There is a palpable sense of community at Brighton College Dubai, with visitors regularly commenting on the warm and happy atmosphere. This should come as no surprise, for this is a school that focuses on kindness and respect, the things that matter most in any environment. To find out more, Education UAE spoke to Head Master Simon Crane about his commitment to ensuring that every pupil receives an education that values personal responsibility and individual worth within a compassionate multi-cultural community.
EDUAE: As Head Master of Brighton College Dubai, what do you view as your most important contribution to the daily operations of your school?
Simon Crane: I have a presence in all aspects of the school, such as seeing the parents at drop-off and pick-up, talking to the children during break-time and lunchtime, and checking in with colleagues, which is really essential for a good school. That then sets the tone for high standards of learning; for open, honest communication, and support for the whole community.
EDUAE: How would you describe your leadership style?
Simon: Leadership must be flexible. My default position is one that is open, calm, enthusiastic, approachable, but certain situations require a very different type of leadership, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions and be dictatorial where necessary, and therefore I would describe my leadership style as being flexible.
Being a headmaster is the best job in the world!
EDUAE: Do you think you can learn leadership or are you born with it?
Simon: It’s a combination of both. I very much believe there is a leader in everybody, and that then can be harnessed through life experiences, upbringing and education.
EDUAE: What/who inspired you to join the world of education?
Simon: Being a Head Master is the best job in the world! You get to wear so many different hats, including working with young people and making a difference in society. My love of the job stems from my own experience of school, where I was inspired by good teaching, good teachers and good leaders, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. My mother was a teacher and my sister is a teacher, so I come from a family of educationalists, and saw the benefits of working in an environment where every day is different, where you are working with enthusiastic young people that have so many new ideas – it’s absolutely fascinating!
EDUAE: You clearly love your work, but how do you ensure that your teachers are motivated and happy?
Simon: You need to develop an ethos where everyone is supported at all levels. So well-being is really important. I’ve introduced, for instance, an email curfew where we don’t allow any emails after 6.00 pm or before 6.00 am to ensure there is a sensible work/life balance. We keep our teachers hungry by offering lots of continuous professional development to make sure that education tomorrow is better than today. Education should never stand still so we make sure we feed our teachers with the latest and greatest information, ideas and practices. Also, I’m a great fan of internal promotion and harnessing talent and we have the opportunity to do that being part of the Brighton College family of schools.
EDUAE: What role do you feel assessment has in raising achievement in schools?
Simon: We should never fear assessment because ultimately assessment in any form is a part of our society and our world, whether going for a job interview or when you assess a purchase in a shop or online. So I don’t think we should ever fear it; in fact, we should embrace and see it as an opportunity to showcase one’s talents and abilities. Ultimately, we all learn when we fail, so assessment is not a problem. I would certainly say that forms of assessment should be reviewed in the future and modernised. I believe we’re heading for a time when the traditional exam is historic, and we should embrace a modern way of looking at assessment where we have information at our fingertips. In the corporate world, you have that tool of the Internet available, so why not allow Internet usage in examinations?
Education should never stand still so we make sure we feed our teachers with the latest and greatest information, ideas and practices
EDUAE: Do you think in the future that exams will die away in favour of assessing the whole year’s work?
Simon: That would be a very sensible step forward. I believe there will be more combinations of assessments rather than relying on a final two-hour exam, so you can continuously assess young people and make sure their journey is on the correct trajectory at all times.
EDUAE: What do you do to make sure that pupils have high expectations of their work and themselves?
Simon: I say quite often to all of our stakeholders – parents, staff and pupils – that I make no apologies for setting the very highest standards. It starts with the basics, such as how we dress, making sure we look smart, have the correct materials and equipment. We ensure that we have a traditional set of good manners too. Once you get the foundations right that really makes a difference for how pupils will have high expectations of themselves and each other. Creating that love of learning also makes a difference, encouraging everyone to succeed.
EDUAE: How do you create that love of learning?
Simon: We have to recruit first-class teachers who are inspirational, highly qualified, experienced and can act as very positive role models to engage our young people in their learning – that is what makes the difference.
I make no apologies for setting the very highest standards
EDUAE: How important is it to be a risk-taker as a Head Master? Are you a risk-taker by nature?
Simon: I’m from a sporting background; I played competitive sport at quite a high level in the UK and was also a PE teacher. I could use any number of sporting analogies, but undoubtedly to be a winner you have to take certain risks, but I think those risks need to be calculated, well thought out and evaluated.
EDUAE: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment in education to date?
Simon: More recently, I’m delighted with the growth of pupil numbers and high parental satisfaction rates at Brighton College Dubai, as we’ve established ourselves as a competitive school in what is an incredibly competitive city. I’m very proud of what we’ve done to date, and also very proud of our wonderful examination achievements when I was at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, where we got the highest A-level results in the city.
EDUAE: One of the things parents always bring up is the bullying issue – what is your approach to student discipline?
Simon: One of our core values is a culture of kindness, along with curiosity and confidence, so we ensure we see those values at all levels. That goes a long way to allaying parental fears of bullying, which is rare, if ever, at Brighton College Dubai, and that’s also down to a fair and consistent rewards and sanctions policy that is communicated regularly to all our stakeholders and is displayed in an around the College.
One of our core values is a culture of kindness, along with curiosity and confidence
EDUAE: You mentioned the school culture – what would you say that is and how have you developed it?
Simon: Brighton College Dubai is a friendly, happy, dynamic school for pupils aged 3-18; we develop a lifelong love of learning and treat every child as an individual, and that then embraces those values of curiosity, confidence and kindness.
EDUAE: Finally, you obviously enjoyed your schooldays, as you mentioned earlier, but were there any teachers that particularly inspired you?
Simon: Yes, I always remember my PE teacher when I was in senior school, who said to me when I was running a cross-country race in the middle of February in the snow, thinking this is horrendous and saying to my PE teacher, “I can’t carry on.” She turned round to me and said, “There’s no such word as can’t,” and I always remember that moment and I think that instilled a natural sense of resilience into me, which I carried forward into my university life and my career.