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Head is not afraid to face the family

Adi Bloom meets the leader of the first state school to be partly run by parents.

Ask a parent to describe their ideal headteacher and it is likely that the answer will resemble Asma Holmes-Mansuri. Everything about the 47-year-old says efficient head. She describes her teaching style as "firm but fair".

The paperwork in her office is arranged in small, immaculate piles. Her black trouser-suit is neat and businesslike.

So it is unsurprising that Ms Holmes-Mansuri has just been appointed head of Elmgreen, in the south London borough of Lambeth. The school, which will open in September 2007, is the first state secondary to be set up and partly run by parents.

But Ms Holmes-Mansuri, who is currently deputy head of Dunraven comprehensive, also in Lambeth, is unfazed by working for so many proactive parents. "Of course parents will be concerned about the welfare of their children," she said. "But you want to treat each child as an individual. So it's good to be reminded that this is someone's child."

She was chosen for the pound;90,810 job by a panel of five governors, including three parents.

Sandy Nuttgens, chair of governors, said: "Asma is approachable. She's someone parents can speak to. That's so important. And it's already clear that her organisational abilities are immense. She'll get the job done with minimal fuss."

Ms Holmes-Mansuri describes the Elmgreen headship as her perfect job: the parents' emphasis is on creating a true community school, something that she has supported throughout her career. As a newly-qualified history teacher, she refused to apply to selective or single-sex schools in her local area. Weeks went by and she did not make any applications.

Then she applied for every history job in that week's TES and got a post in a tiny Yorkshire mining village. "It was a fantastic place to teach history. There was a colliery outside my window," she said.

Seven years ago, she moved to Dunraven to set up a school sixth form. "I did all the research and development," she said. "We now have 200 sixth-formers. So I've had experience taking something through from vision to reality.

"We have to decide curriculum, ethos, logo, uniform," she said. "And we need a building that will still be fit for purpose in 20 or 30 years' time.

"But it's not just a blank slate for me. It's also a huge opportunity for every student, every member of staff. They all have the chance to make a difference."

She has embraced this philosophy at Dunraven. On a student's recommendation, the school will send its first delegation to the Model United Nations this year. After-school classes in Mandarin Chinese recently started, at a parent's suggestion.

Officially, her new job begins in September. But she has already begun to meet the parent-promoters. "It's going to be very time-consuming," she said. "Sitting down and reading an education design brief might not be everybody's idea of a good night in. But these parents have been working on their plans for ages. I feel like I'm on a relay team and I've just been handed the baton."


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