Black History Month: Why every child should see themselves in a book

According to the last UK census, the population of the UK stood at just over 56 million people*.
The census yielded the following data:

  • 86% of the population identified with White ethnic groups

  • 7.5% identified with Asian ethnic groups

  • Black ethnic groups made up 3.3%

  • 2.2% were from Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups

  • Other ethnic groups made up 1.0% of the population

Among the specific ethnic groups, people from the White British ethnic group made up the largest percentage of the population (at 80.5%), followed by Other White (4.4%) and Indian (2.5%).
So, what do these bland facts and figures actually mean? Well, on a surface level, it shows us that over 11 million people (that’s the population of Belgium), do not identify as White British. On a social and cultural level, it shows us that we live in an ethnically diverse society. And we ought to recognise this. In our politics, in our education system, in our culture, and in our literature.

This might seem like an obvious statement, but as human beings it’s difficult for us to aspire unless we see people like ourselves doing the things that we wish we could do. Be this within our families, our friendship and peer groups, the media, advertising, the films we watch and the books we read, we need to see people like ourselves serving as role models, mentors and advocates. And it’s not just that we need it, it’s that we should see it. It’s owed to us. If we exist as people in the real world then why would we not be represented elsewhere?

A culturally and ethnically rich society should be reflected within the media, within the education system and within literature in order to promote understanding and appreciation between the people that live in our society. And there’s no better place to embed this representation culture than at school. In particular, at primary school.

Many of us will have heard of the ‘1% statistic’ which was published by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) in 2018. That is: that only 1% of British children’s books featured a main character who was black or minority ethnic, and only 4% of books featured BAME characters. It’s shocking.

When I went to school, I remember a lot of very colourful hats being portrayed in the books that we were given to read, but not so many colourful people … I grew up in rural Wiltshire, so it was by no means an ethnically diverse school. Yet, the thought of children only reading about white characters in Tower Hamlets, for example, where Black, Asian and minority ethnic pupils make up more than 80% of pupil intake, just feels inexcusable.

Thankfully the One, Two, Three and Away! (Roger Red-Hat) reading scheme books were being read in schools some 25 years ago now. Yet, there still aren’t many schemes on the market that can truly profess to be ethnically diverse in their representation of characters. One scheme that can claim to do this, however, is Reading Planet. In a recent census by Rising Stars, we found that of the 408 books currently published in the scheme, 42% of characters were white, 23% were Asian, 20% were from Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups, 14% were Black and 1% were from Other ethnic groups.

Yet more stats. But, the important thing to take away from this is that by engaging with the characters in these books, children from all ethnic groups can see themselves and each other in the girl who rescues the stranded alien, or the boy who solves the mysterious riddle, and feel inspired.

*last UK census was 2011. Current ONS data now puts the figure at 66.4 million.


Learn more about Reading Planet here


Reading, Reading and Ebooks, reading scheme, Rising Stars Reading Planet

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