Britain's first Muslim female head: 'We need more positive role models'

30th April 2014 at 11:00


Bushra Nasir CBE, a board member of the Naz Legacy Foundation and TES Headteacher of the Year 2012, writes:

My career in education spanned 37 years and there have been many positive role models for me as a child, teacher and headteacher. My parents were my greatest role models. My father’s focus, determination, hard work and sacrifice combined with my mother’s caring, giving and positive outlook gave me a strong foundation for life. I came to England from Pakistan at the age of eight from a very small town. An uncle who lived with us took me and my siblings to the library regularly and encouraged us in our studies. A very committed headteacher of my primary school took me under his wing to teach me English one afternoon a week. When I transferred from a secondary modern school to a grammar school, a Latin teacher, Mrs Marsh, taught me a two-year Latin course in four months by giving up her lunchtimes.

As a senior teacher, meeting Rajinder Johal, a local authority advisor, on a ‘Women into Management’ course inspired me greatly. She was the first senior Asian post holder that I had come across. As a head, the lead inspector of my first Ofsted inspection, Sylvia Richardson, empowered me with self-confidence and belief so that I could lead the school to outstanding. The late Mr Bokhari, the first male Muslim headteacher of a state secondary school, gave me very valuable advice and support. He guided me in my role as a new school leader and throughout my career.

The list could go on.

In 1993, I was appointed as head of Plashet School for Girls in Newham, East London. This school was situated in a deprived area and served an ethnically-diverse community. When I was informed by a newspaper that I was the first Muslim female secondary head, I was surprised and felt a great sense of honour and privilege. I also felt a sense of responsibility to be not only a positive role model for my students and staff, but also the parents and local community. I was determined to excel in the job so that I could inspire my students and encourage other Muslim women to consider entering the teaching profession and even headship. 

In short, I wanted to become a role model like the ones that had so helped me.

Mostly, I wanted to be a positive role model for the students by having a high profile around the school, leading assemblies, teaching for a considerable part of my headship and being easily accessible to them. I encouraged my students to have high aspirations and also be proud of their gender, linguistic abilities, culture and religion. I wore shalwar kameez (traditional Pakistani dress) every day to show them my pride in my Pakistani roots. I shared my life experiences with students and how I came to England at a young age. I explained how I had gone from being unable to read or write English to being the first female in my family to go to university.

For many students, these were ‘lightbulb’ moments, as they could envisage a future that was different from their parents. I have had the privilege of seeing many successful students go on to careers in a wide range of professions, including teaching, law, science, business and medicine. Many former students regularly returned to school to thank me and the staff for our support and guidance. These women were inspired to be successful in their education and are now positive role models in their own professions and society at a large. 

Teachers can also be inspired when they are led by headteachers who inspire them. It is important that they are included as part of the decision-making process and their contribution is valued. A positive school ethos is nurtured when there is clear accountability and trust. I had the privilege of leading such a school for 20 years. My staff worked with me and ‘went the extra mile’ to help our students. Our positive school ethos ensured that our school achievement was raised from 28 per cent hitting the five A*-C benchmark to 84 per cent. The progression to post-16 education also increased from 50 per cent to 98 per cent. I feel that it was the teachers who were the key drivers of this success; the leadership team were the catalyst for the change. 

As a head, I have had the opportunity to act as a role model to other school leaders. Leading a Beacon and Leading Edge School allowed me to share our good practice with other schools. I trained to be a School Improvement Partner (SIP) and a headteacher mentor where I was able to advise and coach other headteachers. Being appointed onto the General Teaching Council (GTC) gave me a national profile and it allowed me to use my experience to influence many important national decisions. Although I retired in 2012, I continue to support school leaders, sharing my wealth of experience and what I have learnt from other educationalists.   

We all need good role models in our lives. My success can be attributed to the many positive role models who developed my self-confidence, self-belief and discipline. I hope that I have been a positive role model, helped to change young peoples’ lives, change expectations and counter stereotypes, thus enriching our profession.      

Later today, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will be visiting the National Portrait Gallery to launch the Naz Legacy Foundation’s Diversity ProgrammeHe will be joining schoolchildren from various deprived and minority communities, who will be visiting a gallery or museum for the first time to learn about the rich heritage of diverse role models in Britain.




Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today