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Cumbrian teacher in Berkshire told to lose accent and sound ‘more southern’

School chiefs have sparked outrage by telling a Cumbrian teacher to lose her northern accent – and sound “more southern”.

It has been claimed that a comment by an Ofsted inspector was taken to heart by the young woman’s secondary school and that “sounding less Cumbrian” is now one of her official targets.

The amazing order by school bosses has been confirmed by the county woman’s union, which described it as the “most extreme and bizarre objective” it has ever heard of.

The teacher herself, who is working in west Berkshire, did not make an official complaint to teaching union NASUWT, instead mentioning her targets as part of a wider conversation. Furious union officials are now trying to arrange talks with the education authorities.

Paul Watkins, NASUWT national executive member for the west Berkshire area, would not identify the school, except to say it has a number of other ongoing issues which the union is challenging, including its potential transformation into an academy.

“Apparently the beginning of this was Ofsted, who made a comment about her accent,” he told the News & Star. “As a consequence of that comment made, it was decided that would be a reasonable objective to impose upon the member. She was told she needed to make her northern Cumbrian accent sound more southern.

“We are very disturbed by this issue and victimisation and I think this is the most extreme and bizarre objective I have ever heard of.”

He described the accent target as “outrageous in the extreme”, adding: “You could initially see it as humorous, but the more you talk about it, the more annoyed and outraged you become.

"It is the most extreme form of discrimination and bullying in a country where we are supposed to be celebrating diversity. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever heard of in my career – and I’ve been doing this for quite a long time.”

The union official said that even taking aside the “discriminatory” aspect of the target, he could not see how it could be properly managed.

“How do you assess whether [her accent] is more or less southern?” he said. “How do you get partial success? It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.

“I think she has taken the approach of it being unbelievable. I think that she – and credit to her – has seen the good humour in this, in that she thinks it is so farcical and bizarre. You couldn’t make this up.”

The accusations have been met with anger in Cumbria.

Eric Robson, the broadcaster who’s chairman of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Perhaps it’s because I occasionally speak with a Cumbrian accent, but I’m speechless. That school should be put in special measures immediately. It is ridiculous.”

Louise Green, editor of the Lakeland Dialect Society, said that Cumbria’s accent and dialect is the “most wonderful thing” about the county, let alone the history associated with them.

“To try and remove it is like trying to remove Beefeaters,” she insisted. “We should be celebrating our different regional ways of speech and promoting and protecting them. I love to hear the Cumbrian accent and dialect, and I just wish more people appreciated it. Often people don’t understand the value of it until somebody tries to ban it.”

She invited the teacher to next year’s National Dialect Day event, being held at Rydal in Cumbria in October, to promote regional speech from across the country.

Only last year, the west Cumbrian word ‘marra’ – defined as “a northern English dialect form of mate” – was added to the Collins dictionary.

However, the west Berkshire school’s decision is on a similar vein to a decision by a Black Country school, which has banned the local dialect from classrooms.

Have your say

Everyone speaks with an accent. I've lived and worked all over the English (and German and French) speaking world, and there is nowhere where the speech can be described as accentless.

If this teacher speaks grammatically and clearly, then there can be no complaint.

As for sounding "more southern"; many southern accents are horrible and the grammar worse.

Posted by Sean on 7 January 2014 at 21:11

To Cumbrian ex - pat: No need for an apology, it was a joke! Remember those from the old country ? Perhaps you should apologize for your half - witted generalization ?

Posted by John H on 25 November 2013 at 18:41

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