The Education Secretary has applauded teachers who draw on more diverse texts in English lessons.
There have been calls to decolonise and diversify the curriculum in schools for some time, with hundreds of thousands of people signing petitions on the issue earlier this year – earning consideration from two Commons select committees.
In April, a union conference was told the contribution of black people to British history and culture should be taught in all subjects at school.
It was claimed that Government curriculum reviews had centred on the classics “over and over again above diverse voices, for example in the English curriculum”.
In an interview with The House magazine, Nadhim Zahawi has now suggested he supports the introduction of more diverse texts and authors in English lessons.
Asked if there are enough black and female writers on the curriculum, Mr Zahawi said: “Diversity and representation are hugely important issues, and you will never find me sitting idly by saying we’ve done enough.
“What I do strongly believe though is it’s right that the Government provides space for schools and exam boards to do this in a nuanced way that works for pupils and the specific subjects in question.
“The English curriculum is a great example of how schools can tailor content to their students, as teachers have the flexibility to choose the books they want to teach – and I applaud teachers for responding with enthusiasm to the calls from their students to see a greater diversity in the authors and works discussed in class.”
But Mr Zahawi said he does not believe the education system should be “pushing any sort of agenda on children”.
On whether pupils should be taught about topics such as Black Lives Matter, he said: “I think there are two issues at stake here. Firstly, I don’t think the education system should be pushing any sort of agenda on children. I think the vast majority of schools and teachers agree with that.
“The second element is that schools should be teaching children to make sense of the world in an impartial way. Teachers are fantastic when it comes to knowing how to engage their pupils with all sorts of issues.
“This is fundamentally different to telling pupils what to think, though. Good teaching – the sort of teaching that is ubiquitous in our education system – gives young people the facts and teaches them the critical thinking needed to form their own opinions on things.”
In June, a report commissioned by Penguin and the Runnymede Trust found fewer than 1% of candidates for GCSE English literature answered a question on a novel by an author of colour in 2019.
It said the young people interviewed “disliked how many books they study are written by white, middle-aged men; the lack of different perspectives (no LGBTQ+ or non-white perspectives) and the lack of modern books and authors”.
Meanwhile, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, has described the Government’s approach to education as “muddle-headed”.
Dr Mary Bousted told The House: “Ministers focus on a rigorous academic curriculum with powerful knowledge.
“I’ve got nothing against powerful knowledge – I’ve got something against who decides what’s powerful, and who doesn’t. It seems to me those are deliberate choices being made, which can exclude very often the work of black writers, women scientists and so on.
“I accept schools are there for the acquisition of knowledge. But they should be there for much more than that.”