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Bringing the Best Out in Everybody: An Interview with John Maguire of The British School of Bahrain

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Behind every successful education innovation is a problem-solving leader. From supporting their staff and inspiring a positive culture to envisioning the best outcomes for students – education leaders are at the core of creating enriching learning experiences. As part of Gulf Insider’s Excellence in Education Leadership series, we converse with Bahrain’s leading educators, highlighting their stories, their impact, and the steps they have taken to improve the quality of education for students in the Kingdom.

How would you describe the role of an education leader?

Leading this school, for me is about bringing the best out in everybody – the staff and the students while providing opportunities and a culture to enable everyone to thrive. It’s about establishing an ethos for everyone to function within. As an education leader, it’s important to challenge the status quo even if there’s resistance because the school won’t develop if there’s a sense of apathy. 

What, in your opinion, is the key to providing enriching learning experiences to students?

It all starts with the culture. Students have got to be happy and feel safe. No matter how many opportunities you provide, they won’t actually take those opportunities unless they feel safe to do so. If the students are happy and the parents are happy and they feel safe, then they’ll take more risks. We offer 250 different free-of-charge enrichment activities after school. They range from Japanese art to learning new languages and elite sports, to music clubs. As long as you’ve got passionate staff, which we do, it’s about encouraging the students to take those opportunities and stick with them. 

We’ve also recently developed in the area of student-led opportunities, such as international conferences and BritMUN, giving them the platform to lead. Girl Up is another such event, where students are talking about the problems and challenges facing women in society at the moment.

What are some of the innovations at your institution that promote quality education?

We were renowned during the pandemic for being incredibly innovative. We were the first school to go entirely live with teaching and led the way within the country for what education should look like during the pandemic. Since then we’ve kept that sense of innovation going. We were recognised by Gulf Insider with an Education Innovation Award in 2022. We’ve got a really ambitious and innovative sustainability roadmap. We’ve got a student wellbeing programme, which I presented at the Covid Conference in London and won an award for recently. It comes back to that culture where we’re always trying to do something new irrespective of whether they work or not. 

Technology and AI are changing the world. How are they changing education?

Thankfully, we are on the first train of AI. Whenever it comes to technology and education, too many schools think of how that can change their education. You’re much better off looking at your school and asking what problems can technology solve. However, it won’t work if you’re looking to build a technology-led school. 

We’re all about student-personalised learning and InspirED AI is something we’re trial-running this year. It’s a machine-learning model where students get a diagnostic assessment, and based on that, the students will have a series of questions and guidance best suited to them. That’s a great example of how AI can aid personalised learning.

I would say, however, there is a real caveat with AI. Many fear it rather than embrace it but it has a place in education. Even as students dissect the accuracy of the information it can produce. That higher-order skill of analysis is much better for them. The fear stems from the fact that AI could have an impact on ending coursework. That would worry me as an educator because coursework is important for students and is an integral part of education. 

Can you describe a recent student success story from your institution?

There are a lot of stories. One that springs to mind is the absolutely fantastic year our music program has had. British School of Bahrain won at the Middle East level and received many commendations. We’ve had lots of individual and team successes in the Bahrain basketball and football leagues as well as in golf. One of our students just secured a scholarship to go back to a prestigious school in the UK on a full golf scholarship. We’ve had three Crown Prince scholarships this year. One going off to the USA on a fully-funded scholarship, and two going off to the UK. Overall, it’s been a great year for the school.

What was the best thing that happened to you when you were young?

Anytime I actually took an opportunity and learned a huge amount from it was the best thing. Whether that was a leadership opportunity at university or at school – the best part of my youth was saying yes to opportunities. I’ve learned so much in my career and my personal life. 

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