School denies telling teacher to 'sound less Cumbrian'

The chair of governors of a Berkshire school has dismissed a claim that a teacher was given an official target to sound "less Cumbrian".

Teaching union NASUWT had claimed she had been told to tone down her accent during a recent Ofsted inspection at Whitelands Park Primary in Thatcham.

Paul Dick said it was "simply not true" and the teacher was "mortified".

He said it had all stemmed from a joke made in front of union representatives in the staff room.

A spokesman for NASUWT said it would not comment further and the teacher has declined to be interviewed.

One of its union representatives, Paul Watkins, claimed to have learned last week that the target was set for the teacher by the school in response to a comment by an Ofsted inspector.

'Good humour'

He said the teacher had not made an official complaint to NASUWT and had taken the request in "good humour".

But Mr Dick said: "The teacher concerned is mortified, the head's very upset and the school's sick of the whole thing because it's simply not true."

He said a meeting was held last week to discuss the proposal for the school becoming an academy, during which union representatives asked staff about a number of things, including targets.

"This particular teacher made a joke - a staff room joke. [She said] 'Oh, yeah, mine's easy, there's no problem with mine, I've just got to sort my accent out.'

"She laughed, the others laughed, she got up and left, picked up her child and went home for the weekend and thought nothing more of it."

A union representative had then emailed her and asked her to take it further, but she did not see the email until the Monday, Mr Dick explained.

At that point she responded to say it was not true and that she did not want to be involved.

Mr Dick said he had joined the head and the teacher to examine all the feedback documents from the inspectors, and the teacher's performance targets.

"There is no mention anywhere of accent," he added.

Mr Watkins could not be reached for a comment.

However Keith Watts of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), who was at the same meeting, insisted the teacher did say that changing her accent had been set as a performance management target because an Ofsted inspector had commented on it.

"Because we were so surprised we actually confirmed with her at the time that it was not a joke," he said.

Ofsted previously said negative comments about the suitability of regional accents would not form part of its assessments.

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