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The first question I am always asked is ‘How long have you lived up North?”

As someone who has spent more of my life in the North of England than time elsewhere I am always disappointed to be classed as an ‘oftcumden’ (as they say in Lancashire).

By accident of birth I am an Essex girl. And there I leave the stereotype. I don’t possess white stilettoes and am rarely to be seen dancing around my handbag. I do like jewellery shops and ‘bling’ however but that might just be genetic.

I refuse to believe that destiny is always determined by origin or accent. Mine incidentally is now much softer and full of borrowed war of the roses intonation, living as I have in both Yorkshire and Lancashire for the past forty plus years.

Does accent really matter? Many people feel sure that it does. Frankly the most essential skill for the workplace is the ability to communicate appropriately to a range of audiences. Accents can sometimes get in the way if they are very strong.

Today’s virtual generation live in exciting times because the world is shrinking! These days people can live and work with ease anywhere in the world so long as they possess the skills that are attractive to potential employers. We are infinitely connected through language and seldom unavailable or anonymous, in google at least! Surely the ability to communicate with confidence and credibility is always going to be marketable.

In the best schools pupils learn to use and apply academic language because they are surrounded by it and expected to use it well; the sophisticated language of debate and persuasion is peppered with technical vocabulary. I believe that academic advantage is most effectively developed via the explicit teaching of language structures to be applied across the wider curriculum. An example of such a structure might include; ‘In my opinion…’, ‘It could be argued that…’ or ‘ One consequence might be…’

We make it our business to allocate significant chunks of learning time to the acquisition and development of spoken language at High Hazels. The “National Curriculum” demands this from us. Children need to be immersed in rich language and this is best achieved, in our linguistically diverse classrooms, within mixed ability groupings.

We use ‘Talk for writing’ as a strategy from nursery onwards. This teaching tool is based on children learning a range of traditional stories and poems by heart. They then perform these with great enthusiasm, complete with actions and sound effects. Then they go on to retell in written form and finally innovate using the rich narrative structures that they have gained through oral rehearsal and practise. We find this a particularly successful way of helping children who have English as an additional language to make rapid progress in writing.

Sheffield’s ESCAL ambition (Every Sheffield child articulate and literate) is one we are proud to share . We are now recruiting speaking volunteers, who will be trained to work alongside teachers in the classroom. Is this something you might be interested in?

No matter how sophisticated the technology of tomorrow, young people have to be able to read and write fluently and with understanding. It may well be that in the workplace of tomorrow the pen will be a redundant tool. I personally believe that a good hand writing style will always give you the edge over the competition!

What I also now know is this;

You cannot reasonably expect a child to write with meaning a word they cannot read. And beyond simple phonic decoding, few can read a word, with true understanding that they haven’t heard said in context. Moreover, children can rarely retrieve vocabulary for their writing that they haven’t orally committed to their growing mental thesaurus.

The ability to skilfully use language is the greatest indicator of future economic worth. This is why so much of our pupil premium money is diverted to speech and language therapy. Disadvantage can so often mean impoverishment of language experience too.

Words are powerful and can build communities of tolerance, used crudely they can also incite hatred. So our childrens’ accents are of little consequence, we just need them to develop a sophisticated ability to communicate!

‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ Ludwig Wittgenstein

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