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Meet Mr Gabet - Head of Transition

As announced at the end of August, Mr. François-Xavier Gabet joined the French International School of Hong Kong last Monday 16 September as Head of Transition. As such, his mission will be to help the school to transition from the Convention model into the Partnership one. He has just arrived from London where he served as Headmaster of the Collège Français Bilingue de Londres (CFBL). These words of introduction will help you get to know him better. 

 

A professional life dedicated to education worldwide

A few weeks ago, as I was cleaning up, I stumbled upon an old essay I had written for my German class in Terminale (Y13). The topic was “How do you see your future after you graduate from high school?” and I had written that I wanted to become a teacher and teach abroad. I had no recollection of writing this, but it is exactly how things turned out in the end.

I started my career as a Lower Primary teacher in the suburbs of Lille, in the north of France. I have always liked being around students, and as a matter of fact I am still in touch with some of them who are now 33 years old! My wife Anne, who is French-Australian, is also a teacher. We met in Senegal in a humanitarian setting.

As we were motivated to live abroad, we moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1994. We taught at the French school there, with an additional mission to provide academic guidance. Our two children, Manon and Félix, were born there.

After six years and as we were looking for a new challenge, I applied to be a teacher in the United States. I ended up being hired by a public American institution for whom I developed French-language teaching programmes. 

Later, we briefly went back to France as we grew homesick, but once there we also faced the famous “cultural shock” most expats go through when they go back to their home country. We then decided to move to Australia and settled in Melbourne, where I started to teach French at Monash University.

I was then called to work in a local Australian school that offered French-language immersion programmes. My mission was to have the school accredited and integrated into the AEFE network. We acted as an independent structure within a larger school. The Melbourne French School (Ecole Française de Melbourne - EFM) received the AEFE accreditation in 2008. It was a true victory for the team I was coordinating, especially as the following year the school was distinguished for its academic excellence and announced best school in the State of Victoria. That success made me ready to look for new challenges and then I was offered to go to London.

 

A successful experience in creating a Convention-model school that later transitioned into AEFE Partnership

In 2010, I was appointed by AEFE to create a new school in London in order to ease the congestion faced by the Lycée Charles de Gaulle. It was a challenge more than a mission, as it was the first French school to open in London since 1914.

When I joined, the school was – literally – a huge construction site. The listed historic buildings were in rubble, and the work was to be done by a contractor that had just declared bankruptcy. I had one year to make it happen; I worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Collège Français Bilingue de Londres (CFBL) finally opened. At first, we were perceived by some of the London families as a second-class school as we were not located in the core centre of the city. But a few years later, as we were awarded the “Outstanding”* label, no one doubted us anymore.

CFBL has been a successful school because it is student-centred. Everything that was ever done, imagined, designed, was always done so with the students’ interest in mind. They, in turn, developed a very strong sense of belonging to the school.

You need to see the school to understand what it is about. It is more of a second home, where one belongs. It is not just a place to teach but a place to live. We organised lots of events, dinner parties, conferences with parents and teachers.

The decision to move to a Partnership model was made in 2016 by the Board and one of my main missions then was to reassure teachers and parents, for which we organised a lot of meetings.

According to me, moving to a Partnership model meant becoming more autonomous, and I decided right away to share this new autonomy with the teaching staff. I suggested a new organisation, centred around creating Departments that all had a manager, a budget and a specific project that was part of the larger, authorised school project. It worked extremely well.

I am happy that I left the school after we received the “Outstanding” label, which really came as a reward for the teams’ extensive work that had been done for years.

 

Starting a new chapter at the French International School of Hong Kong

The mission I have been given is to help the FIS teams to transition into the Partnership model, while preparing for the 2020-2021 school year, which will be possible by relying on the expertise and professionalism of the Management teams. I am aware that it is a complex situation, due to FIS’ 4 campuses and 2 streams, but also because of the reservations some may feel about the Partnership model.

Even though I already led a successful transition into the Partnership model, there isn’t a “one-fits-all” recipe. Each school is different depending on its history, its location, its community, its teachers, its students.

Therefore, it will be necessary to come up with ideas and solutions and we will do so together. In that respect, my position is defined through its relationships with other teams. Actually, I cannot wait to meet the community. I am available for anyone who wishes to get in touch with me. Answering the community’s needs is the way I usually operate.

I would like to bring people together around the idea that they have a fabulous school in terms of means, of staff who is very obviously skilled. The idea that there is extraordinary potential thanks to a wonderful diversity in terms of teaching offer, an exceptional catalogue.

The objective is not to revolutionize our curriculum but to make it evolve. I want to meet with those who are thinking about leaving, I want to convince them of the advantages that come with autonomy. Because no matter what one may think of the Partnership model, it needs to be seen as an opportunity to be more creative.

For the upcoming year, our objective – together with all the school’s teams – will be to bring everyone together, build optimism and cohesion among the community who really is lucky to have a wonderful school.

 

*The Outstanding label is delivered by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education), the British office that inspects all English schools. These inspections take place every 3 years and all aspects of school life are considered: Teaching & Learning (inspections, students’ knowledge), Management (teaching, administrative, financial and HR management), Achievements (ability to reach goals, including with exams), Safe guarding (child protection).