Sheffield councillor succeeds in law and politics after rocky start at school

If any young people are worrying about their exams or results, this is a story to hearten them.

By Lucy Ashton
Tuesday, 11 June, 2019, 15:19
Coun Abtisam Mohamed

Abtisam Mohamed is a local councillor and community activist. She’s Sheffield’s cabinet member for education and skills. She also runs her own law practice which specialises in human rights and asylum cases. And she left school with just three GCSEs.

“I went to Earl Marshal around the time when it was closing down,” she says. “I left with only three GCSEs and no A-levels and ended up working in a call centre.

“I was 24 when I decided to go back and study because I thought I can’t work in a call centre for the rest of my life.

“I got into Sheffield Hallam University on clearing and did educational studies then a PGCE for teacher training straight afterwards.”

After making the first major life decision – to go to university – Abtisam then switched subjects and chose to pursue law instead. “I did a Masters in law then a Legal Practice Course at the end – I’ve graduated four times in total,” she laughs.

She studied at both Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield as a mature student and carried on working full time throughout.

“The degree was free in those days but the PGCE, the Masters and LPC cost almost £20,000. I left without any debts though because I worked throughout at the call centre to fund my studies.”

After cutting her teeth at a law firm she took the plunge with her own practice, Crater Law Solicitors, in the city centre and is passionate about her career.

“We deal with asylum, immigration and human rights. It is challenging because of the cases but also because the law in these areas is constantly changing. I would never stop working though, it keeps me grounded.”

Her home is in Burngreave with her parents and siblings close by – she’s the second eldest of eight with five brothers and two sisters. She laughs: “I have the support of my family, they make sure I’m fed.”

She became a councillor three years ago but admits it was a role she fell into.

“I’ve always been active in the community and involved in democracy. I’ve always tried to change things for the benefit of people and I’ve been involved in campaign groups and community activities.

“In 2010 when austerity started I became very active in issues such as early years funding and library cuts.

“People said to me, it’s easy to shout from the outside, why don’t you get involved with the council and see how you can help shape and influence decisions.

“I never made a conscious decision to do any of this. I didn’t consciously got out to be a councillor or get a cabinet position but now I’m here I want to be an advocate for young people and adult learners, people who are sometimes forgotten.

“The biggest education mistake ever made was scrapping coursework and making it all exam based. What do exams do apart from help you memorise things?

“Coursework gives you more life skills, you build up a gradual understanding of subjects and learn more realistic skills which benefit you for life.”

As we leave, we both gather up our belongings. “I used to have three phones, a personal one, one for council business and one for my law firm but I gave up, it was too hard trying to juggle them all,” she laughs.

“I try to get the balance right between my law work and being a cabinet member and I don’t want to lose sight of my ward work in Firth Park. I have to be very strict with my diary.”