International Women’s Day 2018

By: Louise Geddis-Regan

Innovation Marketing Officer

Thursday 08 March 2018

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International Women’s Day, 2018. The year of #Vote100. Today has a lot of resonance.

We want to celebrate International Women’s Day by highlighting women who make a difference by harnessing the power of education through innovation and inclusivity. These inspirational women are some of the many working across the sector who embody our aspirations to help change the lives of our learners and support people to progress and achieve.




Kristine Black-Hawkins

Kristine Black-Hawkins taught in schools and worked for local government before getting a PhD entitled Understanding SchoolCultures: Developing Participation from the Open University.  She now works at Cambridge as a Reader in Inclusive Education.

Her research focuses on how teachers can help all of their students to achieve. She did it, she says, by working with teachers in an atmosphere of mutual learning and respect.

She found that teachers tended to split their classes into two groups. That “most” children were doing fine, and “some” children were struggling and need extra attention.

Like many brilliant concepts, Black-Hawkins’ idea was simple. Instead of “most” and “some”, how could we get to “all”?  All students in a class, all working towards achievement, within the same educational model.

She was a member of the research team that produced The Index for Inclusion, a method for building supportive communities and fostering high achievement for all staff and students. This was rolled out in many countries such including Brazil, Canada, India, Norway, Portugal, Romania and South Africa and thanks to this work, inclusion in education is a major UK export.

She now travels all over the world, sharing her knowledge, and learning from the teachers that she meets. 




Hannah Fry

From the urgent (crime, pandemics, terrorism), to the human (Her TED talk on The Mathematics of Love has been seen over four million times) to the almost unbelievable (providing indisputable, mathematical proof that Santa is real), mathematician Hannah Fry uses maths as the universal key to unlock the answers to all kinds of difficult questions.

The reason that Fry is on this list is because of the way she brings an understanding of maths to young people. As well as funny, youth-friendly projects like Youtube channel Numberphile, Fry hosts regular events for large numbers of schoolchildren.

These events have an emphasis on fun whilst demonstrating the real-world value of maths. From demonstrating mathematical patterns through making friendship bracelets, to how the mathematics of bubbles are being used to treat cancer, Fry shows High School students how maths affects their lives. The reaction from students speaks for itself:

“I found it really fascinating that an application of maths could lead to saving lives. The day was very inspiring as I had no idea that a degree in maths could lead to so many different discoveries. It’s great to study maths!”

We couldn’t agree more! 




Tessy Ojo

When Tessy Ojo became Chief Executive of The Diana Award in 2012, it was at a crossroads. On the brink of losing its core government funding, the charity, which recognises the achievements of young people, needed to decide what its future held.

Under Ojo’s leadership, the charity has revolutionised its work and its place in the education process. She did this by listening.

She sent a message to the thousands of young people who had previously benefitted from the Diana Award, asking them what they thought of the charity, and what else they could be doing. The results were transformative, for the charity and the people they help.

Ojo has changed the organisation from an award-giving body, to one that delivers services, collaborating with a Youth Board to develop programmes that focus on social inclusion and education.

This includes a skills development project that encourages social mobility, and the Anti-bullying Ambassadors Programme. Ojo is also on the Executive Board of Royal Taskforce on Cyberbullying.

She inspires us not just because of the way in which she revolutionised her charity, but in the way she went to her community to make it happen. 




June O’Sullivan

For our next pick, we take education back to the beginning. As CEO of the UK’s leading childcare charity and Social Enterprise, the award winning London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), June O’Sullivan is passionate about the wellbeing and education of children.

LEYF gives children the best possible start in life. A qualified Psychiatric Nurse and Social Worker, June understands the importance of this work better than anyone and is working towards giving the opportunity of play-based Early Years education to as many children as possible.

There are now 38 early years centres run by LEYF across eleven London boroughs. It offers community-based, multi-generational early years care, where the community is encouraged to become part of the teaching.

O’Sullivan’s work truly shows that we are stronger together, as the power of education strengthens when everybody - students, teachers, government – move in the same direction. 




Heidi Safia Mirza

Heidi Safia Mirza is Professor Emerita in Equalities Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. Much of her work is based on her own life experiences.

She returned to her native England in 1973, after spending most of her childhood in Trinidad. She was shocked by the racism she encountered as her upbringing in the Caribbean had been relatively sheltered and family-based

"You don’t question your right to exist, but that is what happens when you become a racialized 'other.'”

Mizra studied for a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, and her thesis became her first book, Young, Female and Black, published in 1992. Part academic dissection of the issues, part-autobiography, the book showed the challenges and dangers facing second-generation young Caribbean women in British comprehensive schools.

Mizra was appointed by the Minister of State for Education to the Government’s Schools Standards Task Force. In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, she mapped the effect that race, gender and social class had on educational attainment, in one of the most comprehensive interrogations of the evidence that has been carried out in the UK.

Everyone should know they have the right to exist. But they should also know that they have the right to learn and a safe place, where they have an equal opportunity to achieve. Heidi Safia Mirza fights for that right.


That’s our round up of amazing women in education, but we want to learn from you too. Who else belongs on this list? Who has made the biggest difference to your education?


Email us at [email protected] or tweet us @NCFE_innovation to tell us who else we should be celebrating this International Women’s Day. 

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