At a glance
GEMS Metropole school, priced as a mid-range plus school, has appealed to parents on more moderate budgets who have clearly been attracted by the new building with excellent facilities (including the swimming pool which adds the “plus” to its designation) and the promise of a solid UK curriculum education by the largest provider in Dubai. Class sizes of 30 (rather than 22-24 offered at the premium schools) do not seem to deter parents and definitely do not phase the staff, many of whom are used to teaching much larger numbers in the UK state sector.
There are currently approx. 2,000 students at the school and about to expand by a further 850 at the start of the September term. Two very large new extensions are currently being built – one at the front of the school which will house predominantly younger students and a further block being added at the end and rear of the current school which will house the older students. Currently open until year 10, this extension will make space for years 11 to 13 and include all the additional specialist rooms associated with the senior school.
However, one of the most significant new ventures that GEMS Metropole will undertake in 2016/17 is the opening of a specialist inclusion unit – Small Steps - which will be unique in the GEMS group. GEMS Metropole is currently the only school of this brand and this has enabled the school to try something new which does not commit other GEMS schools of the same brand to follow suit. GEMS Metropole already offers very strong SEN provision under the leadership of the Head of Primary, Sara Hedger, who is also the SENCO for the school and a very practiced SEN practitioner. Small Steps is a joint venture with a specialist provider - www.bloomingtree.co.uk/ - from the UK and came about as a result of experience of a close friend of Mrs. Hedger, who had been unable to find a school for her Autistic child in Dubai.
The Small Steps unit is designed to work with no more than 11 students in the age range from 2to 6 years of age. The aim is to provide early intervention that will allow these children to develop to the extent that they will then be able to enter the mainstream of the school by year 2, where places will be guaranteed. The main focus will be on providing support for children with Autism and Speech and Language delay. A team of 13 therapists/lead therapists (all recruited by specialists Bloomingtree in London) will be responsible for working with the children whilst training other staff. Staff will be visited and assessed twice yearly by the team from the UK to ensure that progress on all fronts is as expected. Each child will have a 1-1 Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programme with the specialist staff. This support will continue at home during holidays, in order to ensure that the programme is continued outside the school environment. Children will participate in mainstream activities where appropriate, as well as spending regular time with the Small Steps team. There is also the possibility that the unit will offer support to older children with Speech and Language issues once the initial set up and establishment of the unit has taken place.
Inevitably the programme will not be cheap. Parents will pay the standard school fees at GEMS Metropole (currently AED 33,000 to AED 39,000 p.a. for FS1 to year 1) and additional fees for Small Steps of approx. AED 250,000 p.a. These amounts cover an additional one month holiday cover and also two Parent Workshops each term on ABA principles. However, for families whose children may benefit from this very specialised support and have the opportunity to enjoy mainstream education in Dubai, this may well be a price worth paying.
WSA First Review - December 20th 2014
Located in Motor City, so convenient for Arabian Ranches, Dubai Sports City, Jumeirah Golf Estates and other newer developments between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and the Al Khail Road, GEMS Metropole is one of four new schools that opened within a 5 minute drive of each other in September 2014. If success of a new school can be measured by the number of students joining in the first term, then the GEMS Marketing Machine can comfortably claim first prize.
With around 1,000 students already attending the school and a total capacity of 2,500, GEMS Metropole has already established itself within this community.
Part of the attraction may also be that GEMS Metropole is not one of the GEMS Premium Plus schools, but falls into their more modestly priced schools, with KHDA approved fees starting at AED 33,000 and rising to AED 44,000 from FS1 to Year 8. Note, the school is currently running an early bird discount for children entering in the 2014/15 academic year with fees from 26,400 AED to 35,200 AED.
Compared with the newly opened GEMS Firstpoint (starting at AED 38,000 to AED 55,000), 15 minutes further along Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, it seems likely that parents who looked at both, may well have chosen the less expensive option. In so doing, parents are also choosing class sizes that are not much different to a UK State school with 25 children in each Foundation Stage class and 30 children from Year 1 upwards. It is unusual for a British curriculum school in Dubai to have such large classes.
There will be 12 classes each in Foundation 1 and Foundation 2 and 10 classes from Year 1 upwards, although these numbers will vary during the school’s initial opening years. Currently students come from 72 different countries and staff are predominantly from the UK with additional staff from South Africa, Canada and Australia.
The school is set on a large plot at the rear of the Motor City Uptown area, next to Green Community and overlooking Studio City at the rear. On a large site, there are two connecting buildings currently, with space for 2 more to be added as the school grows.
The Early Years section is set at the front of the school with a playground overlooking the car park. Parents can peek through a large window in the boundary wall to see their children outside at play. There is also a separate entrance for FS children into this area, so that they do not have to be taken through the main reception of the school and mix with older (and larger) children. The current building is an E shape with the EYFS section to the front and the other areas of the school facing to the rear of the plot. The Early Years section has two outdoor play areas with soft flooring and all classrooms open to the outside. This area is well equipped with large play equipment and trikes etc. suitable for this age group. There is also an indoor resource centre with padded floors and different types of imaginary play equipment for summer use.
The main entry to the school has a large, light Reception area which is open to the Second floor with connecting landings from one building to another running across the front of the school. There is a seating area overlooking the rear of the school and a small coffee shop for parents to enjoy. The normal arrangement in GEMS schools is for the Parent Relations Executive to lead the tours, and this is true also of GEMS Metropole. The PRE is also a parent at the school and therefore able to discuss the facilities and activities of the school from a very personal perspective. Encouragingly, unlike most other schools, the Principal personally comes to greet visitors to the school and to provide them with a little additional information about future plans. He is clearly very proud of the school.
The ground floor central block of the school is devoted to the Primary School with classrooms ranged to the left and right of the central corridors. All classrooms are light and bright and suitably furnished and all open out onto an outdoor area.
Unfortunately, these areas are less attractive than is generally found in other more recently built Dubai schools; the areas are complete with block paving, there is no shade and very little in the way of equipment to make them more attractive to children and adults alike. There is no greenery or plants around the buildings either; it all appears a little plain and not as colourful as one would usually expect in a school environment.
Above these classrooms are more of the same for older students and the layout is similar in the two buildings at either side. Unusually also for modern Dubai schools, large sections of the school are open to the elements – including the corridors running across between the blocks, off which are located the Library (still a work in progress), two ICT suites (one with desktops and the other with Apple Macs), Science, Music and Language Rooms. This is likely to be less than pleasant during the warmer (and windier) times of the year. On the ground floor at the front of the building is a smaller, double-storey multi-purpose hall that is used by the Early Years and younger Primary school students for PE and Movement classes.
To the rear of these buildings are the sports facilities. These include four Multi-purpose courts, an Astroturf multi-purpose pitch and two outdoor swimming pools (a 25m and a learner pool). The multi-purpose courts are used as play areas for the Primary children and are shaded.
Overall, there seems to be a lack of outdoor play equipment for break times.
There is a canteen also located at the rear of the building to which all children have access. The left hand wing contains the Sports Hall which can also be transformed into an auditorium with slide out seating and above this are multiple rooms for use by Secondary school students and staff. An additional block to the front of this section will house a bespoke Secondary school in the future.
In addition to the normal focus on Numeracy and Literacy of the UK curriculum, GEMS Metropole School also offers Arabic from year 1 and French from year 3. There is a compulsory “Bring your own Device” policy from year 1 (which presumably saves the school significant additional cost in terms of providing laptops and I-pads as provided in more costly schools).
The school also offers Teacher-led After-school activities three days per week and will be adding additional paid-for activities in due course. Another development – and an increasingly sought after one – is the opening of the school’s Achievement Centre, which will offer Learning Support, English as an Additional Language Support and an Able/Gifted stream for more talented students.
This school will also be one of the few new schools in Dubai to offer A Levels at Years 12 and 13, rather than the IB Diploma which has latterly been the trend in many UK curriculum schools in Dubai.
Overall, the GEMS Metropole School seems to have all the basics in place, with a committed teaching and management team and facilities that are certainly adequate, if not quite as impressive as those of some other GEMS schools.
Children seem engaged and happy. It remains to be seen whether the new buildings that are due to be added have more elaborate facilities and if the school adds some real greenery to the exterior, in addition to the large green feature walls that can be found inside the buildings.
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