Last year, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com joined Dubai's newest founding principals as they negotiated the construction, set-up and launch processes across each of their brand-new schools.
Now, as their inaugural academic year comes to a close, we visit the schools again, this time to ask their founding principals what they’ve learned and enjoyed during their first roller-coaster year at the ‘helm.’
We speak to Patrick Lee Browne, founding principal at Kent College about his first year leading this quintessentially British import.
Describe your school in one paragraph?
We are a busy thriving educational community, we keep our promises and are a school that is here to stay. We have a true sister school in the UK, and as a second campus school this is part of our fabric - the management teams in both schools plan and share ideas; our Arabic staff teach lessons to pupils in Canterbury via Skype; we are live streaming an assembly to Canterbury during Ramadan; a group of our Year 5 and 6 pupils have been on a trip to work and play alongside their peers in Canterbury. These concepts that were just ideas in the school development plan at the beginning of the year have become reality in a matter of months.
Visitors to the school frequently refer to the ‘warmth’ and strong sense of community they notice; that may be an intangible trait but it’s also one that does set us apart and gives us part of our distinct character. We set high standards, but we are also very inclusive, in keeping with the ethos and founding principles of the school in Canterbury.
Describe the last year in 3 words:
Challenging, successful, fun.
What have you learned about yourself over the past year as a founding principal?
That we go on learning throughout our lives, and that a genuinely integrated 3-18 through school is a wonderfully vibrant environment to work in.
Have you enjoyed being a 'founding' principal as opposed to simply a 'principal? If so, can you explain the main differences and why you enjoyed them?
The satisfaction of being the founding principal is in seeing the project come to fruition, and the careful planning turn into the living, dynamic school that we are today. It’s satisfying to track the consequences of myriad individual decisions at the planning stage and appreciate how they fit into the whole picture - and learn from those that could have been better!
Having the opportunity to work with a brand new team is very rewarding, as is the experience of watching it grow and develop a character and life of its own. Although the academic plan and the building design were completed before my involvement, I have been able to influence almost all other aspects of the school to ensure it genuinely re-visions our sister school in Canterbury, and we have been very lucky in being a team that shares the same values and has very quickly established a common vision for the school.
Are you ‘on-track’ with your plans for year one outcomes? If not, can you explain?
As a new stand-alone school without any ‘form’ in the UAE we have exceeded expectations in terms of our pupil numbers, the completeness of our educational provision and in having a finished campus with all our facilities available and in use by the start of the summer term. We have a really supportive community of parents, and hard working and well-qualified staff who have made sure that the school has got off to an excellent start. We have established a rigorous and effective tracking and assessment system for pupils, we have put on a very healthy number of concerts and drama performances, and our sports teams have excelled in many of the school sports leagues already. So yes, we are!
Have there been any surprising positives over the last year, that you didn't expect?
You might expect me to extol the school's virtues but when I read reports written about KCD being a school with a real ‘Wow’ factor I know we have got something right! I’ve been very pleased with the initial numbers of pupils, and the in-year growth that we experienced as well.
Did you experience things you didn’t expect/plan for? How did you overcome these?
Of course, we all have a vision of the strategic and end goals we want to achieve, but these take time and have to be adjusted along the way. I think the term ‘pioneering’ sums up the attitude of staff to achieve what we have done this year, manoeuvring round and over the bumps and achieving what we have, which is a caring, warm yet focused environment for pupils to excel both in and out of the classroom. The school’s Learner Profile, which we created early in the year, includes qualities such as open-mindedness, resilience, creativity, resourcefulness and courage. Our ambition is for all our pupils to acquire and develop those qualities by the time they leave the school, and the staff have certainly been modelling them in overcoming unexpected issues in the course of the year!
If you could go back one year in time and give one piece of advice to your old self, what would it be?
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle!
And this'll help things turn out for the best...
What will be your primary focus for year two?
To build on our first year’s achievement: excellent classroom teaching for our pupils, a full and varied extracurricular programme and the wellbeing and professional development for our staff. To integrate the new pupils and staff who will be joining us in September so that they play a full part in the life of the school from the very start of the year, and to ensure that we sustain the healthy equilibrium we have achieved after our pioneering first year.