I started my career as a music teacher, at Dulwich College in London. Then I moved to become a Head of Performing Arts at a comprehensive school in Sussex, where I grew up. My next move was to become Deputy Head in an all-boys comprehensive school in the outskirts of London. From there, I got my first headship in a grammar school in Gloucester. I joined Kent College around 15 years ago and have seen my own sons attend the school and develop lots of wonderful, lifelong and international friendships as a result.
I am a big believer in lifelong learning. I took a Masters degree when I wanted to become a Head of Department. I took an MBA when I wanted to look at senior leadership in schools, and then a Doctorate when I became a school leader. I’ve been fortunate enough to lead schools for 22 years in total now.
Well, I hope that what unites them is the same focus on the individual child that we have always had in Canterbury. That is something that is easy to say, but not necessarily so easy to deliver! It’s about getting the curriculum right for each and every child. You can see that at Kent College Dubai with the recent introduction of the IB Diploma into the Sixth form, alongside A Levels and BTECs.
Our schools are inclusive schools, and that will always be important to us. The UK school is one of the top schools in the UK and yet it is inclusive…some of the other schools that join us in that top ten list are very highly selective. I think we can be very proud of that fact.
Pastoral care is a top priority in every Kent College school. It’s about helping students in the right way. It is never, in Kent College, a one size fits all approach.
Our clear philosophy is getting the right programme for the right child. I don’t want there to be a Kent College ‘way’ I would much rather we had a Jeffrey way, or a Sarah way! We want something that is unique for each child. At my schools, everyone doesn’t have to fit in to the same peg holes. We adapt. We change the programme. With children with particular needs, or children who are gifted and talented we have bespoke programmes. It’s about having the right resources for each and every child.
To be honest, I don’t. We introduced IB in 2010, and that split hasn’t really changed much over the years. The IB isn’t for everyone, and that’s not just about it being ‘difficult’. The IB requires six subjects to be studied, so students who like to study lots of different things want to choose the IB and children who want to specialise tend to choose A Levels. Then again, students who want to be particularly focused on a field and prefer to be assessed in lots of different ways will choose a vocational qualification.
We have a farm at the school, and that has been important because a significant number of our local population are farmers. It is the garden of England, Kent, and yes, it is very beautiful. Our location attracts students from around the world. At our Dubai school we have something like 86 different nationalities, but in Canterbury we have 46, which is pretty impressive! We have lots of international students who come to us because of our reputation and our location, and that is just great.
Oh! Every time I visit, I learn some new things. Every time! A school like Kent College Dubai has teachers are coming from different parts of the world with different experiences…that is such a valuable and rich resource. In my learning walk around the Dubai school, I had two documents open … one where I was identifying and recording all the best practice I was seeing, and for the other for photographs and notes.
A good example from Kent College Dubai are the wellbeing checks that are made via an online resource called Pulse. I think that is going to be great for us back in Canterbury. Wellbeing and mental health are really high priorities in education, wherever you are in the world. The children get asked about six questions every week and then you can track that over the time, how their mood is changing. It is very clever and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my colleagues in the UK.
At Kent College we are a family of schools. A culture of tolerance, kindness and simply being together and being connected is really important. We have members of staff transferring from Dubai to Canterbury and vice versa and we want to encourage more of that as the family of schools grows bigger.
Of course, I am looking for someone with a strategic view, but the most important thing in Kent College senior leaders, middle leaders and classroom leaders is people who have the welfare and the progress of children at heart. I never want to hear about Kent College giving up on a student, that would upset me greatly. I always want to find how we can give each child the extra chance to put something right if it goes wrong.
It is entirely possible that there might be a second school in the UAE, yes. Of course, we will be opening Kent College West Cairo in September 2022, and we think that will be just our school first in Egypt.
Once you have one very successful international school with a good reputation, as we have in Dubai, then investors around the world take note. In fact, we are finalists in the Education Investor Awards, coming up soon. I can’t tell you where the other places in the world that we are looking at are, but we have another couple of projects that we are seriously considering and new ideas cross my desk every week!