At a glance
Wellington International School takes children from 3 years (FS1) to 18 years of age (Year 13). The 2400 plus students (from over 80 nationalities with the biggest groupings from the UK) are taught by 184 full-time teachers. Teachers are predominantly British and almost all have relevant teaching qualifications. Of these teachers, 22 percent were new in the last academic year, down from a 29 per cent turnover. The teachers are supported by 66 teaching assistants.
The student to teacher ratio is currently at approximately 13:1, with classroom sizes between 25 and 27. This has remained fairly constant at the school.
The school's current principal Ruth Burke was formerly head teacher at JESS Jumeirah - another Outstanding school. Her predecessor, Keith Miller, moved to GEMS Wellington Academy in Al Khail. Since coming on board this year, Mrs Burke has proved adept at bringing order into a bustling, happy environment - and has already made the corridors her own - more on this below.
The school follows the English National Curriculum from Foundation Stage to Year 11. At the end of the secondary phase, students are entered for IGCSE and GCSE. In the post-16 phase, students follow the increasingly sought after International Baccalaureate programme.
The school’s latest KHDA report notes the very strong commitment to developing each individual “academically and also as a person". The school used to publicly posts its academic achievements (a big tick as far as WSA is concerned) on its Web site. However GEMS Education as a group no longer does this - a shame and very much a step backwards as far as we are concerned.
In 2013, the last results data we have from the school, 93% of its students achieved 5 x A* - C and 89% achieved 5 x A* - C including English and Maths. The results were broadly similar to 2012 when 93% of students achieved 5 or more A* to C grades including English and Maths. These results constituted a 13% increase from 2011 and were “the best ever achieved at the school”.
In the same year 96% of its post-16 students were awarded the IB Diploma, with results 18% above the World IB Average (WIS fails however to give the average score). This was a step up from 2012 when 80% of the school’s students passed the IB Diploma, and achieved results 1.5% above the IB Average pass rate of 78.5%. At the time the average IB grade at Wellington was 30.4 out of 45. While there is no rule 34 is generally considered the benchmark for acceptance into 'Redbrick' UK universities. Tier one universities (such as Oxford) look for 38 or above.
Many schools do not like the focus parents give to academic results, because doing so fails to recognize the value addition a school provides. Clearly a selective school taking on more academic students, will ultimately post better academic results. Wellington International School is not selective, but an inclusive, mixed ability school. However this has not stopped the likes of JESS Arabian Ranches, another non-selective IB school from posting its results.
Students with Special Educational Needs are supported by a SEN team of teachers and teaching assistants. More information on this may be found in our Q and A with the school. (Note: GEMS has ramped up its SEN provision across its schools in recent years. Parents should note, however, the individual attention students receive may come at an additional cost).
Strengths of WIS according to the KHDA include its "established record of students' outstanding academic progress, attainment and learning skills in English, mathematics and science; Students' personal and social development ("Outstanding"), especially their understanding of Islamic values and local, cultural and global awareness; the confident, high quality teaching supported by accurate assessments; the curriculum quality and design ("Outstanding"); the school's protection and support for its students, and its Outstanding leadership and management.
The school needs to improve further student attainment, progress and learning skills in Islamic Education and Arabic.
Facilities at Wellington are as you would expect for a “premium” GEMS school – impressive. There is an indoor, air-conditioned swimming pool, soccer fields, a state-of-the-art gym, three science laboratories, a library, and four computer laboratories with over 120 computers.
Fees at Wellington are as impressive: Tuition starts at 41,078 AED for FS 2. Year 13 students pay 89,368 AED per annum. There is a non-refundable registration fee of AED 500 is due at the time of application. When an offer of a place in the school is made, an admission fee of AED 10,000 is required to secure the place. This admission fee is non-refundable and adjustable against the first term's fees.
The WSA JWI Test, October 2016
A well-run, academically ambitious school with a clear emphasis on Science, Technology, English and Maths (STEM), Wellington aims to instill strong, traditional values in its pupils. ‘Inclusion’, ‘community’ and ‘communication’ were words that featured throughout our visit. A busy, bustling but happy atmosphere pervades Wellington.
The school is positioned right on the Sheikh Zayed Road so is a convenient location for picking up and dropping off students though parking is inevitably a challenge. At the same time, however, the position puts it next to a 12 lane highway so there is constant noise at the front of the building. The entrance or approach to the school is rather abrupt and lacks the grandeur of some of Dubai's other tier one school. A large wall surrounds Wellington International and security cameras cover the approach. Palm trees, flame trees and hedges soften the impressive but otherwise quite angular building.
The central white circular structure houses the open plan reception area and is attached to the large three-storey classroom blocks. Security is as you would hope tight: Cameras monitor the outside of the building, and guests are required to present photo ID if they want to enter the school.
On our arrival we were greeted by Mariya Pasheva-Omolo who is the Principal’s PA and were directed to Mrs Burke’s office who has been at the school for two years. We received a warm welcome from the headmistress, a very enthusiastic leader who clearly has a good hold of what’s going on throughout the campus - quite an achievement given its size, and the 2,455 pupils ranging from 3 to 18 years.
Mrs Burke believes a key to the school's success has been the communication from staff to parents. This dialogue is considered essential and teachers email parents directly keeping them fully aware of school work, issues or any problems. Mrs Burke was also keen to highlight how fully inclusive the establishment is and ‘children of all learning differences’ are ‘welcome’ and ‘supported in every possible way’. It would of course be a surprise if a school did not claim to be inclusive, especially one at a premium price point ranked Outstanding, but then Wellington International does seem to have solid evidence of efforts in this direction... For example, it has set up an ‘Include Me’ group , a team of parents who make it their business to unite those with learning differences. Mrs Burke described the group as "active and passionate" who provide "support, ideas and aim to cater for everyone". The school also has a Parent’s Council.
Mrs Burke explained to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that Wellington is a mixture of traditional and modern styles of education with a focus on the basics – the 3 ‘Rs’s - while at the same time is very much resourced for the 21st century - technology is used to enhance content delivery. (There are computers everywhere, down corridors, in libraries and specialist suites and in several places there are printing stations. Throughout the wide corridors are flat TV screens which show minute by minute activities, rehearsals and clubs on offer so nothing should be missed...) We were told the approach works and that the school performs very well academically. Unfortunately GEMS Education does not publish its academic results, so it is not possible for us to objectively benchmark the school against known high achievers such as Dubai College, or the more comparable non-selective, IB peer, JESS Arabian Ranches.
This is a shame as we do actually believe this is a high performing school. We do so largely because of its teachers. During our visit we met the heads of the school's maths and science departments. Both departments are made up of a strong international teaching teams of 13-15 professionals, all well qualified and supportive of one another.
Both heads were passionate about their subjects and clearly enjoy their jobs. They work closely together within their specialisms and their objective is to make sure the students enjoy their lessons and learn in a relaxed and fun way. If measured by the behaviour of children in class there is no argument the approach is paying off: "No crowd control" is required at Wellington, and that in spite of the relatively large classroom sizes of between 25-27 pupils.
On our visit we met Christian, the Year 13 Head Boy and Aasiyah, the Head Girl and asked them what was special to them about the school. "Amazing opportunities" were mentioned in a conversation that ranged from sport to science to councils to conferences to research. Both the head boy and girl praised the "excellent" focus the school puts on the future of each student’ as they are ‘guided' by specialist university counselors.
Both were also very proud to be in an Outstanding school, "one of GEMS’s best", and were clearly proud of its reputation. Both emphasised the strength of the community.
During our visit four parents kindly allowed us to spend time with them. One dad told us he had chosen Wellington because it was an outstanding school, and very similar to the school his son had attended in Ireland. A mum told us she had looked at ten others before she chose the school and explained that it was the security in particular that convinced her. A key factor for a third parents was the fact that it’s an all-through school accepting children from 3 to 18. She saw this as providing ‘a sense of integration’ rather than there being a big jump from primary to secondary campus. All parents we spoke to thought that education at the school was as good if not better than their home country.
There was also broad agreement the combination of GCSE (British curriculum) and IB (International Baccalaurate) was a good thing, ‘the best of both worlds’ .Parents are happy with the wide range of clubs available, many run by the school, some paid for to external providers. Clubs overall were considered excellent and ‘not overpriced’.
On our visit we could not help but agree with Mrs Burke's description of the school as Dr Who’s Tardis - deceivingly average size from the outside, but in reality an enormous structure. It needs to be given the extent of facilities. The primary library is well stocked with fantastic murals on the wall to encourage imagination. The secondary library is right next door and looks well used with all the up-to-date periodicals as well as ample opportunity for silent study. To see the observatory was really exciting. It looked state of the art with telescopes, guides to the universe and lots of information about space travel. We spotted the large indoor swimming pool, the primary and secondary sports halls and extensive outdoor playing fields. A large astro turfed pitch is surrounded by netball and basketball courts.
There is no doubt that Wellington is an ambitious school, not content to rest on its laurels, always striving to do more. However it is also clear that this is ultimately a school that is happy with itself, that has a positive nurturing environment where parents, teachers and students appear happy and focused. A serious, yet positive school, and one that ultimately we can only recommend prospective parents find the time to assess for themselves.
Note - there are waiting lists for most year groups, but if you're interested in the school don't let this put you off approaching admissions - there is space available in some years - you could be applying for the right year group at exactly the right time...
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