I’m from South Australia in Country Victoria. Growing up, my mum was an Akela [a Cub Scout Leader] and my Dad was a Scout Master. It meant that I was always around young people and always working with the leadership in the Scout organisation. Watching my parents, I could see that for them, this wasn’t a job, it was something they had a real passion and love for. I think I took that on!
I was fortunate enough to have a great time in my own school career too. I had amazing teachers, great opportunities, I was challenged and wellbeing was placed central to my schooling throughout. I think that great experience made me think, I can do this.
I first studied at Monash University in Melbourne. I originally started teaching as a Maths, Science and ICT teacher in Country Victoria. I did that for a number of years and gradually moved up the leadership tree. I made sure I got a really good broad experience early on in my career.
A change came about in 2007, when I was busy rebuilding the school I was leading. The architect was also building a school in Sharjah. That initial connection led me to be appointed to open and run the Victorian International School in Sharjah on behalf of the Victorian government.
I then moved on to GEMS Education and the next few years saw me work as a school consultant and with GEMS again in Senior Leadership roles. Eventually, I was appointed to oversee their Cambridge brand, with 10 schools across the UAE and thousands of students and teachers. Later I moved to Qatar to set up schools both there and in Egypt and Africa.
Well, there is something special about RGS…I mean it’s RGS! Can you really say any more than that? It’s an amazing, amazing school with incredible heritage and values.
The process leading to my appointment was very long…the rigour of it was incredible, but more importantly, the people I got to speak with throughout that process demonstrated to me the synergy of my beliefs with theirs.
Then we have the backing of Cognita, a huge global company. That was a pivotal part of my decision, to be backed by that expertise. Honestly, I was all in!
It’s a good question! I mean I don’t think I have style as such, I am a very firm believer in situational leadership. By that I mean doing whatever needs to be done to maximise whatever you are working on.
In terms of leadership, every situation is different. Let’s be honest…you don’t want me to collaborate with you if you are having a fire, you want me to tell you to get out of the building and get out now! At the same time, if there is a more strategic conversation to be had, then obviously you want to be more collaborative and get people on board. I think what is more important is to recognise leadership skills in other people. We had 1500 people apply for our teaching roles, so we’ve been able to choose some incredible staff. I intend to let them be amazing! I will learn from them, they will lead me, as I will lead them.
I remember when I first met Jon [Dr Jon Cox, Head Master at RGS Guildford, UK] and the board and we were talking about the opportunity and…well, I got chills down my spine thinking about it and I still get that today! It is a humbling opportunity, but I recognise the expectation and responsibility that comes with that. I am 100% committed, no question about that. I love the RGS ethos.
Teaching a class is always a commitment, so I will only teach if I can give those students my all. I will not put myself in a position to teach if I cannot commit to the children, but I didn’t get into education to not teach. I got into it because I love teaching and I love being with children.
We are committed to having Arabic as our second, first language. Too often I think schools give Arabic ‘lip service’, they don’t really commit, but in our Arabic department, the teachers will have the time and support to develop the curriculum and their own skill sets.
We will also have our own ‘Riyada’ curriculum. Riyada is Arabic for leadership. This curriculum will encompass UAE Social Studies, Moral Education, Wellbeing, Leadership Development and Personal, Social and Health Education. These skills will run right through the broader curriculum, all the way from Foundation Stage to Year 13. When you talk to the teachers at RGS in the UK, they tell you that you get this real sense of students knowing themselves, as people and as leaders. There is a real buzz of confidence, not of arrogance, of real genuine confidence. That is something we will try to achieve from day one.
We will be a genuine sister school with the UK. There will be lots of online partnerships in terms of collaborative work. Maybe we can look at what sustainability looks like in the UK vs sustainability in the UAE. That is fantastic learning! Similarly, at the right point in time, there will be opportunities for our sports teams to travel to the UK and compete alongside their peers.
All in all, RGS has had 500 years of refinement, innovation…they know what they are doing! They have been doing that for 500 years and we are just starting to look ahead for the next 500. We can’t wait to get started.
Everything I have said today will have come true. That is what Clare [Turnbull, Head of Prep] and I are holding ourselves to account to. If we are going to say something, it’s not just a promise, it is something that is going to happen.
In five years-time, this will be an amazing school, full of happy safe kids who love learning. There will be an immediate buzz that you feel when you walk in. And in 20 years-time, I am looking forward to the first students coming back and saying, “I set this up! Look what we made!”.