Can Keir Starmer’s Mission Tackle Accent Bias in the UK?

Photo Credits: Saeed Karimi via Unsplash

Sir Keir Starmer’s mission statement about developing speaking skills may have received mixed reactions but he has made a few important points. Learning how to speak well, clearly, and confidently isn’t something that can only help professionals, but these traits are even more useful as people grow up and experience different stages of life.

In his speech, Sir Keir promises to break down barriers to opportunity, whatever those barriers may be. And hence, came his promise to improve the educational system for the children in Britain so they do not face the “snobbery” that the people of today face at work.

He also emphasises having a mix of vocational and academic education stating that the children of the future need both. He says, “The “academic for my kids; vocational for your kids” snobbery – has no place in modern society, no connection to the jobs of the future.  No – for our children to succeed, they need a grounding in both. They need knowledge and skills, practical problem-solving and academic rigour, curiosity and a love of learning – that’s always been critical.”

Early Language Development has not Been Easy

Sir Keir Starmer points out how early language development has been hard, especially since the pandemic. The lack of physical classrooms or a structured discussion among peers are things that many children did not get to experience during the pandemic. And that is where, according to Sir Keir a child’s mind learns to evolve.

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“Confident speaking gives you a steely core, and an inner belief to make your case in any environment”, he says. He also highlights the importance of changing the curriculum to make sure children keep pace with the ever-changing world.

This is why he wants to add developing oracy skills to the national curriculum. Sir Keir believes it will be the best way to bridge the gap between “learning and life, academic and practical, vocational skills, school and work.”

Tackling Accent Bias in the UK

After having processed everything Sir Keir promises in this mission statement, it begs the question of whether better speaking skills can help with accent bias in the UK.

Accent bias is defined as prejudice against certain accents or communities that are different from the dominant culture. There has been a ton of research that has highlighted the bias in certain industries. According to Creative Access, about 87% of people agree there is an accent bias in PR and Comms. Additionally, a report titled “Speaking Up” by The Sutton Trust revealed in November 2022 that about 25% of people were mocked because of their accents.

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It is not just in professional settings that accent bias tends to occur. Voice 21, a network of oracy schools, believes that accent biases start at school as children are taught the right and wrong way to speak without accounting for different accents. This needs to change right from school, where children are taught to embrace their differences while speaking confidently.

Beccy Earnshow, Chief Executive of Voice 21 says: “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.” 

Changing the national curriculum seems to be the only way forward if the goal is to improve oracy in children. However, in addition to developing speaking skills, there is a need to invest in teachers and educators, so they are more equipped in dealing with different accents.


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