Changing the educational set menu

12 Oct 2019, 5:00

As the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) publishes its second Reflecting Realities report, Sonia Thompson reflects on what it will take to make the report’s priorities part of pupils’ daily fare

The CLPE’s first Reflecting Realities report last year was ground-breaking. It received a substantial amount of publicity and cemented the term “reflecting realities” into educational discourse. There were substantial and substantive conversations across all sections of the reading community and converged across all media.

Last week’s follow-up report concentrates on continuing the conversations around “whether the world of books accurately reflects the real-life experiences of readers”.

It feels like this important discussion has now taken its place on the table of a very exclusive establishment and is leading diners to ask better and more pertinent questions about their diet.

Why are some groups still under-represented/badly represented in children’s literature? What are we going to do about it? The second report continues to throw down the gauntlet and ask for a standard to be set.

With its poignant quotes from children, the report delves into the complexities of characterisation, palette choices, language choices and degrees of erasure.

One of its most powerful sections, “Tiers of presence”, tries to capture the extent and quality of BAME presence in texts.  It cites best practice across publishers, as well as unpicking ideas that need more careful thought.

The report, though upbeat, juxtaposes its findings with those of its first incarnation and states that they are still valid. Clearly, there is a mighty long way to go, but there is plenty of hope too.

Publishers, such as Knights Of and Tiny Owl, associations such as The Book Trust and the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA), charities such as EmpathyLab and a growing number of teachers, lecturers and interested observers are fully engaged in the discourse.

Let us saturate our classrooms with these quality texts

Twitter is a hive of sharing and recommendations. I cannot commend highly enough the work of Dr Karen Sands-O’Connor and Darren Chetty, whose recommendations and reflections in the magazine Books for Keeps are designed to keep the conversations fresh and relevant. I have also recently discovered CILIP’s Pen and Inc, a magazine devoted to celebrating diversity and inclusion in children books.

These communities are committed to affecting change.  They join organisations such as Letterbox Library and Just Imagine who have always quietly supplied books that reflect realities to schools across the country.

They are all to be applauded, but we are still too far from the destination to be complacent. We need to reach a place where books not being reflective is seen as strange, subversive and unacceptable.

Reflecting Realities must matter to all schools, across every part of the country, in every type of community. Rural schools should be as engaged and concerned about “the value of individuals’ identities, cultures and communities” as inner-city schools need to be.

When all of our voices come together, demanding change, not just from publishers but from television executives, museum curators and other influential organisations where under-representation is rife, then maybe, just maybe, change will become embedded and rooted.

My clarion call is to teachers and school librarians: if books are a window on the world, let us all take action to ensure that representations in our own settings are as rich and as diverse as our neighbours, communities and nations. Let us saturate our classrooms and libraries with these quality texts. Let us tell our students that anything less than this is unacceptable.

The CLPE reports are massive stride forward, but Farrah Serroukh’s efforts and the ensuing discussions can’t add up to a flash in the education policy pan. It will take concerted, deliberate action from each of us to make Reflecting Realities part of our national cuisine.

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