THE rollercoaster world of the British School of Bahrain (BSB) has taken a new twist and turn with the news that its head of school is stepping down. At the same time, the head of its senior school has suddenly departed.
Students and their families were informed this week that Inspired, which recently took over ownership of the school, had appointed Jeff Smith, currently director and CEO of Deira International School in Dubai, for the top post before the new school year starts in September.
He steps into the newly-created position of overall executive head and will also fulfil the role of head of the senior school from August 20, replacing Julie Anne Gilbert who has ‘expressed her wish’ to return to a previous role of head of infants. Mystery surrounds the decision to dispense of the services of head of secondary school, Khalil Ahmed.
“Jeff will be leading the school, including the senior school, with an extremely strong team,” said Nadim Nsouli, founder and chairman of Inspired, which boasts more than 30 schools and 24,000 students on its books. “We are extremely excited that we were able to attract Jeff to BSB and are investing significantly in upgrading the teaching and learning at the school.”
In terms often associated with the axing of a football manager or company executive, he added: “Khalil Ahmed is pursuing other opportunities.”
The move has stunned the community and shocked former students. Former star pupil Yannis Panagis, who is currently studying at Imperial College London, was a student at the British School of Bahrain from Year 8 up until the time he finished his A-Levels in Year 13. He said: “During this time I had support from teachers and staff alike to pursue my extracurricular interests such as running and music, and develop my academic areas of interest in science, technology and English Literature.
“The Senior Leadership Team was often a point of contact to accelerate social projects and ventures, particularly in my roles as head prefect and as secretary general of BRITMUN and was very helpful in this regard. I wish Mr Ahmed the best of success in his future career.”
Stunned Mr Ahmed, who was also a former head of the school’s University Foundation programme and Business Studies teacher, said he was unable to comment at this time.
As reported earlier, pupils at BSB started the 2016 school year under the wings of its popular deputy Julie Anne when she stepped up to take over the reins. She joined BSB as a class teacher in reception in 2003 when Bill Frost, the school’s first principal, was in charge, and replaced Dr Charles Wall whose sometimes turbulent three-year-tenure ended with a move to Pakistan to join Karachi Grammar School.
The appointment came as an incredible comeback as she was part of an exodus of staff members who either left or didn’t have their contracts renewed when Dr Wall took over from Karen Moffat, who was axed in the midst of a multi-million dinar expansion project and following an ‘outstanding’ independent assessment.
Julie Anne’s decision to step down was explained at a presentation to parents and staff last week. She told GulfWeekly: “I made a request to return to my previous role which is actually where I really belong and plays to my strengths. There’s not enough children in the admin building. I’m totally straightforward, I said this is what I would like to do and everyone was happy with that.”
The position became vacant as Feriha Gauntlett and her husband, Rob, assistant head of seniors, announced they were moving to Dubai.
Coming in the opposite direction will be Mr Smith who will hoping it’s not a poisoned chalice judging from the longevity of previous incumbents since Mr Frost returned to the UK after leading the school for eight years.
He packs plenty of experience having joined the teaching profession in the UK as a physics graduate, rising swiftly up the ranks to head of science and deputy head. He moved overseas to Indonesia for his first headship in 2003 at the British International School in Jakarta, moved back to Europe to lead Guernsey Grammar School and during his six year spell at Deira International School has helped it grow from 1,100 to 1,700 students and improve its assessment from ‘acceptable’ to ‘outstanding’.
Inspired’s group education director Dr Stephen Spurr, a former Eton College head of classics, headmaster of Clifton College and Westminster School, is confident their new man is well up for the challenge.
“After a global search, his name came right to the top of the pile,” he told GulfWeekly. “He said to us that this is an excellent school and will be the outstanding school on the island of Bahrain and he could see, as we at Inspired could see, its fantastic potential.”
In a letter to parents, he added that Mr Smith, was known for his ‘high expectations of students and staff, his drive and ambition and his track record of successful and sustainable school improvement’.
“These are exciting times for the school. With the acquisition of the school by Inspired, the appointment of Jeff Smith as executive head and head of the senior school, the newly defined and strengthened management structure working with him, including Julie Anne Gilbert as head of infants and Robert Howe as head of juniors, we shall have a leadership team in place in September of the highest calibre and can look forward to a flourishing future.” Dr Spurr added.
His views were echoed by Clarissa Farr, Inspired’s senior advisor, a former headmistress of the top-ranking UK girls’ school, St Paul’s. “We conducted a worldwide search and Jeff has the passion for education, the interpersonal skills and the experience of leading large communities which made him perfectly suited for the position and we feel extremely fortunate to have been able to recruit him, and also, that he is able to start immediately in September to carry on the excellent work of Julie Anne.
“We feel it is very good news for the school and he has already visited it and made an extremely positive impression. He is approachable, like Julie Anne, and I think he is going to bring a great feeling of confidence into the school.”
During his third trip over to visit the school last week he spoke to teachers, administration staff and made time to chat to pupils in the playground.
The school currently has 2,650 pupils on its rolls and Dr Spurr revealed that a search for additional land continues. Inspired wants to build a separate senior school which would allow more space on its current Hamala campus for younger pupils.
In the meantime, improvements will be carried out during the summer holidays to provide ‘greater sporting facilities’ by extending the artificial pitch surface and adding tennis and netball courts. BSB is also looking to ‘refresh’ its drama and music facilities too, he added.
Ellen van Manen-de Boer, chairman of the interim Parent Community Association (PCA) for 2017/2018, whose son, Pim, will be in Y13 and amongst the last students to take the International Baccalaureat (IB) programme at the school, was bullish about the future.
“I feel we are very lucky that Inspired has chosen BSB as its first school in the Middle East. Change is always difficult but with a renowned international educational group managing BSB I think we can embrace the changes and see it as a positive way forward, however difficult it may be for some,” she said.
“We have been through some tough times at BSB with the recent management changes and it makes me happy as a parent to see that Inspired is fully engaged into rebuilding our community again.”
She added that she was yet to meet the new man in charge but his ‘reputation precedes him’. “As a parent I can only welcome the new possibilities he will create for BSB - I think Jeff Smith will be an asset for the school and the wider Bahrain community,” she said.
She decline to comment on Mr Ahmed’s situation, saying: “We don’t know what happened.”
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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