Diverse representation = deeper engagement

03 February 2022

When everyone’s identity is shaped by ethnicity, culture and racism, instead of avoiding conversations shouldn’t we better equip our children and ourselves to understand one another and connect? The Arts provide many ways to explore these conversations, and truly diverse representation enables deeper engagement.

mezze eade (CLA’s 2021 Special Advisor on Representation in the Curriculum) discusses the value and importance of work to improve representation in Arts subject curriculums, the broader impacts and what support is available for educators.

Diverse representation impacts aspiration: we encounter the Arts through the music we listen to, the clothes and furniture in our homes, the programmes we watch on TV… (the list is long) on a daily basis. The artists we introduce our children to sends a message about who is invited to join and who belongs in creative institutions and industries.

“We want to ensure the students can see themselves in the texts. We also want to ensure our choices are diverse, current and relevant. We don't want to have to revert to the Canon.” Drama Teacher

Addressing the lack of representation in curriculums

Many educators, facilitators and artists have worked tirelessly to change curriculums and systems which avoid the truth of how today’s Britain is a product of its past by excluding or tolerating. Frustratingly many schools and teachers must still rely upon national initiatives such as Black History Month, Refugee Week and International Holocaust Memorial Day to address the lack of representation in all subjects and introduce works by and artists from the global majority to their students. 

The impact of these initiatives should not be diminished, however they permit educational institutions and awarding bodies to consign the contribution of these artists, makers and practitioners as outside of, rather than integral to each discipline’s history and contemporary contexts. Maintaining a disconnection to what is current in the arts industries and what students need to thrive and to become the next generation of makers.

“We, as teachers, need closer attachment to the industry and current academic research to be able to teach up-to-date content, and the exam boards need this too, to ensure their qualifications are relevant to the industry.” Drama Teacher

Resources to improve representation in Drama and Dance

With support from theatres and cultural organisations across the country RinD (Representation in Drama) has worked closely with teachers and exam boards to understand the needs and challenges faced by secondary Drama students and teachers.

In September 2020 of the 104 plays available to study at GCSE (Set Texts and Non-Exam Assessment texts across the four major exam boards) over 75% of the playwrights were male and over 80% were racialised as white.

As understanding of how this impacts individual identities and the aspiration of young artists has increased, meaningful change has begun. Teachers are already seeing a positive impact on belonging and the creative vision of their students due to changes in Pearson Edexcel’s Set Texts for GCSE Drama.

"Students use fewer stereotypes of their own culture in their devised or improvisation work.” Drama Teacher

“In 2021, we added four new set texts to our GCSE Drama specification to ensure that the choice for teachers and students is broader and more representative. We also added new practitioners to the list provided in Unit 1: Investigating Practitioners Work in the BTEC Nationals in Performing Arts specification. In 2022, we will be undertaking a review of the set texts for A level Drama and Theatre in regards to representation, equity and inclusion.”

Paul Webster, Drama and Performing Arts Senior Subject Advisor – Pearson Education

A concern for teachers and students is access to live experiences and resources to support the works they study. Digital technology is helping to address this problem and cultural organisations are working with artists and creatives to make their work more accessible to young people. RinD continues to create connections between artists, teachers, exam boards and arts institutions, benefiting students through better access to experiences and resources.

“We know we can’t create a more inclusive curriculum all by ourselves – so we’ve brought together a community of Art and Design, Dance, Drama, Media Studies and Music Subject Associations, Higher Education, teachers, practitioners, expert advisers, subject specialists and industry, and we’ll soon be announcing some exciting changes to our qualifications.

Two key themes have emerged from our conversations. First, the set texts, artists, musicians or products that we require students to study and how we need to make these more representative of the world we live in.

The second key theme is Non-Exam Assessment (NEA) where students have free choice to choose an artist, performer, play, topic, product or music genre. We want to support teachers and students in selecting a more diverse range of starting points and inspiration - and give them the confidence to teach and study them. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and collaborate with dance practitioners via the Decolonising the Dance Curriculum meetings.”

Sandra Allan, Head of Curriculum - Creative Arts – AQA

Challenging learnt prejudice through connection

Children begin to understand stereotypes and learn how to group people into categories from around the age of three. Diverse and complex representation is important in challenging learnt prejudice and creating an understanding that we have as many connections as we have differences. Connection strengthens our sense of self and our ability to work with others. When students feel that everyone is valued they find it easier to work together.

“I don’t understand why my friends aren’t in the plays and books I study at school. It’s not fair.” Drama student

“Over the past 12 months at RSL we have continued to implement positive changes, both within our company and our qualifications. In 2021 we started an internal EDI committee, and part of their work has been to source and work with external consultants which has led to some very positive collaborations and important discussions. We have also worked with some of these consultants on our qualifications to both develop the specifications themselves and to provide supporting resources for schools and colleges that represent a broader and more diverse approach to the teaching of the subjects we offer.”

Michelle Jones VQ, Syllabus Manager (Performing Arts) - RSL Awards

The Arts allow children to express themselves; to investigate and translate the world while developing essential and complex cognitive skills. These learning experiences become more meaningful and embedded when children see themselves, and their peers, represented in the visual art, movement, music and stories they explore in their classes.

Understanding the importance of diversity is now better embedded in our society but we cannot become complacent – there is more work to be done to ensure that every child knows that they belong in any school, college, university and creative space in the UK.


Pearson and AQA Exam board updates



GCSE Drama

Pearson added four new set texts to their GCSE Drama specification to ensure that the choice for teachers and students is broader and more representative. The new plays are:

  • Bola Agbaje: Gone Too Far!
  • InSook Chappell: The Free9
  • Tanika Gupta: A Dolls House
  • Roy Williams: Antigone

They held a launch event in June which included conversations between young people and the four writers of the texts and have produced set text guides (endorsed by the playwrights) which include lots of information about the context of the work and guidance for practical exploration of the plays.

The London Theatre Consortium has an initiative called Representation in Drama (RinD) and they have created a set of filmed resources to support the study of these four texts, which feature interviews with key creatives from the original productions of the plays.

BTEC Performing Arts

Pearson added new practitioners to the list provided in Unit 1: Investigating Practitioners Work in the BTEC Nationals in Performing Arts specification to ensure the range of artists is more representative. They added:

  • Alvin Ailey
  • Shobana Jeyasingh
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Zoonation/Kate Prince Company

Pearson are grateful for the opportunity to meet and collaborate with dance practitioners via the Decolonising the Dance Curriculum meetings.



Art and Design

AQA’s exam assignments include reference to a large number of artistic sources. Across each paper it’s important these sources include an appropriate range in terms of: the areas of study defined in the specifications; a mix of historical and contemporary sources; gender balance and ethnically diverse sources. AQA now require all our writers to specify, for each starting point created, both the number of female artists and the number of sources that are non-white and/or non-Western. This is to support teachers and students to consider the importance of diversity when researching artists.


AQA have reviewed their qualifications with a particular focus on the current set texts at GCSE and A-level, the A-level prescribed practitioner lists and how to teach the NEA components. As a result, they will soon be announcing exciting changes to their Drama qualifications.


AQA's GCSE is the only dance qualification where it’s compulsory to study dance works by disabled and wheelchair performers and they have a full adaptation process to ensure any student can access Dance.

AQA want to overcome any gender disparities and make the subject more appealing to boys and they wiill soon be releasing a video resource to promote Dance to boys.

AQA are also working to improve the diversity of their NEA performance and choreography components and how they can support teachers in teaching a more diverse range of dance from different cultures.

Media Studies

AQA have focused their initial review on their Close Study Products that are released two years in advance of the exam. AQA have updated these to include a more diverse range of topics. For example, students can now study Marcus Rashford MBE and his use of social media as a way of influencing and engaging, and also learn more about the social and race issues he raises.  Other new additions include Blackpink - one of the most successful K-Pop bands in the world.

AQA will soon be announcing some changes to their A-level qualification.


AQA's discussions have centred around the GCSE and A-level Music subject content and how the compulsory area of study - Western Classical Tradition between 1650 and 1910 - and the other optional areas of study could cover a more diverse range of musicians and genres and be more reflective of our culture today.

AQA are now working with their stakeholders to make this happen both now and at the next round of reform. They are also looking at their NEA performance and composition components and how they can support teachers in delivering a more diverse range of music including grime, DJing and technology.


Image credit: Pamela Au/Shutterstock


One Reply to "Diverse representation = deeper engagement"

  1. National Drama fully supports the achievements of the Representation in Drama group. However, whilst we endorse the importance of ‘links to the industry’, the ‘industry’ is only one significant part of the experiences we should be offering children and young people, as mezze eade implies. Drama, in all its forms is one of the most natural ways in which younger children make sense of their changing world. It empowers them to explore the social implications of their ‘identity’.

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