English: authoring a more diverse curriculum

Friday 19 Nov 2021

In the third in our series of blogs looking at equality, diversity and inclusion in our qualifications, our Head of Curriculum for English, Pauline McPartlan, explains how we’re embracing rich opportunities to script a more diverse curriculum.

Across the education landscape there is wide ranging debate around issues of representation within the texts and the writers selected for academic study and assessments. Exam boards have to work within the regulatory framework, but we know we can improve the choices we make. Recent reports from organisations like Lit in Colour have highlighted the lack of diversity in the current curriculum and proposed practical, meaningful solutions.

The exam curriculum is not the entire curriculum, but we recognise the influence it has over what is taught in schools and how set texts create the opportunity for a school curriculum to be more diverse and inclusive. When we look at our current set text offer, it’s clear that it’s not sufficiently diverse and we know this needs to change.

Any change to the design of a specification has implications that need careful thought. While we can add further texts to our current set texts, it’s not without challenge - so how we do this and when needs careful consideration. Teachers tell us they want changes that make a difference to the students taking our specifications.

Changes need to be meaningful

To make sure any changes aren’t tokenistic we’ve been spending time listening to a range of views and developing our own ideas on how to diversify a curriculum. Whilst we’re exploring all the available options, we also want to maintain the assessment philosophy and design principles we know work successfully for students and teachers. Rest assured, as always, we’ll keep teachers fully informed in an appropriate and timely way.

Our vision is to deliver a richly diverse exam specification and before we get there we’re keen to do as much as we can to ensure that, by teaching our qualifications, you can deliver an inclusive curriculum for your students. English is a subject which presents a host of exciting opportunities to do just this. Through curriculum design and classroom pedagogy we can create opportunities for students to explore and engage with diversity by placing texts in conversation with each other and thinking critically about individual texts from a wide range of perspectives.

Supporting diversity – and supporting teachers

We’re privileged to be working with inspirational teachers who have been leading on diversifying the English curriculum in their schools. We’ll very soon be sharing details of our spring event which will provide practical takeaways and plenty of opportunity for discussion about diversity, pedagogy and curriculum design.

In addition, where assessments feature unseen material we’re using this opportunity to feature a diversity of voices ensuring that, over time, assessments reflect a range of authors and content. Our recent GCSE English Language Paper 1 included an extract from Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

And we’re also ensuring new resources feature a plurality of perspectives and voices (look out for the new reading resources coming soon on our Post-16 page).

Looking at the bigger picture

We want to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion through the choices we offer within our qualifications, but also play our part in the bigger conversation about how the subject English celebrates and is alive with diversity. We’re using our influence to engage in the deeper questions around diversity, and engaging with a broad spectrum of stakeholders across the education sector, including many teachers.

If you want to have your voice heard or are keen to participate in future developments we would love to hear from you. Contact us at English-gcse@aqa.org.uk 0161 953 7504, or @AQAEnglish.

Blog series

Read the other blogs in this series – History: hearing more diverse voices from the past, and Creative Arts: designing and delivering greater diversity in our qualifications