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Engaging disadvantaged students

Continuity key to engaging disadvantaged students

ISE blogs

Plenary 1 image 

Mouhssin Ismail, former lawyer and Principal of Newham Collegiate Sixth Form, opened the ISE Student Recruitment Conference 2018 with his inspirational story on elevating some of the brightest young minds from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Taking centre stage at this year’s opening plenary, Mouhssin Ismail is no stranger to the spotlight, with a history of making headlines in the best possible way.

Best-known as the lawyer who gave up a six-figure salary to be principal of a school in one of the poorest boroughs in London, Mouhssin led 95 per cent of his pupils to go on to the best universities in the country last year, duly earning him the title of ‘Britain’s most inspiring head’.

Unsurprisingly, his journey hasn’t been easy. He took the helm in 2014 with no staff or building to command and very few student applications. Newham is the second most deprived borough in London and ranked third nationally for deprivation affecting children. Just under half of students are eligible for free school meals or a bursary.

Under his charge, Newham Collegiate Sixth Form has become one of the country’s greatest success stories, offering a level of rigour and opportunity typically associated with a private education.

Mouhssin grew his team from 11 to 40 and took inspiration from Eton-style schools and his former career in corporate law. Work placements are guaranteed with some overseas - such as in Japan, Washington, New York, Abu Dhabi or Dubai - and an inspirational programme of guest speakers punctuates the ‘super’ curriculum.

Moving forward, Mouhssin aspires to send around 25 students to Oxbridge annually and several to Ivy League universities having already supported 10 of his students to secure offers from Oxbridge this year and the first student in Newham to study at MIT, USA.

Conference delegates were quick off the mark to ask Mouhssin the secret to his success. A straightforward vision, recruiting high quality staff who share a common belief and goal were cited as some of the key factors.

While employers were commended for their valuable contribution, Mouhssin highlighted that to have the greatest impact, contact had to be continuous. Working with and supporting a small group of students over several years, would be a far more effective approach to one-off events. He also suggested developing links with schools and sixth forms serving deprived communities, specifically aiming for representation on governing boards.

To get involved with Newham Collegiate Sixth Form contact Mouhssin Ismail at

For more advice, read Mouhssin’s 'school collaboration for better social mobility' blog