She might have only been in the position for two years, but in that short time Patricia Johnston has helped make British curriculum Al Diyafah school hugely popular amongst Dubai’s parents.
And for good reason. Al Diyafah records consistent academic successes. Rated Good by the KHDA, Diyafah was also a top 15 schools for examination results in 2016.
The school does this while keeping fees highly affordable - it costs 8,000 AED for Foundation Stage, rising to just 18,000 AED for Year 13.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
I am in my fourth year of working in the UAE, where I have held Senior Management positions in schools both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Initially, I supported the opening of new schools and from that moved into Educational Consultancy. It was in my role as a Consultant that I started working with the Diyafah Group in September 2014, where I took up the post as Executive Principal of Diyafah International School (DIS). I spent a year working in DIS, in order to lead and support the school through its second inspection and from that I moved into the post as Principal of Al Diyafah High School in August 2015.
What made you choose the education sector?
Instinctively, I had always been drawn to a career in teaching. On leaving Sixth Form, I chose studying at University for a Business Degree over going to Teacher Training College.
However, the desire to be in education was never far from my mind and after a period of time, I completed a Post-Graduate qualification in Education. Being ever thirsty for learning, a few years on I was selected by my Local Authority to study for the Scottish Qualification in Headship and gained the Post Graduate Diploma in Educational Leadership in 2004.
However, I have always felt that my Business Degree has stood me in good stead as an educationalist, particularly in the role as principal.
I have been working in education now for the last 22 years and 12 of them have been spent as a principal. Ultimately, it is where my heart lies...
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
I think I would prefer to view it from the perspective of the greatest challenge facing the industry globally, not just here in the UAE.
Having had the opportunity to be involved in International Education – it is my experience, that the main discussion surrounds the need to continually improve all aspects of the quality of education.
Regardless of where you are in the world it is vital that young learners are given access to developing essential life skills. This can only be done through having an ambitious education system, with identified and clear priorities, especially in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing.
With the National Agenda and ‘Vision 2021 – United in Ambition’ we have that in place here. School leaders have a superb resource to tap into with the School Inspection Framework and this document contains all the right ingredients for guiding the industry in the UAE in the right direction towards educational excellence.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
Firstly, going to University, gaining my degree and post-graduate qualifications, becoming a teacher and then principal.
Secondly, in 2010 Scotland went through an Educational Reform. It was an exciting time in that the National Debate showed that people wanted a curriculum that would fully prepare today's children for adult life in the 21st century, be less crowded and better connected across the 3 – 18 age range, offering more choice and enjoyment. As principal, it was my job to lead and manage the school through the process of phasing out the 5 - 14 Curriculum and that of easing in the new curriculum – known as a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’.
Next, I see coming out to the UAE as a significant milestone. My time here has opened up new opportunities and both broadened and deepened my knowledge of educational matters. In Dubai, there is a great energy with regard to education and I am so fortunate to be part of it.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
My outlook is this, school improvement is not achievable in isolation……it is not attributable to one person, but something which can only be made possible with the effort from the whole school team and that includes the students. One of the best moments for me in my career was when at the end of a school inspection one of the key strengths identified was; ’the leadership of the principal, staff and children.’ For me, that just about sums up what I want for a school.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
Simply put……first and foremost, my family, next - working with the most amazing and talented head of school and senior leadership team at Al Diyafah High School and then, the joy and privilege of having a job which allows me to be part of a school’s journey towards improvement.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
As a committed educator, I very much enjoy teaching. I have always had a great interest in further education, such as at University level. However, I am very contented in the role as Principal and therefore I would still like to achieve the sense of fulfilment from steering a school on its road to Outstanding.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
Be prepared to work hard, maintain a focus, develop your own leadership philosophy, be open to learning, retain a sense of humour and let others see your passion.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
It is a profession which offers life-long learning and on top of that, as an educator, it is possible to make a difference and to influence change in order to achieve positive outcomes for children and students. What could be more enjoyable than that?