It’s been revealed that teachers are being told to ditch their Northern accents and encouraged to speak with a ‘middle class accent’ instead.

The revelation is in a new book from a Manchester University lecturer which reveals that trainee teachers with a Northern accent have been told to change the way in which they speak to pupils.

Many of those who are entering the teaching profession have been told that when addressing classes they need to adopt ‘Southern pronunciation’.

Now the book’s author is calling for the linguistic guidance that is issued to new teachers in England and Wales to be updated to cover accents.

Teachers’ Standards that is issued to teachers

The Teachers’ Standards that is issued to teachers specifies the need for the use of ‘Standard English’. However, the guidance ignores that Standard English can be spoken in any accent from Received Pronunciation to broad Geordie.

English language lecturer Dr Alex Baratta says he wanted to investigate what the potential implications for trainee teachers who have an accent that might be stigmatised in British society.

He asked the pupils from three Manchester schools whether their teacher should modify their accent when teaching.

He also asked 41 teaching staff for their feedback on what they had been told about the way they speak.

Teachers with Midlands and Northern accents

He found that teachers with Midlands and Northern accents are more likely to be told that they should modify their accent.

Some trainees were told they should accept Southern pronunciation if teaching in the south which these teachers felt negatively about.

Now Dr Baratta says teachers and their mentors need to discuss whether an accent should become part of Teachers’ Standards guidance.

He explained: “Linguistic habits die hard and negative, often class-based regional accents are felt in a profession which has been, historically, the domain of the middle classes.

“No one wants to say it but there is a suggestion that accents are, for some people, incompatible with teaching, no matter what their qualifications.”

‘The way in which we speak can have a big impact’

A leading expert in etiquette, William Hanson said: “We judge people within seven seconds of meeting and an accent still contributes a lot to this. The way in which we speak can have a big impact on our life.”

The BBC’s Newsbeat programme took a closer look at the debate and found one teacher from Wigan had been told to watch her accent a few times while a trainee teacher.

She told the programme: “I do feel that people assume you are less educated or that you aren’t the best teacher because you speak more broadly.”

The teacher says that her accent helps students find her more approachable and her accent helps in teaching.

Dr Baratta and says that one south London teacher with a strong accent found that the pupils ‘warmed to her’ and saw her as being a ‘more authentic person’.

The Department for Education told the BBC they will not be commenting on the issue.


More information

Dr Alex Baratta’s book ‘Accent and Teacher Identity in Britain: Linguistic Favouritism and Imposed Identities‘ is published by Bloomsbury Academic