It’s time to tackle accent discrimination - starting in schools

Voice 21 responds to The Sutton Trust report ‘Speaking Up: Accents and social mobility’ on accent bias and social mobility.

Voice 21, the national oracy education charity, welcomes the Sutton Trust’s ‘Speaking up: accents and social mobility’ report, which highlights the pernicious effects of accent bias and discrimination on young people’s life chances and opportunities.  

Accentism has been described as the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. Today’s findings show the extent to which people from particular backgrounds or places continue to be judged and prejudiced against because of how they speak, hampering access to and progression in education and employment. 

Tackling this starts at school. Rather than perpetuating unfounded notions that there is one right way to speak, it’s vital that schools celebrate their students’ linguistic diversity and teach them from an early age to be articulate and authentic communicators in a range of different contexts. 

Voice 21’s network of nearly 1000 schools is leading the way in breaking down these barriers and prejudices. A core component of our work is valuing every voice in the classroom, challenging views that some accents are less desirable or worthy of respect than others. This means supporting students from all backgrounds to find their voice and equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to use it effectively as they progress throughout school and later in life.  

Beccy Earnshaw, Chief Executive of Voice 21 said:  

“Through our work we talk to thousands of teachers, students, children and young people about their voice and what it means to them. All too often we hear their stories of being underestimated, criticised, abused or undermined because of their accent. This damning research shows how accent prejudice can create barriers to people’s progression and cause them to suppress their voice, negatively impacting on their own opportunities and denying society the value of their contribution. 

How we speak is intimately linked to our identity. Our accents help create a richness of culture in our society. These differences should be celebrated and should not hold anyone back from achieving their ambitions. It is time to take this seriously, starting in school, by building children and young people’s confidence in how they speak and challenging the institutional bias and prejudice regarding accents that serves to mute their voices.” 

Children’s spoken language skills are one of the strongest predictors of their future life chances, impacting on their academic attainment, wellbeing and social and civic engagement. If we are truly committed to a society in which everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, we must challenge accent bias and discrimination wherever it exists, starting in school. 

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