Week 4 Biographies

Atif Choudhury, Diversity & Ability

Atif Choudhury is an award-winning social entrepreneur, with a background in economic justice and disability inclusion projects. Focusing on the inclusion of marginalised communities, Atif has worked on high profile social development projects across the world. He is the co-founder and CEO of Diversity and Ability and Zaytoun CiC (the World’s first Fairtrade Palestinian olive oil cooperative), as well as a trustee for Disability Rights UK.

Drawing on his own neurodiverse personal experience, Atif forged his path in the field of Assistive Technology starting as a trainer. In that time, he refined his training style and strategies that D&A shares with its learners, using a philosophy of mindfulness, mentoring and emotional intelligence. He co-founded D&A in 2009 to further the wellbeing and development of other dyslexic and disabled learners and educational communities.

With both an MSc in Conflict and Development from SOAS and a Postgraduate Teaching Diploma in teaching adults with dyslexia, Atif knows how to make sure D&A trainers/ tutors work with learners in ways that leave them inspired and prepared for life’s challenges. Atif is also the co-writer and creator of post-graduate teaching certificate ‘PgCert in Needs Assessment and Training of Enabling and Learning Technologies’ and has been twice voted onto the ADSHE (Adult Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education) Executive Committee.

The change Atif would like to see in the world is one that raises the strength of inclusion through intersectional lenses. He believes in pushing for a future of inclusive change and broader equality. He is adamant that poverty, class, race, gender and culture must be part of the systems that work to welcome the diversity of thought and the hidden assets in everyone.

Atif was awarded the Assistive Technology Good Practice Award by ADSHE, the Global Equality and Diversity Noon award. In 2019 he was shortlisted for the UK Inclusive Companies Awards and also as a finalist as ‘Entrepreneur of Excellence’ for National Diversity Awards.

Dr Marius Frank

Marius Frank has recently been appointed Head of Education at Microlink.

Prior to that, Marius was strategic lead for national school improvement programmes and E-learning development at Achievement for All for eight years. Achievement for All was a leading international children’s charity devoted to equity in education, supporting education settings to dismantle barriers to learning, whatever the challenges faced by children and young people and their families. Achievement for All worked with over five thousand education settings in England during his tenure.

After a stellar career as a teacher (of science, music and Expressive Arts) and middle leader (including posts as varied as Head of Year, Head of Science and Director of Music) in challenging secondary schools in England, Marius became Headteacher of Bedminster Down School (and the first BAME Secondary Headteacher in Bristol). Despite being named in the bottom 200 performing Secondary Schools in the country in 2000, Marius led the school community to a remarkable transformation, trebling performance outcomes in a decade in charge despite very low standards and low community expectations on entry.

In 2010, Marius became CEO of ASDAN Education, an international Awarding Organisation (offering a wide variety of EQF (European Qualification Framework) Level 1 to Level 6 qualifications in vocational and personal development), curriculum development and innovation company (winning Human Resource Magazine’s Most Person-Centred CEO of the Year award in 2011), before eventually joining Achievement for All in 2013. 

Marius has been involved in the strategic leadership and delivery of a number of high-profile government-funded projects: the first aimed to reduce the impact and incidence of bullying on children and young people with SEND. 1,500 schools received face-to-face training, with 96% of all attendees rating the event as good or outstanding, making them more confident to deal with complex and sensitive incidents. The extensive bank of supporting resources was presented in an innovative web-based way, encouraging individual or group exploration and evaluation to support professional development activity. The project (conducted in partnership with ABA) was given an internal DfE (Department for Education) 1 rating for delivery, the highest grade possible.

From 2015, Marius led a two-year DfE/MoJ contract aimed at securing better outcomes for young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities in the Youth Justice System. After a series of national workshops that connected with 400 professionals from over 100 Youth Offending Teams across the country and building an on-line community of practice to serve over 1,800 front line professionals, the contract was extended for another year to take the programme into the secure estate, and develop a quality assurance framework for Local Area Partnerships across the country to drive continuous service improvement.

This year, as Head of Education at Microlink, Marius worked with the DfE and nasen (the Special Education Needs charity) to lead in the creation and delivery of an Assisitive Technologies Pilot programme, aimed at transforming mainstream use of technologies to dismantled barriers to progress and achievement.

Marius is also a specialist in emotion wellbeing and mental health (his first degree was in Brain Sciences), supporting schools, PRUs and Youth Offending Teams move from trauma-aware to trauma-informed practice.

The Youth Justice SEND Quality Mark/Quality Lead moniker has now been earned by nearly 60 Teams in England, playing a significant role in securing effective working partnerships between YOTs and other statutory Children’s Services. Marius is now turning the amassed knowledge into a framework that identifies and enables Child First Partnership Practice.

He is also working on international EU-funded projects with colleagues in Italy, Romania, Greece, Spain and Bulgaria to secure better outcomes for children and young people affected by migration, which includes refugees and unaccompanied asylum seekers. The current Ukraine crisis has given this work immediate importance.

Dr Suanne Gibson

Dr Suanne Gibson is an Associate Professor of Education at Plymouth University, she has previously acted as Interim Director for Plymouth Institute of Education (2019-2021), been Associate Director of Teaching Learning and Internationalization (2017-2019) and also lead the BA Education degree (2005-2015). Her specialist areas of teaching and research are ‘disability’, ‘special educational needs’ (SEN), ‘inclusion’ and critical pedagogy. She tutors and lectures undergraduate, masters and PhD students, gives conference keynotes and has published widely in Special Educational Needs, critical disability studies and teaching and learning in higher education.

Dr Gibson has been awarded four teaching fellowships at Plymouth University, in 2011 she was named ‘Outstanding Personal Tutor’ by UPSU, in 2012 her work was recognised at a national level when she received her National Teaching Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy, in 2013 she was awarded an International Scholarship with Advance HE entitled: Developing a critically inclusive pedagogy of relationship for the retention and success of ‘diverse’ undergraduate students or ‘undergraduate students at risk of exclusion’’ and in 2014, due to her work in the field of disability, the Royal Society of the Arts invited her to become a Fellow (FRSA).

She conducts research and teaching with colleagues in the UK, USA, Cyprus, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia addressing questions of ‘inclusion’, social justice and ‘diversity’. Suanne is currently working in partnership with Disabled Students UK, ALLFIE and Disability Rights UK and undertaking research with Plymouth Marjons University and Plymouth Education Board on the project- ‘Are we included’ to address contemporary secondary school needs in the area of inclusion. She has also recently joined forces with Danimation: http://danimationentertainment.com/ and Positively Autistic: https://positivelyautistic.weebly.com/ to launch ‘Danimation UK’. Its second UK summer school for young people with autism will run in August 2022.

Piers Wilkinson

Piers Wilkinson is the former NUS Disabled Students’ Officer before the role was defunded in 2020, and now supports Diversity & Ability’s work within the Inclusive Education Team as their Policy and Campaigns Lead. Piers has been deeply involved in disabled student representation at all levels for over 6 years, culminating in their election to national representative positions during the last 4 years, and in March 2020 was appointed to the Disabled Students’ Commission as a Student Voice Commissioner.

Prior to the NUS, Piers studied an undergraduate MSci in Physical Oceanography at Bangor University and worked as an access consultant specialising in inclusive design within education, digital accessibility, user design learning, and inclusive campaigns.

Piers’ previous work includes the 2016 UNCRPD inquiry, as a commissioner for the Arriving at Thriving report on disabled student experiences, and providing expert advice on various liberation and social justice projects such as Student Minds’ Mental Health Charter, and the 2019 Phase-out of Plastic Pollution Bill.

In their spare time, Piers enjoys playing wheelchair basketball, championing digital accessibility within video games, and exploring Tolkien’s literary works – having even been invited to present by Oxford’s C.S Lewis Society!

Student: Lizzie Hallam-Howard

Currently working as a Marketing Communications Manager, Lizzie Hallam-Howard studied Music Business and Vocal Artistry at Access Creative College. She is a published author who speaks about her journey and overcoming obstacles through childhood and early adulthood including struggles in education, coming to terms with her sexuality, and dealing with mental health issues. Lizzie was awarded Kickstarter of the Month in September 2021.

Student: Stephanie Louise Pryszlak

Stephanie is currently about to finish studying an accelerated law degree at Hertfordshire university (the 3-year degree compacted into 2.) Last year, she chirped overall student of the year award and this year she has been nominated for community impact award! She has started a legal assistant job at a law firm and has gained a place on the master’s degree. She is a Mum of three children aged 3, 4 and 5 years and she is working on creating a future not just for herself but for her children, to show them you can achieve your dreams as long as you work for it.