Education Quandary

'Am I right to be worried about the poor way in which teachers at my children's school talk?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Times change, and language with it. Listen to how the Queen sounded 20 years ago, and it sounds like a ridiculous parody of how posh people used to talk. Listen to how boys talk today at Eton, and, as often as not, you will hear the ubiquitous estuary English that doesn't have a "t" to its name, but owes plenty to mockney, black street-talk and media-speak.

Even so, all kinds of snobberies and secret codes remain. A fine Scottish accent might be prized, but a Birmingham one tends not to have the same kind of kudos. And while Etonians might try hard to speak as if they come from Aldgate, they will usually turn on a more acceptable accent when the time comes to be interviewed for university or a job in the City.

All children need to learn to speak properly, and their teachers should be helping them to do this. Children also need to know that, in their adult lives, they will often be judged on how clearly and articulately they are able to speak.

If your children's teachers can't do this, they also will be judged accordingly and will almost certainly find it harder to win the respect of pupils - interestingly, a marked difference between private and state schools is often how the teachers at them talk.

But if you are simply lamenting that the good old days of standard BBC English cannot be found in the staff room of your children's school, then you are out of date. And, yes, since your e-mail asks this, probably a snob as well!

Readers' advice

This person really needs to get over herself and not be worrying about what is none of her business. In our staff room, we have Devon, Polish, Nigerian, Afro-Caribbean and London accents. In our classes we have pupils who come from more than 50 countries, and often speak two or three different languages at home. Everyone speaks to everyone else as best they can. Our accents might vary, but we all understand each other - and, more importantly, accept each other for the different people we are. As long as a teacher teaches well, and lessons are understood by pupils, it should not matter how he or she talks.

Jane Lebili, London NW10

I also have a worry about language in schools, but mine is about the language of the pupils. These days, there only seems to be one adjective, and that is the one that starts with "f". It is used to describe everything and anything, and the pupils using it do not even seem to realise that it is a swear word. (Although, presumably, when they combine it with the four-letter "c" word, into the delightful phrase that one of our pupils recently flung at one of our geography teachers, they must consider it to be bad language).

But where do they learn this language? They are certainly all proficient by the time they arrive at our school.

Leonard Dole, Leeds

All that should matter is how your children are doing in school. If they are doing fine, the way in which their teachers talk to them is immaterial. If not, it won't be a question of language.

Louisa Kendall, Bedfordshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

How can computers be used to mark exams as accurately as teachers? My daughter has just started secondary school, and one of her teachers told her tutor group that by the time they get to GCSE and A level, computers will be marking all their exams, including English and history essays. Is this really likely? And what will it mean?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 16 February to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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