LONDON – Giving back to his neighborhood, a Muslim lawyer, who gave up a six-figure salary at a global law firm to become a teacher, is sending 95 percent of his students to the best universities in Britain.
“I am immensely proud of what they have achieved,” Mouhssin Ismail told Evening Standard on Wednesday, August 16.
“For many of these students the idea of going to Oxford or Cambridge or Bath, Manchester or Bristol would have been inconceivable two years ago. Now it is within touching distance.”
Ismail walked away from his job at Norton Rose Fullbright to enter the classroom in 2009. He is now the headmaster of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form in east London.
Ismail said he decided to make the switch into teaching to give back to society and to use his skills to help students achieve the same things he had.
In his first year in the job, a total of 190 out of 200 students secured places at Russell Group universities, with nine wining berths at Oxford and Cambridge and one, Tafsia Shikdar, getting in to MIT in the US.
“My aspiration is to send as many kids to Russell Group, Oxbridge and Ivy League universities as possible,” he said.
“The general view is if you come from a deprived area, you have limited chances of what you can do. But I know there are so many talented students in east London and it just requires different thinking and a different approach to giving these kids an opportunity.”
Ismail attributes the sixth form’s success to being able to offer students the same opportunities as they would get at top independent schools.
“I think people are realizing that students and people from the area I came from were not really given the skills or the cultural capital that you need to succeed in city firms,” he told The Independent.
“The children and their parents want them to do well academically and professionally but they don’t have the contacts or the know-how to get in there.
“I think for me it was about having that moment where I thought ‘Am I really making a contribution to society?’ and finding a career that allows me to do that.
“I came to the conclusion education was the best way to do it and I could use my skills to help students like me and help them to get to where I ended up.”
Students at the sixth form have had the opportunity to get work experience at prestigious law firms across the world and have weekly tutorials with experts from a range of professions.
“It’s not just about academics. Kids up and down the country from certain areas do exceptionally well. It’s about having that understanding of the corporate world, the networking and communication and being able to present yourself coherently,” Ismail said.
“Those kind of skills are important and giving kids exposure to those skills early on, rather than waiting for them to make mistakes when they get there.”