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.


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 or 07968730247.

Editors’ Notes

Bloomsbury English and Drama for Schools list includes:

Find out more at 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: 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 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 |