The term ‘role model’ may not befit Sir William Atkinson, looking at the incredible job he has done. We will call him an extraordinary role model. He is the renowned Head teacher of Phoenix High School in West London, which had been known as the country’s worst school.
He has been rated as the most successful Head Teacher in the country, owing to his authoritative self. Despite Phoenix High School serving a white estate in the city which is much deprived, it has managed to get rated as “remarkable” by Ofsted, and “a place that transforms the chances of life for both parents and children” under the headship of Sir William. He has led the school to perform well, in spite of all the challenges it faces. It is unbelievable, considering the fact that about two thirds of the entire student population either have learning difficulties, or disabilities, the number of students who are seeking asylum or are refugees make up 10% of the population, and about 50% have English spoken as an additional Language.
In 2008, Ofsted inspectors praised Sir William’s role in the school’s continuing improvement: ‘The school is exceptionally well led by a charismatic, indefatigable head teacher who receives excellent support and challenge from a fully committed governing body,’ said the inspectors.
Sir William had very humble beginnings. Hailing from Jamaica, he came to London at age 7, with his mother and brother to join his father. His parents worked in the factory, and had to work real hard to eke out a living. He was an average student, and Phoenix’s story drew him, because a teacher had challenged him in high school. He decided that Phoenix would be the best way for him to give back to community.
He was trained in Portsmouth, and has taught in seven London Schools. He is an ambitious person, full of passion for the youth, as he began to apply for deputy Head teacher positions in his 20s, and never gave up even after 40 rejections.
He is currently a trustee for Research Autism, a commissioner for The Family Commission and on the Board of Directors of the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. In January 2010 the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services selected Sir William as a National Leader of Education and designated Phoenix High School as a National Support School.
In the media, Sir William has also been widely featured in documentaries, including the Channel 4 documentary series ‘The Unteachables’. He has also contributed to a range of television and radio programmes, including Newsnight, Panorama, BBC Question Time, Breakfast Television, The One Show and Inside Out and Radio 4’s The House I Grew up In and Saturday Live.
In June 2008, Sir William was made a knight in the Queen’s birthday honours, for his services to education and community.
He will always be seen an inspirational role model who never gave up and did all proud.