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05 December 2012

Sue Iqbal, Education Consultant

Sue Iqbal, Education Consultant

Sue Iqbal runs an independent consultancy with her husband. The Forward Partnership specialises in supporting leadership in education, charity and faith sectors. Sue has worked in the field of education for over 30 years, inspired by voluntary work in a special school.

Over recent years, Sue has been developing a fresh approach to school improvement which is based upon kingdom values, research and the emerging field of positive psychology. ‘Improving from WithIn’ is a model for school improvement that focuses on creating the climate that encourages self-sustaining improvement.

What did you want to become when you were a child?
As a child I was the proud owner of a wonderful encyclopaedia and I devoured its pages, I also held lessons and set up a museum in my bedroom so I guess it is no surprise that I have ended up in the education sector although my aspirations were often related to the latest book I had read thus I also explored physiotherapy and social work.

Can you give us a highlight and lowlight of your own school years?
My own experience of school was mixed. I remember being completely thrown by being relocated at the age of seven and finding that in my new school, which was a very formal setting, I now needed to do joined-up writing, create margins and underline all my work. There were a whole new set of rules that were very different from those at my infant school. It was very destabilising but fortunately my parents moved me to another school where the headteacher was creative and fostered my fragile self-esteem by involving me in the school radio. The curriculum was taught through projects and I can still remember getting absorbed in a wonderful emersion experience of the Tudors.

How did you end up in education?
I was inspired by voluntary work in a special school. I became a teacher for students with severe learning difficulties. Special education shaped my view of what education is about, it is holistic and not just focused on academic outcomes. It is about enabling children to achieve their potential and navigate their place in the world. After 10 years’ teaching I became a health education specialist, this finally led me into school improvement and leadership advisory work which is the area I now work in.

Much of my time is spent working with headteachers and their senior teams. Headship is one of the most challenging jobs and often demands personal sacrifice. It is a real privilege supporting such people as they endeavour to bring hope and make a difference in their school and communities.

Which Bible text, narrative or character shapes your vision for education?
Most of my work has been in a secular context but my personal faith has informed my work life as I have endeavoured to promote kingdom values in what I do and more importantly in the way I do it. 

Psalm 1 is my guiding scripture; guided by God’s law, I seek to be planted by that stream and to be fruitful. I believe God cares about how we educate and develop both children and the adults who work with them. Education and personal development sit very comfortably with the Christian view of discipleship, and as a coach and facilitator I relate to the way Jesus used metaphor, humour, creativity and challenge when he taught.

Who is your hero?
When I work with senior teams I often use footage of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as an example of a high performing team. I love the way the band work together under the direction of their leader. Springsteen is an inspiring performer who reflects a high degree of spirituality and moral purpose through his music. Perhaps not the most obvious choice of a hero but his music has enriched my life and brought me great joy.

What is the role of a consultant?
As a consultant I believe that my role is to help others achieve their goals, this means that I have to listen hard to my client and often help them to articulate their goals. It’s then my job to provide some strategies, tools, professional knowledge and wisdom to help them move towards their desired outcome. 

You aim to bring ‘change from within’ - What does that look like?
The ‘Improving from WithIn’ model is a logical sequence for school improvement based on key theorists. The model has six dimensions – the first three focus on creating the foundations for self-sustaining improvement and the second three seek to secure innovation, motivation and engagement. 

At its heart is the belief that teachers can not engage and motivate children if they are themselves not motivated and engaged. Extrinsic drivers and targets usually have a demotivating effect so to help teachers perform at their best, schools need to create a climate within which the intrinsic drivers to improve come to the fore.

If you were education minister, which one thing would you change?
The negative narrative about the teaching profession; I think the balance between the need to challenge and to encourage is weighted too far towards challenge. I believe that the morale of the profession is undermined and much more would be achieved by acknowledging the amazing creativity and commitment to providing high quality lessons most teachers have.

What is your most/least green credential?
I was brought up by parents who were committed to ‘make do and mend’ so I recycle and give unwanted furniture and possessions away but I also drive a petrol-guzzling car which I love, especially when I can play Born to Run at full volume!

Who is your favourite movie character?
My favourite movie character is Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile because she is an inspirational teacher who goes against the social mores of the time and aims to open the minds of young women to see the world differently.