Kevin Loft

The Principal & CEO, Gems Wellington Academy — Silicon Oasis discusses his desire for teachers to have autonomy over their environments and how they can be better supported to encourage this.

Tell us a bit about your background in education.
I’ve been in education for about 20 years and 15 of those years have been in leadership roles. I’ve been with GEMS Education for nine years and played different roles in different schools. I started here at GEMS Wellington Academy — Silicon Oasis (WSO) in September last year.

What is your vision for WSO?
There are 326 teachers and 650 staff members, so the challenge is making sure there is a clear vision and bringing all those different personalities together to make sure everyone is headed in the same direction. Inspections are good in that regard because it ensures everyone works together to achieve the same goals. A key part of the bigger picture is moving the school from ‘very good’ to ‘outstanding’ which we hope to do in the next year or two.

What is your leadership style and how do you approach to your role?
I’m a big believer in professional trust — employ the right people and then get out of their way. As a CEO or executive principal, our job is to define the perimeters and let people get on with the job. I want them to be active learners in their environment so that they can take the lead on certain issues and have the freedom to make decisions themselves.

How do you encourage that autonomy in your staff?
I accept failure. When you expect people to act autonomously you must also give them the space to try new things. But they need to know that you accept that if they’re trying new things, sometimes things aren’t going to work. That acceptance creates an environment where people feel supported but are also brave enough to take those new steps. If something doesn’t work, we learn from it and then we move on to the next challenge.

What do you think is special about WSO?
We offer our students the best opportunities we can, whether it’s our range of curriculum pathways or our performing arts programme, we ensure the school takes students from the age three to 18 and don’t let them slip through the system at any point.

What overall developments would you like to see in the education sector?
I think one area that has gone backwards is the investment in teacher training. A four-year degree is now a three-year degree. I think that the way forward is proper investment in teacher training, rather than trying to retrain them once they’re already in the job and telling them: “This is what we teach, this how we teach, and this is when we teach, now go do it.” To me that’s not training someone to be a teacher, that’s training someone to do what they’re told. We need teachers that are going to work with the students to define the direction of their learning. The curriculum will help set that direction, but teachers should be listening to the kids and listening to themselves. The only way to achieve that is to train teachers to have the confidence to do it.

What opportunities has GEMS Education afforded you?
In my time in GEMS I’ve worked on the Arabic and Islamic Working Party and I’m currently chairing the Inclusion Working Party. I play a role on the Varkey Foundation and I’m involved in the Global Teacher Prize and Varkey Teacher Ambassadors. GEMS Education gives you that opportunity to step outside your role during ‘normal hours’ and do other things. ‘Opportunity’ is the word I always use to describe my time in GEMS Education.

What makes WSO unique:

  • Blended curriculum pathways
    The school has recently received approval to add A-levels into its programme and will offer students a more defined pathway moving forward. WSO offers diploma and career-path programmes, BTech’s, A-levels and will soon offer a combined A-level BTech programme.
  • Performing arts
    ArtsEd has come on board for WSO to be their showcase school. Although they work with several schools throughout Dubai, WSO will be the main centre that they work out from. This will take a performing arts programme that is already successful to the next level.
  • Sports
    Rugby is prioritised for development in the school, with teams having some success recently. A key area of improvement includes building a grass pitch. Having that facility is the next goal for improving sport in the school.

GEMS Wellington Academy — Silicon Oasis is now the only IB World school to offer A levels in the UAE.