Accentism, oracy and social mobility - the impact of accent bias on young people’s life chances
Voice 21 organised a meeting in parliament, on 29th November 2022, in its capacity as the Secretariat for the Oracy All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), bringing together various parliamentarians, researchers, teachers, journalists and young people from the RECLAIM project, a youth leadership and social change organisation, to discuss the impact of accent bias following the publication of the Sutton Trust report ‘Speaking Up: Accents and social mobility’ on accent bias and social mobility.
The new study by the Sutton Trust looks into accent prejudice, discrimination and bias throughout the course of life. Sutton Trust found pervasive accent bias hampers access to and progression in education and employment based on young people’s socio-economic background, region or other protected characteristics.
Voice 21’s network of nearly 1000 schools is leading the way in breaking down these barriers and prejudices. A core component of Voice 21’s 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 that, ‘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.’
Young people from the RECLAIM project emphasised that tackling accent bias starts in schools and classrooms. It is important to celebrate different regional accents and having more teachers with diverse accents and celebrating linguistic diversity in classrooms is one of the ways in overcoming barriers.
Kim Leadbeater MP spoke of her experience and said she proudly spoke in the chambers in her West Yorkshire accent and how her accent is part of her identity. Other Parliamentarians spoke of the need for more exposure in linguistic diversity, which is celebrated and does not hold anyone back from succeeding.
The Times journalist, Terri White, made the point that accentism is often aimed at certain regions and people of low socio-economic backgrounds. She added in overcoming accent bias, it is important to ‘empower young people to the best of their ability’.
Chaitan Rajania, Assistant headteacher at Madani Girls School in Leicester, spoke of how the media perpetuates accent bias. Other attendees felt that linguistic diversity is important as it celebrates the rich culture of our society, and help to make people feel more confident in their spoken language skills.
While there is some diversity in accents in the media today, there is still more work to do. Accentism remains consistent in employment practices as well as classrooms. We must overcome this and support students from all walks of life and backgrounds to find their voice to become confident in progressing throughout their school life and beyond.
For any questions or for more information about the Oracy APPG, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find out more information about Voice 21’s work with schools here. You can also read about Voice 21’s key insights of the 2021-22 academic year here.