarily not delivered as ‘RSE lessons’. RSE encourages friendships and respect and so it is impossible to withdraw from any lesson that develops these attributes. What the parents here are generally saying is that they want them withdrawn from sex education and/or mentions of sexuality or gender. Withdrawing from RSE frameworks as a whole is impossible, but withdrawing from sections would be a logistical nightmare for schools and is not realistic.

The ‘Queering’ of Education

This phrase is fascinating, especially because it has no agreed universal meaning. Most opponents seem to be using it as a phrase to suggest that ‘Queer Theory’ is now underpinning education. They are conflating the true meaning of Queer Theory with conspiracy theories to suggest that there is collusion in education and health to somehow convert children to become LGBT+. This is rooted in LGBTphobia and is not founded on anything but discrimination and panic culture.

The real reasons for the backlash

The most obvious and largest group appear to be transphobic and homophobic. The reality is that up to 10% of the population are LGBTQ+ and if we do not ever discuss these things, this whole section of society will grow up wondering why they feel different. But also by deliberately not mentioning LGBTQ+ people, we are saying that they don’t exist, which is phobic in and of itself. Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people on displays, in books and in lessons is not going to turn anyone LGBTQ+, but it will make our world a more inclusive and tolerant place.

An argument opponents to RSE also use is that they don’t want sex talked about to three-year-olds. But sex doesn’t need to be mentioned. At that age, it’s about realising that there are different families and challenging gender stereotypes.

The final reason that I will talk about here is religion. A minority use religion as a reason for their children not to be ‘exposed’ to LGBT+ or gender discussions. I follow a number of LGBTQ religious individuals and organisations, and I can tell you that religion does not spread hate, people do.

Conclusion

In 2021, 5 parents took the Welsh Government to court to ban RSE. Unsurprisingly, they lost the court case as many of the disproved views from above were put forward as ‘evidence’.

The fact is, no matter what change happens in schools, there are always opponents and critics. But when you couple inevitable bemoaners with homophobia and transphobia, there was bound to be pushback. But RSE is key to making the UK an inclusive country and the vast majority of us know that it is the right thing to do and trust the teachers to do the best by their children.


More isn’t enough

Charles Golding portrait

Written by Charles Golding

Charles Golding is a creative director and filmmaker, a disruptor with a passion for change.

CARGO, Charting African Resilience Generating Opportunities, was launched in 2018 to address the lack of inspiring African and African diaspora narratives in education. Since then, awareness has been raised of the bias in representation in the current curriculum.  

In the wake of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, many groups and organisations have sprung up to address the inequality and lack of diversity in business and education. We cannot be sure whether these organisations were echoing the zeitgeist or capitalising on the moment. Either way, we are now in an unprecedented time where diverse resources and educational tools are available on a scale unimaginable a few years ago. From major publishers, academics and celebrities, it seems many people have thrown their hat into the ring to help address the perceived lack of Black history within our classrooms. 

When CARGO began its journey into the world of education, we made a number of conscious decisions that would help define our focus and ambition. As Lawrence Hoo, CARGO co-founder recounts in the BBC documentary The Classroom Revolution: “At school, we weren’t taught white history.” This is an important distinction with the language we use to describe our work. 

We choose not to categorise the material we created with the binary simplicity of racial politics. We put language at the heart of our material. For example, we use ‘of African and African Diaspora heritage’ rather than ‘Black’; ‘of European heritage’ rather than ‘white’; ‘enslaved people’ rather than ‘slaves’. Our choice of words help to humanise often dehumanised narratives and define our direction.  

Another important distinction is our focus on engagement. We do not want our material to feel like a traditional classroom resources. We approach the creation of CARGO Classroom resources with a desire to create material that will engage, educate and entertain.  

Beyond our drive to address the inequality within the secondary school system was a realisation there was a need to energise and enrich the dusty and often antiquated environment of teaching in schools. We understood there was a void beyond racial inequality that spanned generations. The traditional institutions that have governed the distribution of educational material are no longer fit for purpose and have become out of touch with the needs of today’s students. Pupils are demanding change, and all too often, are taking control of their own learning.  Due to this demand, we are now developing KS1 and KS2 primary school resources as an addition to the CARGO Classroom KS3 secondary school resources currently available. 

No longer can the current frameworks and structures that have governed learning be adequate to fulfil the ideals and aspirations of the coming generations. We want to create materials that would be appropriate for children raised in the age of mass media and gaming. In an environment where information is more accessible than ever before, we know it is important to elevate our material to compete with the ever-changing landscape of digital media.  

The CARGO Classroom resources utilise rich, illuminating content from contemporary illustrations, engaging narrative poetry and cinematic videos. We acutely realise the importance of broader representation within teaching and the cross-cultural gains that can be made through a deeper knowledge and understanding. However, the information is only part of the puzzle with the method of delivery and context of the learning being equally as important if we are to inspire engagement and retain learning.  

As part of the BBC’s ‘Classroom Revolution ’ documentary, Lawrence visited two children who had been excluded from mainstream education. These students were categorised as hard to reach and subsequently hard to motivate and engage. Their teacher, Rebekah Leese, decided to structure an activity around one of the CARGO Classroom lessons. What you don’t see in the film is as the lesson continues, tutors from other classes gathered in the corridor in amazement as they attempted to look through the windows of the classroom. They couldn’t believe the children stayed engaged for as long as they did.  Rebekah remarked: “We are lucky to maintain their concentration for 20 minutes; they were engaged for over an hour.” We now understand one of those students is pursuing history as a subject for further study. Obviously not every classroom will benefit from such a monumental learning experience as a result of CARGO Classroom resources. However, the context and delivery of resources should remain at the forefront of our desire to rejuvenate the landscape of modern learning. It isn’t enough to just supply the material and tell different stories, it’s about how you tell those stories and how we can maximise engagement. We are not interested in ticking boxes; we are here to pull down barriers and broaden ambition.

For more information about CARGO Classroom, please visit www.cargomovement.org/classroom


Desire to study diverse drama and playwrights in schools not matched by current educational landscape

Margaret Bartley portrait

Written by Margaret Bartley

Editorial Director for Literary Drama at Bloomsbury. Since 2002 she has been the Publisher of the Arden Shakespeare and now has editorial responsibility for Bloomsbury's digital platform Drama Online, the Methuen Drama imprint, and the Arden Shakespeare. She is Bloomsbury’s representative on the Lit in Colour Advisory Board and sponsor of Bloomsbury Academic’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group.

90% of drama texts taught at GCSE and 96% at A Level English Literature are written by white playwrights

New research released today by Bloomsbury Publishing, through its Methuen Drama imprint and as part of its Lit in Colour programme, illustrates the popularity and contradiction of teaching drama texts for English Literature at GCSE and A Level in today’s secondary schools in England and Wales. 

Drama (excluding Shakespeare) is not compulsory in the GCSE English Literature specification, yet 93% of teachers who responded to Bloomsbury’s survey choose to teach a drama text to a GCSE class. Under 2022 curriculum specifications, drama texts by white playwrights account for 90% of drama texts taught at GCSE and 96% at A Level English Literature.  This contrasts with 93% of teachers who said they would like to see a more ethnically diverse range of writers offered by exam boards. This desire from teachers is met with student demand. Of the teachers surveyed, 65% said there was a demand from their students to study more ethnically diverse writers. 

Launched in 2020 by Penguin Books UK, alongside race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, the Lit in Colour campaign aims to support UK schools in diversifying the teaching of English and to increase students’ access to texts by writers of colour and from minority ethnic backgrounds.  

Bloomsbury’s Methuen Drama imprint has a world-class play portfolio and playwright relationships that complement and expand on the original Lit in Colour campaign. The programme’s aim is to introduce new plays to the curriculum, offering students access to more diverse, representative and inclusive work, opening up the ways in which all drama texts can be studied, creating new ways to explore plays and contributing to wider discussion and representation in the classroom.

Other findings from the research illustrate the important role drama plays within English Literature at secondary school study:

    • There are currently just 2 drama set texts by Global Majority writers available at A Level English Literature
    • With the right support and resources in place, 84% of respondents said they would be likely to choose a new drama text for GCSE English Literature
    • We asked teachers about the support they need when teaching drama set texts: the top three resources listed were recordings of performances (67%), model student answers to exam questions (65%) and resources on social/cultural context (57%)
  • 66% of survey respondents said they would like more support to teach texts that tackle issues relating to race or ethnicity
    • 0% of students answered an exam question on a play by a Global Majority writer in England in 2019*
  • In England in 2019*, 79% of GCSE English Literature candidates answered an exam question on a drama text,  349,337 students (65%) answered a question on An Inspector Calls in 2019 assessments

Margaret Bartley, Editorial Director for Literary Drama at Bloomsbury, commented: “The landscape of teaching drama in English schools has remained largely unchanged. Our research shows that there is real appetite for change and that publishers, theatre makers, examiners and teachers need to work together to deliver change to the curriculum. If we empower teachers to switch texts with confidence, students can continue to benefit from the positive impact and influence of studying plays. In the future, those plays will better reflect the student cohort and ensure students see themselves represented in the texts they study. Bloomsbury is committed to playing our part in delivering this change through our proactive programme of new play text publishing, supported by the resources teachers and students need to study and enjoy them.”

Change is coming – what should the future look like?

Real change is coming. Just two years on from the Lit in Colour campaign, efforts are being made by all five major awarding bodies in England and Wales to diversify the set texts within both GCSE and A Level specifications for English and Drama.  By 2025 English Literature students in England and Wales will have the option to choose from 10 new modern play texts by writers of colour at GCSE and A Level.

The importance of live performance

Drama can be more accessible than other genres and many enjoy the interactivity that the format brings. A 2015 curriculum change to English Literature removed the necessity for a student to watch a live production, leading to systemic changes in the teaching of drama texts as part of the English curriculum, which are difficult for teachers to counter.

Teaching drama as an experience through live performance is critical in the successful introduction of new plays. When diverse texts are performed in theatres and included on the school curriculum, more could be done to engage with the playwrights themselves. There needs to be more opportunity for playwrights to talk about their work and context, and for schools and teachers to engage with playwrights directly. 

Having access to staged performances through services such as Bloomsbury’s Drama Online, which has collections of filmed live performances including those from the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe, is vital to bringing teaching to life, inspiring debate and illustrating what the author or playwright is trying to convey.  

Empowering teachers to take a different approach

The research shows a clear desire among teachers to expose pupils to a diverse range of literature, driven by the need to reflect the student cohort and ensure students see themselves represented in the texts they study. There is also a desire to share diversity of thinking and hear voices other than their own. Importantly, this needs to represent a variety of backgrounds and to portray a range of lived experiences including, but not limited to, race-related issues.

Introducing new play texts to the classroom is a big undertaking and requires time and energy from teachers who are already stretched and time-poor. It is clear that teaching a new text is a significant undertaking for teachers who need to create new schemes of work and lesson plans, and research the text’s critical and performance history. Research responses show that teachers prefer to refer to past papers and evidence of the approach taken in assessment for benchmarking their teaching plans. This understandably means teachers often choose to teach the familiar and reliable options with which they have had positive learning and exam outcomes in the past.

Giving teachers the tools they need will empower them to teach new texts and approaches with greater confidence, helping them achieve the success they want for their students.

Teachers also told us that they have more freedom at Key Stage 3 (KS3) to choose diverse texts, as the curriculum is not limited by exam specifications. Teachers can therefore introduce drama texts from diverse writers at KS3 and build confidence in the teaching of these texts, before being limited by exam specifications at higher key stages.

There is also an opportunity to teach the familiar set texts differently, while they remain on the syllabus, by reframing how they are taught. Alongside new texts from diverse writers, existing texts can be taught through a different lens that resonates more with today’s students, such as gender, identity or class. Given the predominance of plays like this, reframing the way established canonical texts are presented offers teachers and students enriching ways to engage with them alongside newer texts.

Methodology

This report draws on research from multiple sources: a quantitative survey, in-depth interviews, roundtable discussion and desk research. Participation was entirely voluntary. Research was carried out by independent research company Oriel Square Ltd and supported by Insightful Research. The online survey, carried out in June 2022, targeted teachers of GCSE English Literature in England and Wales. Of the 141 respondents, 16.3% identified as Black, Asian or of Multiple Ethnic background, compared to 10.4% of teachers in England. Interviews were conducted with a sample of four teachers, selected either because they were taking part in the Lit in Colour Pioneer Pilot programme, ran in partnership with Pearson Edexcel, or because they had responded to the survey and agreed to take part. As a response to the teacher research, Bloomsbury, the National Theatre and Open Drama UK hosted a roundtable discussion with stakeholders from publishers, awarding bodies, theatre organisations, and practitioners, authors and playwrights to discuss how the drama and theatre community could support schools with the teaching of diverse drama texts.

*2019 assessment data was used in the research as the most reliable data, as COVID-19 interrupted live exams data and 2022 data is just being published

Media enquiries: to Ginni Arnold, Head of Corporate Communications at Bloomsbury on ginni.arnold@bloomsbury.com or 07968730247.

Editors’ Notes

Bloomsbury English and Drama for Schools list includes:

Find out more at Bloomsbury.com/DramaForSchools and @MethuenDrama

About Bloomsbury

Bloomsbury is a leading independent publishing house, established in 1986, with authors who have won the Nobel, Pulitzer and Booker Prizes, and is the originating publisher and custodian of the Harry Potter series. Bloomsbury has offices in London, New York, New Delhi, Oxford and Sydney. 

About Lit in Colour

Lit in Colour was launched by Penguin Random House and The Runnymede Trust in October 2020. The campaign aims to ensure English literature better reflects contemporary culture and society, to increase understanding around racial equality and to give students access to a diverse range of authors and books. 

Lit in Colour published a major piece of research: https://litincolour.penguin.co.uk/ Diversity in Literature in English Schools  in June 2021  which reviewed the current state of play in English Literature education and made practical recommendations for change, carried out by an independent team at Oxford University’s Department of Education.

Find more information at penguin.co.uk/litincolour and @PenguinUKBooks

About The Runnymede Trust 

The Runnymede Trust is the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. We generate intelligence to challenge race inequality in Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement.

Runnymede is working to build a Britain in which all citizens and communities feel valued, enjoy equal opportunities, lead fulfilling lives, and share a common sense of belonging.

In order to effectively overcome racial inequality in our society, we believe that our democratic dialogue, policy, and practice, should all be based on reliable evidence from rigorous research and thorough analysis.

@RunnymedeTrust |runnymedetrust.org


How we can bring LGBT+ families into primary school storytime with Grandad’s Camper

Dominic Arnall portrait

Written by Dominic Arnall

Chief Executive of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people's charity.

Diverse families, kindness and respecting difference are all key elements of the primary curriculum that we’re probably all familiar with, but the reality of making these conversations LGBT+ inclusive may not always be so obvious or seem immediately possible.

At Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, we know that growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough. LGBT+ school pupils are twice as likely to be bullied and the same anti-LGBT+ language and bullying also impacts pupils who aren’t LGBT+ but have LGBT+ families or are perceived to against the ‘norms’.

We often hear from primary school staff keen to make changes in their school so that pupils can better learn about the diversity of the world around them – including that some families have two mums or two dads.

So, we want to help all school staff on this journey. We know your time is limited and you may be nervous or unsure where to start with LGBT+ inclusion, so we produce ready-to-go, free resources for primary and secondary schools.

Ahead of School Diversity Week, Just Like Us is releasing a new series of primary storytime resources.

The first in our series is a video of award-winning author Harry Woodgate reading from their book Grandad’s Camper, that you can screen with your primary class. 

Grandad’s Camper won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Best Illustrated Book 2022 and is a wonderful book to start conversations with your pupils about families that aren’t heteronormative, or the ‘typical’ family set up.

The book follows the story of a girl and her grandad who takes them on a special campervan trip, sharing heartwarming stories of his adventures with the late Gramps, Grandad’s partner who passed away.

Alongside our storytime video resource, we have a reading guide with discussion prompts and ideas on how to use the book as a writing prompt – such as ‘How do you think Grandad and Gramps felt when they went on all their travels?’ and ‘How do you think Grandad feels now Gramps isn’t there any more?’

The resources are free to access for all UK primary school staff – simply sign up for School Diversity Week to download them.

We’re delighted to be working with Harry Woodgate and Andersen Press to open up much-needed conversations around diverse families in primary schools this School Diversity Week, and hope the resources are helpful to primary staff looking to celebrate diverse families.

We’ll also be giving away copies of Grandad’s Camper to UK primary school staff who sign up for School Diversity Week before the end of May 2022.

School Diversity Week is the UK-wide celebration of LGBT+ equality in primary and secondary schools run by charity Just Like Us and takes place 20-24 June this year.