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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Influential Leaders...

Some people are just born to lead, and whether that's leadership of a group of schools, an internationally recognised event or even as a thought leader within their industry; the UAE clearly has more than its fair share of individuals who like to drive things forward.

Interestingly, this group of Influencers was entirely nominated by peers, The Influencers of 2017, for their work in, and commitment to, education.



Ian Jones: GEMS Education Group 

Scottish born Ian Jones, is currently Vice President of Abu Dhabi Schools for GEMS, overseeing the daily management of six schools in the city, one in Al Ain and operations in two further managed schools in the emirate.

However, this year Ian has also stepped in to oversee the running of GEMS Metropole and GEMS National School for Girls and Boys. With the departures of both principals, Ian has now accepted a 'caretaker' role for both Dubai based schools.

Custodianship of Metropole, the first school in the GEMS middle-market brand-range, is not new to Ian. Back in 2014, Ian was founding principal of Metropole School, where he oversaw the  school's launch with an impressive 1,000 students on opening.

Ian brings with him over 40-years in education, with over 24 years in senior leadership roles. Prior to his arrival in the UAE, Ian was rector at 185 year-old Madras College, one of Scotland's top secondary schools.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

I moved to Dubai and joined GEMS Education in June 2013.  Initially I was to spend six months in Dubai then move to Qatar to open a new GEMS school there.  However, the decision was made to build Metropole School in Motor City and I was given the opportunity to be the Founding Principal.  The school opened on time with 1000 students from FS1 to Year 8.

What made you choose the education sector?

I studied engineering at university and worked in heavy industry for a short while, but didn’t really enjoy the experience.  A gap year followed for part of which I taught skiing that I loved.  For some years I had also worked as a voluntary ski patroller and trainer.  These experiences made me realise that I really enjoyed teaching and so a post graduate year at teacher training college beckoned.

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

The nature of employment in the UAE results in a lot of mobility and this leads in a lack of stability for many students.  The fluid nature of the school population, students and staff can mitigate against the continuity that underpins a really successful education system.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

Firstly, completing teacher training and realising how much I enjoyed the challenges and results of teaching.  The second milestone was moving into middle then senior leadership roles and completing my qualification for headship.  This led to my first headship or principal post in Scotland and then my move to lead Madras College in St Andrews, one of Scotland’s top schools.  Finally, my move to Dubai to open GEMS Metropole School and subsequent promotion to Vice President Education in GEMS.

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

Opening GEMS Metropole School, on time to 1,000 students with some 100 teachers, administrators and support staff was a great team effort that I was proud to lead. 

Over my career I have appointed a large number of teachers, almost all of whom have gone on to have successful careers in education.  Their success in continuing the drive for high quality education for the benefit of young people is noteworthy.

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

Education makes a huge difference to peoples’ lives and I am proud to be part of that.

I am surrounded by dedicated, imaginative and successful Principals, leaders and teachers.

The look on a child’s face when the penny drops and they experience success.

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

I have always valued leadership as one of the key drivers in education.  As I approach my retirement I look forward continuing my leadership journey and to supporting others in theirs.

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

Enjoy your work, celebrate your successes and those of your colleagues and students.  Don’t be afraid to take a calculated risk and learn when things don’t go quite to plan!  Everything we do must impact positively on outcomes for our students; anything we do that doesn’t have that impact should be open to question.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

The successes and achievements of each and every one of our students.  They are all stars.

Ian Jones was nominated by our 2017 Influencers


Yvette Judge: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Yvette has just finished her seventh Emirates Airline Festival of Literature last week and we hear it is also her last.

As assistant director of the festival Yvette has been instrumental in the rise and rise of what must now be, the world’s biggest literature festival.

In addition, she is also COO of the emirates Literature Foundation and was previously the founding librarian for JESS Arabian Ranches.

For anyone who attends the festival however, they will know Yvette for her tireless energy, consistently sunny disposition and her show-must-go-on attitude which has seen the festival grow from strength to strength. 

How long have you worked in the UAE? 

22 years

What made you choose the education sector?

It’s what I trained for and what I love!

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

The expansion in the number of schools in the private sector does not necessarily correlate to the number of children. There is a disparity between the well-provided for schools where fees are high and resources available, to less well-financed schools.

What are the key milestones in your career so far? 

Being part of the set-up for JESS Arabian Ranches; taking on a role in education at Emirates Literature Foundation and then becoming COO; being involved in the School Librarian of the Year award, supported by The Executive Council and Emirates Literature Foundation.

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

Promoting the schools and education aspects of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and seeing the programme grow; being able throughout my 35 plus-years in education to nurture enthusiasm for reading for pleasure.

Being involved in the initiative to find the School Librarian of the Year in the UAE has been incredibly meaningful, to see and appreciate what people put into working on children’s reading has been a humbling experience.

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

Meeting other people who share a passion for reading; seeing that working to promote reading can make a difference; being part of an inspiring team who put on brilliant events.

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

Continue with my mission to encourage everyone to love reading as much as I do!

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

Take every opportunity that is offered, no matter how insignificant it seems, and put 100 percent or more into everything you do. You need to believe in what you do to share your ideas and inspire people.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education? 

Hearing what young people have to say and being open to their ideas – it is invigorating and makes me feel rejuvenated when I meet them. Feeling that I have made a difference in people’s lives is wonderful!

Yvette Judge was nominated by our 2017 Influencers


Professor Pat Preedy: Early Years Expert

Pat Preedy needs no introduction to those working in Early Childhood Education. She’s been a principal, consultant, executive principal of a boarding school, led several distinguished projects and authored books on the subject.

“She was an Early Years specialist for GEMS but now works to improve Early Years settings around the world,” says last year’s Influencer Samantha Steed, principal of Ranches Primary School, who sites Preedy as a major influence on her professional thinking. “In the UAE she’s working with the Ministry of Education, to change policy and she is writing a book on Early Years, which will be published shortly.”


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

Since 2002

What made you choose the education sector? 

I have been involved in education all my working life – as a teacher, principal, inspector and researcher – it is my passion!

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

The UAE has grown and developed rapidly and is committed to providing high quality education for all children. It is particularly pleasing that the UAE recognises the importance of Early Childhood Education. The challenge is to now ensure that there is coherence of high standards across all schools with an educational system that drives standards in order to meet the 2021 vision which has education as its foundation.

What are the key milestones in your career so far? 

Becoming a teacher, becoming a principal and winning an award as one of the UK’s first Beacon Schools, achieving my PhD and being part of the Durham University team that developed value added assessments, becoming a lead inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, developing a movement programme for young children that enhances their cognitive development - endorsed by the UAE Ministry of Education.

Working with colleagues in the UAE Ministry of Education and being able to contribute in a small way to their energy and passion for positive change.

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

Writing a book with Sir Christopher Ball the original author of the Start Right Report in 1995. This book brings together

All my research combined with input from a range of respected colleagues – The Book will be published April 2018 and is called ‘Redefining Early Childhood Education: Starting Right’ – it will impact Early Childhood Education and provide schools with what children need to start right in our modern world.

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

My research and educational work, my family, my dog and two cats.

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

To become a chancellor of a university.

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

Be passionate, work hard, value and respect your colleagues, be resilient – keep going in the face of difficulties – be a problem-solver not a problem maker.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education? 

Working with children, parents and colleagues… being able to make a contribution that makes a difference.

Professor Pat Preedy was nominated by our 2017 Influencers



Sir Christopher Stone: GEMS Education Group 

With a career spanning over 30 years in education, Sir Christopher Stone’s career includes time spent as a teacher, headteacher, senior leader and government adviser- not forgetting his knighthood from the Queen!

Today he is the chief education officer for GEMS Education, as such, he leads on education matters for 51 schools, 130,000 children and 7,000 staff across the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

Previously he was chief executive of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, chair of the School Improvement Board in Birmingham, advisor to the UK government, headteacher at Sutton Coldfield's outstanding Arthur Terry School and headteacher at Perry Beeches School in Birmingham.


How long have you been working in the UAE?

Two and a half years

What made you choose the education sector? 

I had some great teachers who helped guide me. I had a pretty challenging upbringing and two teachers and a Principal gave me the support, stability and encouragement I needed.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

In relation to leadership of the schools one of the greatest challenges is providing consistency in the quality of teaching when you work in such a transient community. The nature of the expat community means that teachers, school leaders, parents and children are exciting, vibrant, “can do people” who have been prepared to leave their home country because of the wonderful opportunities in the UAE - a country at the forefront of innovation, change and opportunity. This also brings its challenges as these people have a tremendous talent base that they then take on to other countries as their continuous development affords continuous opportunity.

Maintaining high quality and sustainable improvement in schools across the UAE is a huge challenge. However turnover rate at GEMS a couple of years ago was similar to other schools internationally at 25%. It currently stands at 16/17%. This is because of the personal and professional development offered, the appointment of stronger Principals and better professional opportunities within our own group. For example, last year and this year, 50% of our Principals appointments came from within GEMS as our Professional development program (TELLAL) nurtured and developed home grown talent. This has seen people staying for much longer in our schools and in our company. Our quality and size has created much more opportunity for people to see their career flourish within GEMS Education.

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

Self-praise is no praise and I will leave it to others. However only 7% of children who started off life in the care of social services in my country went on to get school qualifications; much less went on to university. My teachers and my principal ensured that I didn’t waste my opportunity. Education truly sets you free and my education and qualifications cannot be taken away like other worldly possessions. I value that deeply.

As a National Leader in Education in England, I was tasked, along with fellow NLE’s, to present a “new idea” to the Government of the day. We presented the National Teaching Schools concept which is now common practise across the country.

Essentially this was about developing, improving and changing Education in English schools through a self-improving school led system so that all children attend Good or better schools. My school, which was consistently rated as Outstanding, was one of the first schools to be chosen to deliver this program and was one of the first two Initial Teacher Training Centres. Now there are over 600 teaching schools. The Teaching Schools Council now has, across the country, the most effective and successful leaders and supports government Ministers in forming policy and its implementation. Most importantly, teacher training now takes place in Schools and is based on best practise. I was also fortunate enough to work with the British Council in developing Education leadership training in Vietnam, Finland, Australia and Singapore which gave me an understanding and love of International schools and leadership.

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

It is a privilege to be in schools and spend time with children, teachers and school leaders each and every day. I am rarely in the School Support Center office as I prefer to affect change in the schools.

The opportunities within GEMS Education are incredible providing the opportunity to help bring education to many children in Africa and India. Here we can see people being able to access education like never before. The children are the same and education sets them free in just the same way as it did one half a century ago.

No day is the same. Mr. Sunny Varkey, our Founder and Chairman, is 24/7 so that means that we, in the senior management team, are all 24/7 too. Whilst that brings challenges it also brings great opportunities to help change the world for the better one day at a time.

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

I would like to leave a legacy where the partnership of parents, children and school staff is stronger than ever before. I would like to see a move away from factory type education to a much more bespoke, individual and creative education that ensures that our kind, inquisitive and thoughtful children stay like that as they grow and mature to take up their rightful place putting more back into society than they take out.

I would like to see school leaders grow and mature so that they become great system leaders and affect, for the better, more and more young peoples’ lives. I have great faith in young people. If you look across the world it is the young voters who seem to make the best choices and are inclusive, caring and thoughtful. Schools and parents must be doing something right! 

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

I make a point of never offering advice. I look to people like His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Nelson Mandela (who I have the great fortune to meet and spend time with) to Mahatma Gandhi – All these people have helped make the world a better, safer, more thoughtful place for us to raise our families in.

The people-whether that be children or adults. The education world is full of hope and promise and the people made it so. It is a privilege and an honour to work with them on a daily basis.

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? 

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.

Sir Christopher Stone was nominated by our 2017 Influencers


Jump to

The 2017 and 2018 Influencers in full


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