The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018

If you want to know who has made the biggest impact on education in the UAE over the last year, read on for's Most Influential People within education in 2018.
The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018
By C Hoppe
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Principal Influencers

Great leadership is the key to all really good schools. Inspiring leadership not only empowers teachers, improves learning and drives morale, but it also creates a cohesive and happy community and gives confidence in and security to- all key school-stakeholders.

This year, we recognise three very different principals for their exceptional work in UAE schools. 


William Deacon: The Grammar School, Dubai 

During his two-year headship at Grammar, Deacon has implemented the quintessential feel-good, school turn-around story we all love to read.

When he arrived in Dubai, Grammar was a somewhat sub-par, low fee school with an entrenched ethos. “We opened the doors at that end,” he points down the corridor,” and threw almost everything away.”

Together with wife Margaret, William has overseen the construction of a new foundation block and brought in UK teachers to inspire and develop his teaching staff. He’s also remodelled the facility's outdoor spaces, introduced break-out areas, phased out gender segregation and introduced external benchmarking testing.

And, he doesn't plan to stop there either, "I'd love to take Grammar to Outstanding," he says.

Now, two-years on, the Grammar School is much in demand for its progressive ideas, exciting programming, and yet, still highly affordable fees.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

It will be two years this February, I was in Kuwait before...

What made you choose the education sector?

I came from a business background and decided to re-train so I could put something back into education…. Having four children was also a great motivator.  

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

Meeting the UAE National Agenda targets by 2021.  The targets are bold, innovative and difficult but I feel are achievable. In addition, the effect on staff recruitment with the new certified teacher requirements as young UK teachers may opt for other destinations like Kuwait.  Keeping staff at my school, the low salaries, if they decide once certified to move to other schools.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

Firstly, turning around a failing school in Kuwait and secondly working with a great but inexperienced team here in the Grammar School and witnessing improvement in attainment and progress of our students.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Going back to university to do a post-graduate teaching qualification as this changed my career direction for ever.  A decision I will cherish always.

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

The vice principal of the Grammar School - she makes sure I am on time and smiling every day... (She is also my wife, Margaret!)

Making a difference at the school with motivated staff and students whose school life has been enhanced.

Working every day, with the owners, to develop and improve premises, teaching environment and resources.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

I would love to take the Grammar school to ‘Outstanding’, a huge challenge ahead.

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

You must enjoy what you do and have a great sense of humour. Treat all your staff as equals, they only have a different job title, go for quality, honesty and do not ask anyone to do something you would not do yourself. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Working with people, students, parents, students and other stake holders to all work with a common goal of improving standards in Education and the school in particular.

For our full story on William Deacon and Grammar School go here


John Nolan: Sharjah English School 

With a staggering 29 years working in the UAE, John Nolan is certainly one of the longest serving educationalists in the country.

As principal of the UAE’s smallest Not for Profit- Sharjah English School, Nolan’s decade-long tenure has seen the school develop beyond all recognition. 

He’s overseen the construction of numerous building projects on the new campus, with the final piece finished last September, the futuristic Key Stage One building.

John has steered the school through two BSO reports (Outstanding and Good with Outstanding features) plus the first Sharjah Education Zone inspection, (Exceeding Expectations), in the process maintaining the school’s position as what must be, the premier UK curriculum school in the emirate.

He has introduced external assessments and overseen the expansion from two forms to three.

During his tenure he has created a genuine community school for parents, teachers, and the wider Sharjah community. Teacher retention is around five to six years with some staff staying well over 10, (compared to an average of two for most teachers in the emirate), and creating a true community school where several local sports clubs and teams call the extensive sporting facilities home.

In short, Nolan has ensured the school remains true to its 45-year legacy and ethos, yet implemented measures which bring it thoroughly into the 21st century; no easy feat in the ever-changing landscape of the Northern Emirates.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

I started working here in 1989... initially three-years in Abu Dhabi, then a long stretch in Dubai, and now 10-years in Sharjah!

What made you choose the education sector?

Partly as a means to travel. My first teaching post was 5 years in Zimbabwe.  I'll never forget the absolute conviction there that education was the key to everything, whether escaping from poverty, caring for extended families, contributing to a country's development. It was a simple faith that gradually convinced me. Since that time I don't believe I have ever lost my sense of how important teaching and education is.... one of my core beliefs is that teaching is too important a job to ever do badly.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

Improving the quality of public education - seeing so many families flounder with the pressure of private school fees during challenging times, without there being an alternative... that is difficult to watch. As the impact so often involves repatriation or split families, the social consequences can be ominous. Continuity and long-term residency can only be a positive thing.

I appreciate the importance and challenges of funding and offering parental choice in education. But perceiving education so exclusively as an 'industry' or a business has damaged many families experiences of schooling in the UAE. The balance between commercial imperatives and educational values is evident only in a limited number of schools. For many organisations slick and often misleading marketing matters more than the experiences of the children entrusted to them.  

Recruitment of top teaching staff is going to be increasingly difficult; the numbers simply aren't there for the growing international market.

The quality control in education has improved massively in recent years - there is a challenge to ensure those systems continue to drive schools forward.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

I was head of department within two years of starting teaching - at Fletcher High School in Zimbabwe.

Worked on the creation of national curriculum with a team from University of Zimbabwe.

Spent three years as a TESOL/English instructor at ADNOC.

Fifteen-years at Rashid School for Boys, as English teacher and head of department.

Head of English, key stage head, secondary head at Sharjah English School.

Principal of SES since 2010.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Managing my current school through several very challenging stages of development while never being too far from a financial precipice. A small independent school built with bank loans and dependent entirely on fees, should not be a viable business model. To survive and to make that work, while attracting and retaining great staff and delivering a memorable education, that has been a daily and often individual unsupported challenge. 

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

I still love teaching A Level Literature - though I only get to do a few hours a week, it is often the highlight of my day.

There is always something surprising and exciting going on in drama or music or sports - watching the confidence, creativity and fearlessness of children pushing their own boundaries is always uplifting.

There is always the simple variety of interactions and genuine appreciation of what I do from so many constituencies - parents, staff, governors, ministry officials, contractors, student leaders, children - I cannot imagine being bored at work. 

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

There is always the attraction of the bigger school or group of schools. The higher profile position. But there is also the tug of loyalty to my present school, wanting to consolidate and secure its successes. I still feel the need to justify the trust that the SES community have always afforded me.

 What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

 Care about the children, the staff and the parents. Then care some more. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

It's all about people - connecting with them, creating an environment in which they can flourish and surprise themselves, supporting them in taking risks, and then watching them move on to bigger challenges equipped for success with the tools you have given them. It's relentlessly fulfilling. 


Mark S Steed: Jumeirah English Speaking School 

Mark is the director of Dubai's only UK/IB Not for Profit School, with over 2,200 students housed across two unique campuses.

Founded in 1975, the small Not for Profit school group is a quintessential Dubai institution and stepping into the role of leader and caretaker of the brand, was never going to be easy.

Yet, during his three-year tenure Mark has more than proved he is the right man for the job. The school now sees the highest IB Diploma results in the Middle East with an average score of 35.3 and 20 percent of students scoring over 40, plus a 12 percentile point increase in the average A* GCSE score at the school from 20.3% to 33.3%.

Mark has also overseen the launch of a new sixth-form, introduction of BTEC qualifications, encouraged the retention of some of the best teaching talent in the city and secured Outstanding ratings from both the KHDA and BSO inspectors. 


How long have you worked in the UAE?  

I’m in my third year, we moved here in August 2015.

What made you choose the education sector? 

I always wanted to be a teacher. I was extremely fortunate to have received an excellent education which changed my life and opened a world which is full of opportunities. There are few other careers which can genuinely make such a difference to others. I was inspired by a great teacher in my Sixth Form at school

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?   It is an exciting time for education as we endeavour to work out how new technologies are going to impact on schooling. In the UAE, the greatest challenge is coping with the rate of change both in terms of the regulation and increased competition between schools.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

I became the youngest Head of a UK Independent School when I was appointed Headteacher of Kelly College in Devon; I then moved to be the Principal of the Berkhamsted Schools Group where I oversaw six schools and a day nursery. Recently, I took up the reins as the Director of JESS, Dubai, which is proving a stimulating new challenge.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

I was responsible for restructuring and realigning the Berkhamsted Schools Group. This included negotiating two school mergers, taking over two 3-11 Prep schools, and then overseeing a reorganisation to bring them into the Group. This process involved a capital building programme of £21m over seven years. It was a huge project and a great learning opportunity.

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?  

My family; who give life meaning.

Young People; there is nothing more rewarding than working with the young people who are our future.

Colleagues; working with some talented colleagues and building effective teams who can deliver the best possible education.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

I would like to help younger colleagues make the journey into middle and senior leadership roles through developing and leading training, mentoring and coaching programmes.  I would also like to write a book entitled ‘The School CEO Toolkit’ which would equip headteachers to cope with the increasing demands of the business and operational aspects of school leadership. 

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

Those aspiring to be a school principal should endeavour to thoroughly master each mid-level leadership role that they are offered as they progress through their careers. They should aim to be an outstanding Head of Year, Subject Leader, Head of Department, Deputy Head etc. These stages lay a solid foundation of knowledge and experience on which to build when eventually step into the top jobs.

The key to effective leadership lies in the ability of leaders at every level to recognise and help multiply the talents of those around them.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Having the opportunity to positively influence the lives of the young people in our care.

Mark Steed was nominated by our 2017 Influencers 



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The 2017 and 2018 Influencers in full


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