MEET the Bradford Superhead who has transformed a number of inner city primary schools taking them from ‘Special Measures’ to being rated Good and even Outstanding.
By Anila Baig
Wahid Zaman speaks to Bradford Means Business about why it is vital to treat communities with respect.
“CHILDREN are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way,” are not just iconic song lyrics from the Whitney Houston classic, The Greatest Love of All, they are a mantra which Superhead Wahid Zaman lives by.
He is too modest to say it himself but he has transformed the lives of thousands of children over the years- mainly from inner-city Bradford- since he went into teaching.
Mr Zaman, 51, is now chief executive of the Nurture Trust, made up of six schools including Denholme Primary, Byron and more.
But he nearly didn’t go into teaching at all.
Born and raised in Halifax, Mr Zaman studied Chemistry at Salford University and then did a Masters in Radiochemistry, Radiation Chemistry and Nuclear Technology and had never considered a career in teaching.
“I happened to watch a Panorama programme on the topic of why ethnic minority, in particular Muslim, children were not achieving in school and the programme totally incensed and infuriated me.
“The onus of failure was placed solely on the children, blaming them and their families for the schools not doing well. I didn’t see how that could be true.”
At the same time there was a drive to encourage more people from BAME backgrounds to enter the teaching profession.
“Bradford was doing the pilot to create a more diverse teaching workforce and there were some very highly educated people taking part in that scheme so it was an attractive proposition.”
The PGCE, at the then Bradford & Ilkley Community College, was challenging.
“My Masters in Chemistry was a breeze in comparison to the teaching diploma and I did find aspects of the course quite difficult in some areas. However, I loved the teaching element and the fact that I could mould the children at this foundation level. In fact, in all my years of teaching I have never regretted going into primary education.”
His teaching placements were at Heaton Middle School and Frizinghall First and his first job was at Copthorne First School in Great Horton.
Then he worked on secondment at an international school in Saudi Arabia.
When he came back he worked at a racially diverse school in Beeston, Leeds, where he became deputy head.
He said: “My other schools, apart from the international school, were primarily made up of children from the Pakistani community.
“But Greenmount Primary in Beeston was a mix and you have to adapt your teaching strategies in line with that.”
He rose rapidly through the ranks and also worked at Thornton Primary which was a school with mostly white youngsters.
He got his first headship at Atlas Primary School in Manningham.
“The school was noted by the Department for Education as ‘consistently underachieving’ but we managed to turn it around and by the time I left in 2010 it had been rated ‘Good.’”
Most of the schools Mr Zaman has worked at have been in Special Measures or underperforming in some way.
“I always wanted to work at a school where I could make a difference.
“That feeling you get when you hear a child say: ‘I thought I was rubbish at maths but now I get it,’ when you help them switch on the light, there’s no feeling like it.”
And he said that, ever mindful of the TV programme that made him go into teaching in the first place, he makes sure he never blames the community for results.
“You can’t go into a school expecting the children to fail. If the children aren’t achieving their targets it means we have to find a different way of teaching.”
Having been in education for more than 25 years he says there are still issues around language.
“But parents are more willing to stand up for themselves. There can sometimes be miscommunication and we need to be mindful of that.”
He still sees former students and was happy when a group of children he had taught at primary school recognised him.
“I was out shopping and they wanted to share their GCSE results with me. I was very happy to have been part of that journey.”
He also recalls helping a young child with hearing difficulties who had a very poor self-image.
“He was very negative about himself and so I talked to him extensively, challenging all his beliefs about himself and told him he was very bright. With sustained support he achieved excellent results in his SATs.”
Over the years Mr Zaman has helped thousands of children but says that his own experiences in the classroom were not great.
“I faced racism on a daily basis and I include the teachers in that. Maybe the youngsters I teach don’t have that same explicit racism that I did, as they are in schools with Asian majorities and there is safety in numbers, but they still face discrimination in other ways.
“I was told at one school, ‘oh there is no parental involvement or engagement’ and I replied, ‘yes there is but it doesn’t look like the kind you have in Middle England’.”
He said he was always conscious of never blaming communities.
“My own mother was never able to speak English and my father wasn’t highly educated but they always expected me to behave at school and do well. Sometimes that’s the level of engagement from parents.”
He said the words of the Whitney Houston song resonated deeply with him.
“Children indeed are our future and we need to create a safe and respectful environment for them to enable them to grow otherwise they will never achieve their potential.”