After more than 20 years in teaching, Dr Stephen Tommis started working for a charity representing gifted children, which led to a post in Hong Kong.
Now the Bradford-born education specialist is heading up a $200m project to develop a talent bank from which Hong Kong’s future leaders will emerge.
Stephen, 56, is the first director of the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, and was appointed after a world-wide search of candidates.
It was after 23 years in teaching, including five as head of a specialist school on the Derbyshire-Staffordshire border, that he became director of the National Association for Gifted Children, a charity that represents the needs of gifted children and their families.
Stephen worked with the Government to help shape understanding of and provision in schools for gifted children. The association works centrally and through its branch network to support parents whose children are not adequately stimulated in school.
While working at the association, he got a call from Hong Kong which was looking to strengthen its provision for gifted education and was seeking an executive director to launch its academy.
After initially declining the post for family reasons, Stephen was persuaded to move 6,000 miles to a new life.
He says: “It was one of the most difficult decisions in my life, because it meant leaving my family in the UK and moving to a country that I hardly knew, a language that I could not speak and a culture that I did not understand.”
Stephen, whose mother lives in Baildon and whose son is a student at Leeds University, attended Wyke Primary School and Carlton Grammar School.
He graduated from Dundee University in geography and economics and then conducted research at Jesus College, Oxford, and gained a D.Phil degree.
After a spell in business in London, he qualified as a teacher and settled in Sherborne, Dorset.
His wife Penny died after 12 years of marriage, leaving him to bring up three young children.
“The death of Penny was unexpected and we had two options: sink or swim,” says Stephen. “But it probably took nearly two years before we felt able to begin to come to terms with what had happened and to feel that we could start to plan for the future.”
Stephen decided to try for promotion and successfully applied to be deputy head at The King’s School, Gloucester.
Three years later, he became headteacher at the Derbyshire school which had a working farm and stables. After five years in which the school increased its pupil numbers to within three of the highest ever and its finances were put on track, Stephen decided that it was time to move on and joined the National Association for Gifted Children.
Of his present job in Hong Kong, he says: “The whole experience has been fantastic. Of course, there has been a steep learning curve to know and understand the Hong Kong education system and to understand the needs of the stakeholders in gifted education.
“Hong Kong is demanding of its public services and impatient over delivery, so we have had to run quickly from a standing start.”
Since last September, the academy has been running programmes for students, parents and teachers throughout Hong Kong where it is estimated there are more than 20,000 gifted students to be addressed, more than 40,000 parents to be supported, and 62,000 serving teachers to be trained.
Stephen relishes the chance to shape the growth of an organisation that will help the next generation of leaders in Hong Kong.
He said: “What could be more exciting? Those of us who enter education, in whatever capacity, do so in the hope that we will make a difference. This is my opportunity to make that difference to young people in Hong Kong.”