New Sheffield school headteacher on how he plans to promote diversity, bridge gaps and be an inspiration to all youth
“Teaching is a colour blind profession that’s why I love it.”
The new school year is finally in full swing across Sheffield after months of disruption and time at home for both students and staff alike.
At the helm of the secondary phase at Hinde House School, in Shiregreen, is new headteacher Munif Zia who is hoping to use his position to show that skin colour shouldn’t matter and to break down barriers in a bid to inspire the youth of today.
Taking on the role this September, Munif is already a familiar face through the corridors as he has worked at the school for the past year as associate principal.
It is believed the 46-year-old is the first male British Muslim of Pakistani heritage to become headteacher of a mainstream secondary school in the city.
Munif’s parents came to Sheffield in the 1960s and he says he is very proud of his background and faith.
“I had a very traditional upbringing, values, so forth. My mum schooled us at home in a lot of ways, it was almost like getting an academic education at school but the value side at home,” he explained.
"We had elderly neighbours and it was always about how to integrate into society, we were taught to respect all faiths, all colours and that's the modelling mum always gave us.
“We lived in Norfolk Park at the time and were one of only a few families who lived up that way. I went to Manor Lodge school and had very inner-city schooling myself. I was brought up in an environment which I would say was quite hostile at that time.
"We’d go to the park at the weekends but we'd have to be on the lookout for skinheads and people like that.
"I was only quite young at the time, around nine-years-old, and they’d come and say nothing to us but the older lads that were with us that were of an Asian background they used to get a lot of slack now and again but we would just run, it was a standard thing.
"It wasn’t the best environment but then I’d go to school and it would be fine, the majority of the kids there were white British and we'd be integrated. I had a lot of white British friends and it was almost like a release at times, the school environment.
"My parents then relocated us to the other side of the city in the 1980s, moving to the Crosspool area of Sheffield so it was a complete transition and there was an educational shift as well.
"I went to Lydgate, then King Ecgbert School – it was a really nice, brilliant, multicultural schooling I got there. The Somali community were just coming over in the late 80s and early 90s so there was a lot of integration, everyone got on and it was a good experience.”
A career in teaching wasn’t always on the cards for Munif who gained a degree in marketing and a masters in accounting before becoming a recruitment consultant in London.
But, as his parents got older – and as the oldest male of four children – he moved back to Sheffield and after some encouragement from his sister, a primary school teacher, he began studying for a PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education).
He said: “I came into teaching quite late, in my late 20s, but it’s a big part of my life; making a difference and hopefully adding some value to the community. It's great to see pupils after years that are grown and have their own families saying what a difference I’ve made.
"One of my first school placements was in Dearne, in a white British community, an old mining area. There were no Asian students there, but it really does show you that kids at a certain age are literally colour blind. They just take you on face value, what you’re like and how much you show them you care.
"My second placement was the complete opposite in Fir Vale.”
In 2014, Munif was promoted from director of mathematics at Parkwood Academy to assistant headteacher before becoming deputy headteacher two years later.
There he worked with Vicky Simcock, who is now the executive principal of Hinde House School, who made him aware of the role as associate principal and as they say the rest is history.
In his new role as headteacher, Munif says he will be fair to all pupils and aims to break down stereotypes that some may have for people of his culture.
He added: “I want to show that you don’t have to sacrifice who you are or your beliefs or pretend to be someone you are not to get to the top. True diversity is about accepting all backgrounds where all faiths and ethnicities can co-exist. Some of my closest friends are white, British teachers who I met when they were NQTs.
"I personally mentored them and feel proud to have seen them grow and progress in their careers alongside myself. I continue to instil my hopes, ambitions and values about a more inclusive society in them.
“Teaching is a colour blind profession that’s why I love it but I have had personal experiences of racism throughout my life - from having bricks thrown into my home as a child to having very recently witnessed first hand shameless, inexplicable prejudice in the judicial system even during the Black Lives Matter protests.
"I want to use my position as headteacher to show that colour shouldn’t matter and to change mindsets, bridge gaps and be an inspiration to all youth.”