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Exam board seeks to increase diversity

23 September 2021

Exam Board Seeks to Increase Diversity

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In an effort to make their courses more representative, English exam board OCR has doubled the choice of books written by people of colour and women offered on their GCSE and A-level literature courses. 

This follows an unprecedented announcement earlier this year that teachers would be asked to vote on which works should be included. 

A shortlist compiled by a panel of experts included Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘Shame’, Langston Hughes’ debut ‘Not Without Laughter’ and Jean Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, a postcolonial prequel to Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre.

The decision signals an attempt to prioritise diversity after criticism that the English curriculum is not inclusive enough.

Whilst 34.4% of school students in England are not White British, fewer than 1% of GCSE students study a book by a writer of colour.

In 2020, Penguin Books UK and race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust created ‘Lit in Colour’, a campaign designed to increase students’ access to books by writers of colour. They commissioned a report which found that, whilst 34.4% of school students in England are not White British, fewer than 1% of GCSE students study a book by a writer of colour. 

Additionally, only 7% of students answered a 2019 exam question on a full-length novel or play by a woman. 

OCR, who partnered with Lit in Colour earlier this year, evidently seeks to change this. 

The finalised list, which was announced on September 17th, features five new A-level texts and a new play for GCSE students. 

These include Sam Selvon’s 1956 novel ‘The Lonely Londoners’, which explores post-war immigrant communities in Britain, Nella Larsen’s influential American race novel ‘Passing’ and Bernadine Everisto’s 2019 Booker prize-winner ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, which tells the stories of a diverse cast of female and nonbinary characters. 

The play ‘Leave Taking’ by award-winning Black British Playwright Winsome Pinnock will be the GCSE drama option.

Several new poems written by poets of colour (to be announced once copyright permissions have been confirmed) will also be added to the GCSE anthology, replacing poems by Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Seamus Heaney. 

Now 28% of the texts offered by OCR are written by writers of colour, an increase of 15% on the previous list. 

The move demonstrates a welcome shift towards a more inclusive and representative curriculum. But there is still a long way to go. 

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