We get to know Stephen Brecken, the recently appointed Principal/CEO of The Cambridge High School – Abu Dhabi
Tell us about your background in education.
I was born in Harrogate, Yorkshire but educated in Scotland. I trained as a PE teacher at Leeds University (Carnegie) and qualified in 1993, so I have been in education for 26 years. I have been a senior leader in schools since 2005 and was a headteacher in the UK before I moved to Abu Dhabi to take up the role of Vice Principal at The Cambridge High School – Abu Dhabi (CHS) in August 2017. I became Principal in 2019.
What attracted you to GEMS Education and CHS?
To be honest, it was my first conversation with Carolyn Bailey, who was the principal at the time. We just ‘clicked’ and I knew immediately that we would work well together. She was honest about CHS and, most importantly, where she wanted to take the school in terms of its developmental journey. I was convinced that I could help shape that journey, so I did my research and felt it was the right move to fulfil a lifelong ambition of mine to work overseas. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I have always said that the day I come home from school not having learnt or seen something new is the day to give it all up. Fortunately, that day has yet to arrive.”
How would you describe your approach to education? What is your vision for the school?
I am a firm believer in doing things that are going to have a positive impact on students. They are our core purpose and everything we do in school must be in their best interests. My vision is for all of us at CHS to work together to provide the best education for all our children, and I build upon a USP of ‘know, like and trust’. This is a very simple philosophy, but one I feel is crucial to the success of not just our school but any school. Education is about parents putting their trust in us to deliver the best possible holistic education for their children. You must earn that trust, and that is why ‘know, like and trust’ is so important.
What, for you, are the big issues, challenges and opportunities across the education sector?
For me, one of the biggest challenges is consistency. Children in all schools deserve a consistent approach to their education. It is what I look for all the time from my staff. I want them to get the basics right, which then provides the opportunity for children to flourish both in and outside the classroom. It is the same when it comes to external examinations. There are many different examination boards but I believe, especially in British curriculum schools, that we would benefit from having just one exam board that administers all the subjects in Years 11, 12 and 13. This would prevent exam clashes for students, it would give one common grading system and would make it a level playing field as students embark on their next pathway toward future employment.
Who or what do you look to for inspiration, both on a professional and personal level?
On a professional level I look for inspiration from my colleagues. The teachers, admin and support staff are the heartbeat of the school, and seeing how they deal with students day in, day out is inspirational. I have always said that the day I come home from school not having learnt or seen something new is the day to give it all up. Fortunately, that day has yet to arrive and I don’t think it ever will. On a personal level my wife and daughter inspire me. They are both so supportive and I am very fortunate to have them in my life. Family is immensely important to me and they give me the drive to be the best I can be as a father and a husband.
Tell us one thing about you that your students might be surprised to learn?
I am quite a good cook. I once auditioned for Masterchef in the UK and actually got through to the part where contestants appear on TV. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the filming as I was in school, so that cut short my moment of fame.