I can do anything and I want to do a really good job!

“I know lots of young women like me, who have never got past middle leadership.  They need role models and encouragement’’ – Thahmina Begum

Thahmina Begum did not intend to become a teacher – but it has become her passion and the results are amazing. At 31 years old, she was one of the youngest headteachers in the country, a positive role model for other young Islamic women, and her school is consistently ranked among the top 50 nationwide.

Her entry into the teaching profession was purely by accident as she explains.  “Even though I had always wanted to be a teacher, my older brother and sister became teachers before me, so when I was a teenager, I wanted to be different – I studied psychology at university and wanted to be an educational psychologist. After completing my degree I needed to do a year working in education before starting a Ph.D. in educational psychology.”

“I got a job in a school in Tower Hamlets as an admin and academic tutor. I found myself providing support in the English department, taking lessons even though I was unqualified.

I found I was enjoying it. The deputy head encouraged me to do teacher training and three years later I had become a passionate, enthusiastic teacher completing my NQT year.  A promotional opportunity came up at Forest Gate and I got the job.  I went from being a newly qualified teacher to being second in charge of the English Department. 

The school was trying to raise standards and my recruitment was part of a wider drive to improve outcomes in the English department.  In 2014, the head of the department was also my mentor and good friend and we worked closely to turn the department around. 

This took a lot of passion and commitment and I was fortunate to work alongside such an inspirational lead and committed team.  When she became ill with stomach cancer, I found myself being catapulted from relative inexperience to taking charge of the department as assistant headteacher. It was also the year the coursework was abolished and English became 100% examination-based.  We succeeded, and became the top English department in the country and our school has continued to be in the top 50 schools in the country for progress since.” Within a short time, Thahmina was promoted again to the role of deputy headteacher with responsibility for professional development and Teaching and Learning. Then when the headteacher left to go to another school in the trust, Thahmina was encouraged to apply for the position.

“One of the main difficulties was convincing myself that I could do it. I didn’t believe I was good enough.

I didn’t have any images of other ethnic minority headteachers. My CEO, other teachers, and my family said I could do it.”

Appointed headteacher at Forest Gate Community School, Newham in 2019, Thahmina’s leadership skills soon encountered major challenges, which could never have been anticipated.  In March 2020, the pandemic hit – and Forest Gate was preparing for an Ofsted inspection.

Such inspections are always stressful, pressurised, and intensely hard work, but when combined with the need to organise remote teaching, staff, and student support within an environment that no one had ever encountered before, it proved to be extremely complex. 

Read the full interview in our ‘Ramadan 2022 issue’ out in March!

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Tags: british muslim magazine, forest gate community school, leadership, muslim teacher, school headteacher, thahmina

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