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Case Study:
GEMS Education

Leading CPD International - School Leadership

GEMS Founders School, Dubai, established in 2006, is an all-through national curriculum school catering for 6,200 students from ages three to eighteen. Matthew Burfield, the Executive Principal and CEO, has been instrumental in its growth and success, drawing on his extensive experience in education leadership both locally and internationally.  

Recognising the importance of continuous professional development, Matthew and his team embarked on a journey to enhance learning opportunities for all staff members, in all roles. They identified a gap in CPD for non-educator roles, such as administrators and support staff, and opted to join The National College which provides all staff with personalised training opportunities. 

Reflecting on his impressive career in education to date, Matthew said: “I became a headteacher when I was 31 years old. I was a headteacher of a small school in Athens, Greece. That was my first international school experience. At that time, I looked after 400 children.” 

“Now, I'm Executive Principal and CEO of GEMS Founders School, Dubai, which is an all-through national curriculum school here in Dubai. I was the founding principal, and spent the last eight years doing that. Alongside that, four years ago, I was asked to take on a vice president role, which is now a senior vice president of education role in GEMS, which means I oversee a cluster of schools,” he explained. 

"This started with three schools, and I now have eight schools with 22,000 children in total. One school is in Sharjah, one is in Abu Dhabi and the other six are here in Dubai.”

Self-directed, personalised learning 

Matthew and his team explored various CPD platforms but chose The National College as it offers self-directed learning and the ability to personalise content for all staff. The platform’s comprehensive range of content, developed by world-leading education experts, further strengthened the school’s decision. 

Matthew commented: “I worked with Jamie Ganley previously, and we had a great partnership. When he moved to The National College, he suggested that we look at the platform. I trusted that if he was telling me the product was good, it was probably worth investigating.” 

“We did a small pilot where we were given access to the platform. We found that there was the ability for our colleagues to have this real self-directed approach to learning.” 

He continued: “There are a lot of platforms out there, but the ability to be able to personalise the experience and feel that it was made for you, that was a really unique selling point and something that we really liked.” 

“We became convinced that we wanted to use it for the Founders School, and then we decided that we wanted to use it for the whole GEMS group,” he said. 

Personal development for all staff 

Using The National College, GEMS is aiming to create a culture where staff are actively engaged in their professional growth, leading to improvements in student outcomes.  

Matthew said: “Professional development is critical across the structure of our schools. We are great at developing leaders, we’ve never had a problem with that.” 

“But we did have a big gap in training for our non-educator roles, administrators, support staff and operation teams. Schools don’t work without those individuals, so it was definitely an area of focus,” he continued. 

“We really wanted to make sure that we had something that encompassed all of those roles as well. Our strategy was that all staff, non-educators and educators, should have a personal development pathway.” 

“We really want all of our staff to have access to a centrally driven platform,” he nodded. 

Celebrating learning 

Throughout challenges such as the recent flooding in Dubai, Matthew and his team took the opportunity to use the National College platform for online professional development. 

Matthew explained: “We’ve recently had some flooding in Dubai, which you might have heard about. We provided all our staff with their logins and had 622 users access the platform during that time. They were posting their certificates on LinkedIn, sharing and celebrating their learning. It was great.” 

“Our staff even continued sharing their certificates over the weekend, so they continued it in their personal time as they were enjoying it that much,” he added. 

“Since we returned to school, we have seen that they are already applying that learning. We’ve seen it throughout their lessons.” 

“What we will hopefully have started is that real love of engaging with the platform and using it in their teaching practice,” Matthew added. 

“I think the range of content available on the platform is amazing. That’s definitely one of the main reasons that we signed up.” 

Enriching education 

GEMS has embraced the National College platform as a cornerstone of its professional development strategy, with early indicators suggesting positive outcomes for both staff and students. As they continue, they remain focused on realising their vision of empowering every staff member to drive their own professional learning journey, ultimately enriching the educational experience for all students. 

Matthew said: “We’re hoping that the platform will provide the ability for all of our staff, no matter what level they’re at, no matter what role they have in the school, they will develop their own personal development pathway.” 

“My real vision for it when we first established the partnership, and I genuinely believe that we will get to this point, is that colleagues just see it as the norm every week to log on to the platform and access content that excited them. We want them to discover things that they’re passionate about.” 

He added: “We’re excited for staff to be able to engage in something and have the ability to access so much learning regularly, constantly on any device. It’s really going to inspire them to come in and keep using techniques which will improve their practice.”