Another Award For Sir William

Local head teacher honoured in prestigious award ceremony

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Local Head Teacher, Sir William Atkinson, has won another award for his services to education.

Sir William, who heads Phoenix High School in The Curve, won the prize as part of the Political and Public Life Awards. He was given the award by the American civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson during a ceremony at the House of Commons at the end of February.

Atkinson has been head of Phoenix since 1995, when the Hammersmith comprehensive, as it was then known, had an extremely poor reputation – and was even dubbed the 'worst school in Britain'. Thirteen years later, in 2008, OFSTED described Phoenix as a “remarkable school” which “continues to improve the life chances of both students and their families”.

In 2009, 96% of Phoenix students achieved 5 A*-C grades in their GCSEs. In 1995 this figure was just 4%, and in January 2010, Phoenix was confirmed as the highest performing school in England in the Government’s Achievement and Attainment Tables measuring progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4.

Appearing on Newsnight on Wednesday (March 10), as part of a discussion on the future of education nationally, Sir William said that despite improvements in education over the past few years, there needed to be more focus on the many children who had been left behind: “The massive improvements that have taken place, and there has been significant improvement, have left a large proportion of children relatively untouched at the bottom. So we have some 30, 40 percent of our children who are not achieving and what we really need to do is think about what we need to do for these people and significantly, we need to ensure that the best teachers are recruited and retained for these children,” he said.

The Conservatives' policy on education involves following the Swedish example and allowing “free schools” to be set up, funded by the Government but run by parents, charities or educational organisations. Sir William said he had some reservations about this idea:

“I think the idea of parents being able to set up their school, as a principle, is a very good one.....However, you can't just do it in a vacuum. One must be very mindful about the effect on other schools, the use of scarce resources and not creating a surplus in other schools which then become really uneconomic. Poor parents are really motivated, they want the best for their kids in the same way as middle class parents. However, they've not got the organisational, networking skills to actually bring it about to the same degree as well-informed, middle class parents. So there is the danger that the people who would be left out of this, who would be left on the side, would be those who are from the most challenging circumstances, the most deprived youngsters,” he said.

Sir William received his knighthood in July 2008 for his services to education and community relations.

Commenting on his most recent award, Shepherd's Bush MP Andy Slaughter, who also attended the awards ceremony, said: “Jesse Jackson is an iconic figure in the history of the civil rights movement, but one of his passions is education for kids from underprivileged backgrounds. I know that after meeting Sir William he was singing his praises for the rest of his visit to the UK. We should all be proud of the achievements of William Atkinson and Phoenix High School that have merited this recognition.”

The Political and Public Life Awards are sponsored by Asian Voice magazine and are given annually to people who have made a significant contribution to their local communities over the past 12 months.

11 March 2010