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Former Plashet School headteacher looks back over long career in education

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 March 2017

Bushra Nasir, who was headteacher at Plashet School, Newham, for almost 20 years

Bushra Nasir, who was headteacher at Plashet School, Newham, for almost 20 years

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"We are changing lives and changing communities."

Shalini Nadarajan, Humma Iqbal, Haafsah Bepari, Swarnashree Sivananthan, then headteacher Bushra Nasir, Amber Desai, Sunaina Patel and Gurpreet Chawla on a GCSE results dayShalini Nadarajan, Humma Iqbal, Haafsah Bepari, Swarnashree Sivananthan, then headteacher Bushra Nasir, Amber Desai, Sunaina Patel and Gurpreet Chawla on a GCSE results day

A phrase with much meaning for former headteacher Bushra Nasir, who has seen time and time again the wonders good schooling can do.

Not just from being a role model to scores of young girls, but also from personal experience.

At the age of eight, Bushra left her homeland of Pakistan to move to England with her family, arriving with no knowledge of the language.

But fast forward to the present day, and the 64-year-old, the country’s first female Muslim headteacher, has clocked up more than three decades in education (including almost 20 years at Newham’s Plashet School), has a host of awards to her name and has kept busy since retiring by sharing her expertise with today’s headteachers.

As a student, she had an alternative career in mind, so things could have turned out very differently.

“I actually wanted to be a doctor and I got a place in Birmingham, but my parents weren’t happy for me to go out of London,” said Bushra, of Leytonstone.

“Teaching was my second choice I have got to say, but I took the offer of going to Queen Mary to do a degree in biochemistry and did my teacher training at Chelsea College.

“I loved science and the idea of working with young people.”

Bushra receiving her honorary doctorate from the University of East LondonBushra receiving her honorary doctorate from the University of East London

Educated herself at all-girls schools, Bushra kicked off her career at Connaught School for Girls, Connaught Road, Leytonstone, in 1974, and stayed for 15 years before a deputy headteacher role became available at Plashet School, Plashet Grove. East Ham.

In 1993, Bushra stepped up to headteacher when the incumbent retired, her thoughts that 39 was a young age to take on the role swayed by her desire to make a difference, and the support of husband Farooq, now 65, and her parents.

It was at Plashet where Bushra found huge success in improving standards and encouraging girls to dream big.

“I would say the school had been coasting and I felt there was a lot more that could be done. It was all about changing the expectations of the students, the families, the teachers.

Bushra being made a CBE by Prince CharlesBushra being made a CBE by Prince Charles

“We had 28 per cent five good GCSEs at the start, which was considered OK, many schools were far below that, in 2012, we had 74pc five A-Cs.

“It was not just the results increase – we started getting girls going to Oxford, Cambridge, Russell Group universities, in medicine, law, many the first in their family to go to university.

“50pc of the girls stopped education at 16, but when I left it was about 98pc going on to some form of education past 16.

“That, for me, was the big success.”

There was no Ofsted in 1993, but when it launched inspections were rigorous, with Plashet’s first report in 1995 involving 15 inspectors, who visited over the course of a week and “went through everything”.

Subsequent inspections, in 2005 and 2008, saw the school achieve the highest grade, ‘outstanding’, and it was featured in an Ofsted report titled ‘12 Outstanding Schools: Excelling Against the Odds’.

But Bushra’s biggest achievements were not just in exam results: she instilled in the girls a belief that they could achieve whatever they set their minds to.

She recalled: “I went round to the house of three girls, one had left us and was doing her A-levels, two were still at Plashet, and her father died two days before her results came out.

Bushra with a selection of her awardsBushra with a selection of her awards

“The mother said to me, ‘I have got three daughters, not a son, and my husband is dead, what do I do?’ And I said, ‘Look, they are so motivated, they will be successful, they will be able to support the family’, and the three of them are now doctors.”

Bushra, who has firmly kept a foot in education through mentoring headteachers and other work, is a big believer in women feeling empowered to have high-flying careers and children, rather than thinking they have to sacrifice one for the other.

She has six grandchildren, a son, Imran, 39, and two daughters, Unjum, 35, and Aneela, 31. Aneela has followed in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher.

Speaking of the challenges in education today, Bushra discussed the rise of academies and free schools, telling how “we will see the end result in a few years’ time”.

She is concerned about funding decreases for schools and the lack of trainee teachers, feeling the government should “put education at a higher priority”, but confident about the work her former colleagues and others are doing in shaping the futures of young people today.

But what does she think makes a good headteacher?

“We are changing lives and changing communities, so having a very clear moral purpose for that is absolutely crucial.

“You have to put in that time and effort and provide that order, respect and structure in children’s lives.”

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