Equal Education Partners’ core aims have always revolved around people: From connecting highly qualified teaching professionals with the best educational opportunities to the staff whose driving force for change has enabled Equal to become the successful organisation it is today, Equal is made of people who are committed to providing transformational opportunities for both learners and teachers alike.
In this series of introductions, we will be presenting you to some of the key individuals at Equal whose dedication has facilitated the impactful developmental opportunities for growth at Equal.
Read on to learn more about the exciting career journey of Neil Thomas, our Managing Director for Teaching and Learning, and his current work at Equal!
You can also read about other members of Equal’s Senior Management Team – Liam Rahman, Carolyn Rahman and Owen Evans.
Hi Neil! Can you start off by telling us about your career journey so far?
Hi! I’ve been teaching throughout my whole career – after graduating from the University of the West of England in 2005, I worked at John Cabot Academy in Bristol until 2011 where I was a design and technology teacher. Whilst there, I also had the opportunity to develop my own leadership skills, moving into positions as both leader of Key stage 3 design and technology, and later as leader of vocational technology. After leaving Bristol, I had an amazing 9 years at Doha College, the leading 3-18 British International School in Doha, Qatar. Initially I joined as Head of Design and Technology and then moved into leadership as Vice Principal for Teaching and Learning, managing the curriculum whilst also overseeing professional development at the school.
The ethos behind me becoming a teacher undoubtedly informs my work here at Equal today where I am dedicated to ensuring that each student and staff member we work with receives transformational learning opportunities which will enable their personal and professional growth. Continued development of people is something I’ve always cared deeply about, and is a key element of my philosophy which I am grateful that I have been able to transfer to my work at Equal today.
What brought you back to the UK?
There’s no doubt that expat life was great – a lot of travelling, a lot of opportunities to meet new people, and just a lot of fun! However, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2019, and needing to take some time out of teaching, it made sense to return to Wales and reset. Couple that with the onset of the pandemic, and it really did feel like the right time to come back. When I arrived home, I worked for a couple of years in the field of education consultancy, primarily focusing on the design of educational buildings with a company called the-learning-crowd, and delivering senior and middle leader training through a company called High Performance Learning. I was also completing my MBA.
After meeting with Liam and Carolyn last August, it seemed like an exciting time to join Equal as Managing Director for Teaching and Learning and it seemed to be a great fit. Since joining Equal last September, I have absolutely loved being a part of an organisation which remains so committed to its initial objectives whilst also pursuing opportunities for further growth and development. Crucially, Liam and Carolyn have undoubtedly formed a great team here at Equal which makes the work we do even more enjoyable!
Thank you so much for sharing. It would be great to hear more about some of the changes that you have seen throughout your time here at Equal!
It has been amazing to see growth across each of Equal’s key sectors of partnerships, recruitment, marketing, and teaching and learning. From the Cardiff and Vale College contract we obtained, to the broader harmonisation of our internal processes, there are a range of examples throughout the organisation where our continuous growth has been driven by both incremental and large steps across our various sectors. However, what hasn’t changed is the culture within Equal. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to join in the first place was that Carolyn and Liam had both worked incredibly hard to ensure that Equal was a dynamic and exciting place to work from the outset.
Whether it’s through our own internal teams or through the organisations and individuals with which we partner, this culture has just become stronger and stronger over time. Everyone working here believes in the same key ethos of ensuring that each of our initiatives and opportunities raise the aspirations of learners and staff across our programmes. From our supply teachers, tutoring and internal staff to the students and mentors on our summer schemes, everyone is helping each other to achieve a little more and to raise each individual’s personal and professional aspirations.
How do you think your past experiences have shaped the work that you do at Equal today?
Teaching’s obviously quite an interesting career. All teachers intrinsically want young people to improve and to thrive. Whether it be in their GCSE results, in their sporting performance or helping them grow as a person, teachers want the best for the young people they work with. As a teacher, that value of supporting students in any way possible never leaves you; in the years since I left the school environment, I’ve held on to those principles, and I still work to ensure that staff and students grow and develop professionally.
Although I now primarily work with a different cohort of people, that core value hasn’t changed at all. The benefit of adhering to that philosophy whilst working here at Equal lies in the way we provide our staff with a range of opportunities to develop personally and professionally when they are a part of our team.
Do you ever miss being in the classroom?
Of course – I miss the vibrancy of the school environment. I particularly miss being able to wind up our English students after Wales had beaten England in a rugby match (or in any sport for that matter!). It’s precisely those relationships that you build with the students, through providing them with support academically, as well as supporting their own personal growth, that becomes such a huge part of your life as a teacher.
Despite missing the relationships you build, I love what I’m doing here at Equal, and it’s been amazing to support learners and staff from a different perspective. That’s not to say that I will never get back into the classroom though!
What’s the best part of your job here at Equal!
The variety! I suppose I naively presumed that spending more hours behind a desk would bring with it a certain amount of repetition in the work I do. However, when working with Equal, that will never be the case! I’ve been hugely impressed not only by Liam’s appetite for success, but also by his urge to do so in a value-driven way. What undoubtedly sets Equal apart is the combination of values and principles that Liam and Carolyn have placed at the core of their work.
From working with our partners to deliver life-changing educational opportunities to working with the Welsh Government to discuss policy, there is a huge variety of work across the range of projects with which Equal’s cross-sectoral team is involved.
How do you see the future developing at Equal over the next few years?
The first word that came to my head is unlimited. There is so much that Equal could achieve across the education sector, and the exciting part about the future is the sheer number of opportunities that are available. It is up to us as an organisation to make the most out of each and every single one of those opportunities.
Beyond the more sector-specific development within each of our key areas of partnerships, recruitment, marketing, and teaching and learning, there is real potential to tap into the international school market in the near future, whilst continuing to build on our growing partnerships with US-based stakeholders. Overall, I think the future is looking very exciting, with us continuing to offer transformational educational opportunities to both learners and staff!