The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017 launches its very first educational influencers for 2017. Through their hard-work and pioneering initiatives these individuals share one thing in common - they are all shaping and changing the UAE's education landscape for the better...
The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017
By C Hoppe
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Andy Gibbs

Gibbs arrived back in 2011 as principal of the not-for-profit secondary school DESC before being promoted to overall principal of both DESC and DESS (the UAE’s oldest British School) in 2014.

Gibbs has made it his express mission to expand the reach and offer significantly more seats in the highly regarded not-for-profit school. In December 2016 he did so at a level no one could have foreseen,  announcing the annexation of the land and buildings of closing DPS-Academy to launch the biggest dedicated UK curriculum 6th form in the country.


How long have you worked in the UAE?
Approaching 6 years.

What made you choose the education sector?
Teachers who inspired me as a child and teenager. Upon leaving university I actually worked as a trader on the money markets in the City of London before I became a teacher, but after 3 years forsook material gains for, in my view, a more intrinsically rewarding and satisfying career path.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
The economic status quo will always have a bearing on how buoyant, or not, the sector is.  The arrival of so many new schools has certainly added a competitive edge to the market, however I do think such schools, however well affiliated and supported, face a real challenge in establishing themselves.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?  
From 2002 to 2006 leading and building a very successful and popular 6th form at a school in the UK where academic and co-curricular achievements became highly regarded - in the meantime learning a huge amount about leadership from a head-teacher I respected greatly.

I learned more form him than any formal leadership qualification can ever give you.  On top of that, I'm not sure about milestones per se, but there have been some key moments where incrementally I began to realise that leadership, and even whole-school leadership, were levels of responsibility I wanted; equally, I was gradually constructing, in my own mind, the type of school(s) I wanted to lead, and the type of people I wanted to work with... and, inevitably, didn't want to work with!  

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
Whilst I hope there will be others in years to come - I am very proud, being the former DESC headteacher, of the placement of DESC on the education landscape of Dubai as a highly respected, inclusive and progressive school - one that encourages enjoyment, achievement and growth in all.  

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
The alarm clock; every day producing different experiences; working with talented and committed colleagues........who are a pleasure to work and spend time with.  I cannot, for example, sing the praises highly enough of my two DESSC "Wing Commanders", Catherine Dando and Chris Vizzard, headteachers of DESS and DESC respectively.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?  
Gosh, I think there's enough to be getting on with at DESS and DESC, especially with the recent announcement that DESC is expanding onto a neighbouring site - a challenging development, yet one that is ultimately exciting, invigorating and engaging.  Beyond this: keep listening, watching and learning.  

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?  
Retain a sense of circumspection and humour when things don't go well.  I haven't always managed to do this and retrospectively wish I hadn't wasted so much negative energy! On top of that: understand your own strengths and weaknesses.  Being a leader does not mean you are, or can be, skilled and knowledgeable about all aspects of an organisation - have an "inch deep, mile wide" grasp of things; if you need to dig deeper, choose the times when you do prudently and have access to good advice from people you implicitly trust and know are very competent (i.e. recruit well!).

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
Supporting and facilitating the development of young people, initially as a teacher - when apart from looking to impart and share a love of my subject I derived an enormous amount from contributing to the co-curricular life of the schools I worked in; 16 foreign visits, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, a large number of sports teams, public speaking, national mock trial competitions and so on.  Great experiences, young people I can still recall by name and face (in some cases from 26 years ago!) and in many ways the most rewarding days of my career.  

As you develop and earn positions of leadership your span of responsibility (and thus role as an influencer) increases.  When this happens, especially at the point where you become a school leader/head-teacher/principal, your enjoyment comes from the business of enabling others, staff and young people, to deliver on a vision that you have helped construct.

Underpinning everything: seeing children, young adults and staff working in vibrant, energised, ambitious and successful schools - schools you would love to have gone to yourself and, should you have them, want for your own children. 

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