UK (University of Manchester) Accent in the workplace

In 2015, I presented my findings on perceived accent-based preference within British teacher training to OFSTED. Samantha Prosser, representing OFSTED, declared that my findings had generated “new evidence”. While this is just a start, it is one which is seen as leading to a proposed nationwide survey within Education circles, as to whether or not we need to include accent as part of the Teachers’ (linguistic) Standards. While there is a need to use Standard English, this can be spoken in any accent of course, but from my research, it appears that accents tied to the North and Midlands are more likely to be picked up on by mentors, to the extent that some teachers have been told to adapt to Southern pronunciation for phonics teaching.

In addition, my report was also sent to Duncan Adam who represents the European Foundation, which focuses on a wide range of employment issues, to include discrimination.

My research has become a focus of teachers beyond Manchester, as part of discussions via the TES, and more immediately, part of PGCE teaching, including that of Dr. Joe Barber (MMU), who leads the PGCE Secondary English course and acts as Assistant Head of Partnerships and as a Partnership Tutor for the Manchester cluster of secondary schools within the Faculty of Education’s ITT Partnership.

Finally, one of my media reports in the Manchester Evening News (2015) included a comment by Avis Gilmore, who is the north west regional secretary for the National Union of Teachers. She said the following in relation to my research: “Some people have responded to this research and said that it’s an issue. I’m not sure how big a problem it is. There is an increasing culture in schools for accountability. Teachers feel quite stressed, bullied and if teachers are being picked up on because of their accents, we would view that as another form of bullying. We should be celebrating diversity, not trying to make everybody the same.” Feelings of being bullied over accent, however, are an issue raised by teachers in my research.

With my recent publications on the subject of accent preference (and perceived prejudice) in the workplace, and considering my engagement with the above organisations, the stage is hopefully set to take this to the next level: to engage with teachers and mentors alike on the subject of accent within the (teaching) workplace. Do British accents need to be protected? Do we need to establish accent ‘dos and don’ts’ for teaching? While there is no longer a (official) standard accent within Britain, there appear to be de facto standard accents, essentially less ‘broad’ versions of regional accents (please see the entry under ‘activities’). By taking this further from the starting point we are already at, we can finally tackle, and perhaps resolve, a subject which in many ways is the last taboo in Britain.

This is not meant to be in any way a knee jerk reaction to comments made by mentors regarding teachers’ accents and we know of course the importance of being understood as teachers, especially if teaching phonics. However, there appear to be what might be considered de facto accent standards based on mentors’ comments and it is such specific phonological information that could be included as part of addressing accent as part of Teacher’ (linguistic) Standards, if indeed the need is felt to address accent in the first instance. For example:

The need to avoid glottal stops (e.g. wa’er for ‘water’)

The need(?) for Northern/Midlands teachers to use Southern pronunciation if teaching in the South (and if so, only applicable to phonics teaching or beyond?)

Likewise, do Southern teachers need to use Northern pronunciation if teaching in the North?

Do rhotic-accented teachers (e.g. those from the Southwest) need to switch to non-rhotic accents if teaching outside their home region?