Michelle Forbes

Empowering women and developing female leaders is a priority for the Principal and CEO of GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls, and she discusses her plans to achieve it.

Michelle ForbesTell us a little bit about your background and how you became principal at GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls (NSG).
I have over 20 years’ experience working in the education sectors in the UK and the UAE. Prior to moving to the UAE in 2011, I was an outstanding head teacher in the UK and my background is in school improvement.

In 2011, we decided to move to the UAE. From 2011-2018 I worked in Abu Dhabi, initially as a founding school principal. I moved to a role within the same organisation where I was responsible for establishing new schools and nurseries for that provider. I joined GEMS Education as principal of NSG in April 2018. My experience working with schools that have a high percentage of Emirati students was transferrable, and we can expand and develop this school based on that experience to be the flagship school that we want it to be.

What makes NSG special?
NSG is segregated from year 1 and above, which is unique for our girls. I do believe, and certain research has shown, that girls thrive in a single gender school because they can gain greater confidence in their school environment which is specifically adapted to support their learning. We have 71% Emirati students and the majority are Arabic first language speakers, but they’ve chosen the British curriculum. We offer a bespoke bilingual programme where our students in Foundation Stage have two teachers in the class to deliver the curriculum in English and Arabic, and we can ensure early years English and Arabic language development is really strong. In Primary they move to specialist teaching with Arabic-medium teachers and we focus on delivering the British curriculum in English because ultimately their exams will be taken in English.

What is your leadership style?
I think you must be flexible. My most commonly used leadership styles in this setting are authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching. In a new school, the most effective style initially is authoritative because it’s quite direct — it helps to drive aspects of performance in a new school when you’re establishing policies and procedures while ensuring the vision is communicated clearly.

What is your vision for the school?
We aim to be a world-class, innovative, and inclusive national school. We’re dedicated to developing and delivering bilingual, bi-literate, female Emirati and Arab leaders. We want them to be respectful, creative, lifelong learners with a strong national identity, firm foundations in their faith, and to be happy, resilient, and adaptable.

We’re dedicated to developing and delivering bilingual, bi-literate, female Emirati and Arab leaders.

Who inspires you?
Growing up I was always inspired by the natural world, I loved explorers and adventurers like Ranulph Fiennes and athletes like Steve Redgrave. They demonstrate leadership, determination, teamwork, and endurance. They’ve pushed themselves beyond the boundaries. I’ve been really inspired by women I’ve met here. In Abu Dhabi I met Dr Amal Al Qubaisi and she’s extremely passionate about the importance of education for young people and she was the region’s first female leader of the National Assembly, so she’s a fantastic role model.