Even as I begin to write this blog, I can feel a swell of emotion. With exception of Allah Almighty, everything begins and must have an end. My time at PACT is almost complete. It has been a privilege and an honour to lead Prince Albert Primary as its Headteacher and then the PACT as CEO. It felt surreal sitting on an aeroplane having been offered a job in Dubai. Since saying yes, I am awash with emotion, reflection and it has to be said, anticipation of loss of one of the great loves of my life – this job. It is a decision I didn’t have to make, a job I didn’t have to leave, so why? Why at this crucial stage of the Trust’s development; with PA High only in its second year, with schools about to join am I walking away. Why am I leaving the communities I have served for nearly 25 years at a time of great challenge? And why indeed is the move to a prestigious fee paying school half way around the world? All good, perfectly reasonable questions that I have been grappling with for many months and not just to have answers when they are inevitably asked by friends and colleagues.
Having thought about and reflected on whether to leave or stay I have reached some conclusions to satisfy myself that this is the right thing to do both for myself, my family and for PACT. A hallmark of effective leadership and a healthy organisation is that its success is not contingent on the person leading. I’m no Liverpool fan but arguably the most successful manager in the club’s history was Bob Paisley. Bill Shankly built the club, gave it unprecedented success but those who followed made it even more successful. Not wanting to upset any Manchester United fans, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson left very different legacies. Both hugely successful leaders but their departures led to a significant decline in the club’s fortunes.
PACT will continue to grow and thrive without me. The Trust under the leadership of Philipa Sherlock-Lewis (more about her later) will continue to be limitless in its ambition for both the pupils and the staff. It will continue to strive for excellence and to smash glass ceilings for underserved communities.
I have served underserved communities in inner-city Birmingham for a quarter of a century. I have led transformation in failing schools, I have inspired and motivated people to be better and to achieve more than they thought they could be. At Prince Primary, as a headteacher I led perhaps the very best school I have ever known. I dreamt of an extra-ordinary secondary school serving my community with the aim completely flipping conventions of what should be expected of and achieved by young people from our community. That school is alive and kicking and achieving the paradigm shift that I dreamed of. I am satisfied that I have made the difference I set out to make when I started my teaching career – in fact I could not have imagined then, the difference I would make.
None of what I have achieved as leader could have been possible without my mum’s prayers and my wife’s unwavering support. And not least because of the wonderful colleagues I have been blessed to work with, particularly since becoming a headteacher in 2009. The one person who has been by my side throughout, has understood me, helped me encouraged me and inspired me is my deputy, Phillipa Sherlock-Lewis. There is no better person in the world than Phillipa to lead PACT
after me. She understands the organisation better than anyone, she believes in the purpose and ambition as strongly as I do. She has been a driving force in PACT’s success from the very beginning. In a world that is fundamentally inequitable, in a sector in which there is still too much prejudice, she has been the greatest of allies. We simply could not have done it without her.
I have always had a yearning to work internationally. Last year I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t move soon it would probably never happen. I began speaking to people who had done it and an initial thought grew to an interest in international schools in the Middle East in particular. When I saw the advert for the Kings’ group in Dubai what intrigued me was that a group of schools thousands of miles away serving completely different communities expressed a set of values that resonated and felt like PACT values. The words of course are different, the sentiment and the intention are completely aligned. When visiting Kings’ Dubai last term, I was completely blown away by the Early Years set up in which the learning environment is crucial in learning and developing the creativity, independence and language skills of the pupils. It was so Prince Albert Primary that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it! The passionate and knowledgeable AHT leading the walk-around reminded me so much of colleagues at Prince Albert Primary when I first started headship.
Kings Al Barsha, the school I will lead from the autumn term is one that boasts over 80 nationalities amongst its 2800 strong (and growing) pupil population. It is a hugely ambitious school with a strong culture and strong values. My brief is to make it one of the best schools in the world. This is of course a life changing move for my family too. For my younger children it will provide the opportunity to attend a school with world class facilities where they will gain a truly global perspective by being surrounded by many different nationalities, cultures and languages.
I will look back on my time at PACT with great fondness. I made a number of promises on my appointment in March 2009. I can say with a degree of confidence that I was true to my word. I will keep a close eye on PACT, as a friend and an admirer, to see the schools go from strength to strength. Over to you Phillipa…