Located in Al Barsha South, in close proximity to GEMS Founders school and GEMS World Academy, the GEMS Al Barsha National School is the first school aimed at attracting Emirati and expat Arab families offering a mixture of the English National Curriculum and the UAE Ministry of Education Arabic and Islamic Studies programmes in a bi-lingual English/Arabic environment.
In July 2020, GEMS advised that the GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys would merge with the neighbouring GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls, with the new school named GEMS Al Barsha National School (GNS). There is a certain sense of 'déja vu' here - the Boys section started life in the Girls School and seems to be continuing its life back there...whilst the Boys school building has now been added to the adjacent GEMS Founders School Al Barsha.
The newly merged school's Mission is "to nurture our community and empower our students to achieve excellence":
"Nurturing by including all learners, prioritising their safety and happiness and promoting their character development rooted in the national values of the UAE.
"Empowering by providing an exciting, enriching and ambitious learning experience where students excel by fulfilling and exceeding their academic potential."
The school has what it describes as a unique offering.
GEMS Al Barsha National School, housed in an impressive building which reflects the colours of the Emirati flag, opened as the Girls school back in 2016 with just over 120 students in mixed gender Foundation classes and gender-separated classes for children from Years 1-8. With approximately 20 children per class, this was a very low student to teacher ratio.
Find out how GEMS Al Barsha National School looks and feels by reading our Experience Visit report from October 2021.
The school has since opened to Year 13 and grown to 1,150 students at the time of writing in August 2023. The first cohort of Year 13 students graduated in June 2022.
In June 2022, the KHDA's DSIB inspection team issued the Inspection report for the 2021-22 academic year for GEMS Al Barsha National School, giving the school an Acceptable rating - the minimum requirement. Officially, the KHDA has listed this as the first inspection - which it is since the GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys and the GEMS AL Barsha National School for Girls merged in August 2020.
However, prior to this, the Boys school had achieved an Acceptable rating in 2019-20 and a Good rating one year prior. Given that the leadership of the merged school includes the former Principal of the Boys school, we believe it is relevant to include the previous achievement of the latter school.
In March 2023, the school underwent its second KHDA inspection where it again was awarded an Acceptable rating by the DSIB team.
We understand that approximately 30 nationalities are shared by staff and students in the community of GEMS Al Barsha National School. The largest student nationality group by a very long way is Emirati, with over 850 of the total of 1,150. Classes are mixed gender from FS1 to Year 3 inclusive, separating into separate Girls and Boys sections from Year 4.
Students are supported by 101 teachers and a further 22 teaching assistants. Teachers are recruited largely from the UK, with Jordanian staff making up the majority of teachers for the Ministry of Education curriculum. The school says that it has a "good blend of experience and more junior teachers bringing new and innovative ideas to the organisation".The teacher:student ratio is an impressively low 2:11 students (effectively one teacher for every five students).
All teachers for the English National Curriculum are expected to have Qualified Teacher Status (generally requiring a minimum of a Bachelors' degree and post-graduate teaching qualification), together with a minimum of two years experience. Teachers are supported to engage with NPQ Programmes and to progress within the school organisation, taking on additional responsibilities.
Staff turnover at 30% was above the top end of the average for the UAE of 20-22%, having fallen to 20% in 2020, from a high of 57% from 2019. Unfortunately, the 2023 inspection report notes an increase to 28% for the most recent period. This increase is potentially a concern as routinely having to replace over 25% of teaching staff does not support a stable environment.
The Senior Leadership Team of the school is led by Principal Karim Murcia who joined from the original Boys' school, and has significant experience and a proven track record in leading Outstanding Schools in the UK and UAE. Interestingly, Mr. Murcia's last UK Principalship was at a Girls' school. He is a linguist by background and leads a team of highly qualified UK trained English and Arabic speaking teachers in the delivery of a rich bilingual curriculum in both Arabic and English.
GEMS Al Barsha National School follows the English National Curriculum including the Early Years Foundation Stage and the National Curriculum from Year 1 to Year 9. It offers IGCSE in Years 10 and 11 and 'AS' and 'A' Levels for Years 12 and 13. Children in the Foundation Stage to Year 2 split 50% of their learning time between Arabic and English. Spanish is offered from Year 5 as an additional language.
The leadership of GNS believe that the school offers "a broad and balanced curriculum in the belief that all subject areas play an important role in contributing to the development of students’ skills, abilities and character."
In the Foundation Stage, (FS1-FS2) children follow the seven core areas of the EYFS Framework and in addition, participate in Physical Education, an Arabic Bilingual Curriculum and Islamic Education.
Core subjects in the Primary section include English, Mathematics, Science, Physical Education, MoE subjects, (Arabic, Islamic Education, Social Studies) and Spanish from Year 5. Once students move on to Secondary, they follow the same core subjects from Years 7 to 9 of English, Mathematics, Science, Physical Education and the MoE subjects of Arabic, Islamic Education, and Social Studies (the latter until Year 10).
From Year 10, students prepare for their International GCSE examinations which include a core of English Language, English Literature, English as a Second Language, Mathematics, Science Double Award, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Additionally students may select among the options of Arabic, Art and Design, Business Studies, Geography, History and Spanish.
On entry to post-16 studies, students in Years 12 and 13 select between two and four AS Level subjects and continue with Physical Education and the MoE subjects of Arabic and Islamic Education. AS and A Level options include Arabic, Art and Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, English Language, English Literature, History, Mathematics, Psychology, Physics, Sociology and Spanish.
GEMS recognised that parents want a high quality international curriculum for their children together with equally high quality teaching of Arabic, Islamic and social studies. Koran recitation is included in assemblies.
Check out the facilities and the look and feel of GEMS Al Barsha National School by reading our latest Experience Visit from October 2021.
The school also has plans to develop its curriculum and provision, focusing on two enhancements that have been adopted by a number of GEMS schools - HPL (High Performance Learning - initially introduced by Outstanding-rated GEMS Jumeirah College) and ArtsEd - an initiative from the UK-based organisation led by Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber which seeks to support schools in the provision of Performing Arts, which has been adopted by several GEMS and other Dubai schools. GNS is also apparently considering the introduction of the IB Career-related programme (IBCP) which would potentially offer a more vocational route for students.
Commenting on the curriculum plans, GNS told us "Our vibrant and dynamic curriculum is enhanced through partnerships with High Performance Learning and Arts International. Plans are in place to add greater curriculum breadth at Post-16 through the introduction of the IB Careers Pathway."
However, the curriculum is not all about the academic. The school offers a range of Extra-curricular activities, the majority of which are free of charge. Highlights include Sports including Football, Tennis, Jiu Jitsu, Trampolining and Swimming; Innovation including Graphic design and animation, and Robotics coding; Skills including Public speaking, Drama and Music, and Interests including Scent-making, Chess, Heritage heroes, Wellbeing champions and Architecture Club. The school also partners with provider ESM to provide optional paid options.
GNS also hopes to be able to offer international trips as the school joins educational institutions across Dubai in developing plans as Covid-19 restrictions are eased this academic year.
GNS has over 151 students (9% of students) who have been identified with additional learning needs. High attainers and gifted and talented students are identified and are supported in nurturing their abilities and talents.
GNS has ensured that a Senior Leader has responsibility for inclusion and personal development, working closely with the School SEND Coordinator and a Local advisory Board Member who has responsibility for SEN. GNS has three dedicated Inclusion teachers, and a team of Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) trained to support students with SEN. The school sources Shadow teachers or LSAs if required.
SEN staff use the Edukey Provision Map to support effective management of students’ progress towards Individual Education Plan (IEP) targets.
The school’s team of teachers are trained to meet the needs of students with English Language Learner (ELL) requirements and all students with ELL needs are supported in accelerating their acquisition of English language skills.
The cost of additional support for students with SEN varies depending on the needs of students and levels of support required.
The KHDA inspection team found that "Procedures for identifying students’ special educational needs are well established. Support for students with significant barriers to learning is a strength of the school."
GNS uses both GL and PT assessment as part of its programme.
In August 2023, GEMS Al Barsha National School shared its examination results with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
A total of 88 students were entered for 232 A Levels examinations. 4% of entries achieved an A* grade, whilst 19% were awarded A*-A and 41% received an A*-C grade. The pass grades at A Level are A*-E.
At I/GCSE, 94 students were entered 539 for examinations with 3% of entries achieving Grade 9, 6% received A* grades, whilst 10% were awarded A*-A grades, 28% A*-B grades and 40% A*-C grades - all being pass grades.
In August 2022, GEMS National School Al Barsha shared its results for its first cohort of A Level students.
A total of 40 students were entered for 86 examinations. 7% of entries were awarded A*- A grades, whilst 10.5% achieved A*-B. A Levels pass grades are from A*-E. The school did not share further details.
I/GCSE results were not shared with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
In August 2021, GEMS Al Barsha National School provided its I/GCSE examination results to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. As a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, examinations were cancelled for the second year, with exam entries being awarded Centre (Teacher) Assessed Grades, based on students' performance and assessment over the two years of the IGCSE programme.
The school revealed that 42 students were entered for 313 examinations. 4.2% of entries were awarded the highest Grade 9, with 13% awarded A* (Grades 9-8), 27% achieved A*-A (Grades 9-7) and 69% A*-B (Grades 9-6). 87% of entries were awarded A*-C (Grades 9-4) resulting an overall pass rate of the same percentage. 43% of students achieved at least one Grade 9-8 (A*) award. The highest number of grades achieved by an individual student: was 4 passes at Grade 9 and 4 at Grade 8.
The school also shared its first set of International As Level results for its Year 12 students. The cohort consisted 33 students who were entered for 75 examinations. 24% of exam entries were graded A, 35% of exam entries were graded A-B, and 76% of exam entries were graded A-C. The highest number of grades achieved by three individual students were best possible set of results at AAA.
A dedicated Careers Counsellor, Post-16 Phase leader and Head of Secondary support students through a comprehensive programme providing information, advice and guidance towards the selection of the subjects and their onward transition to university, further education and future careers.
The school offers the usual range of high-quality facilities commensurate with the price point. Main facilities include 70 Classrooms, two libraries (one each for primary and secondary schools), an Auditorium, a Fitness and Dance Studio, Music Rooms, an Art Room, a Fashion Design Room, a Design Technology Workshop with state-of-the art equipment, a Food Food Preparation and Nutrition Workshop, two ICT labs, 8 specialist Science Laboratories - specifically for Biology, Chemistry and Physics, - a School Clinic, Canteen and dedicated Prayer Rooms.
Read more about the facilities and check out the look and feel of the school by reading our October 2021 Experience Visit.
Sports facilities include a Tournament-Standard 25-Metre Swimming Pool, two Shaded Multi Use Games Area offering Multiple Tennis, Basketball, and Volleyball Courts, a Full Size Sports Field, a Primary Sports Hall, and two Secondary Sports Halls.
GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls received its second KHDA inspection in January 2020. The school was rated Good at its initial inspection in 2018-19, but unfortunately, it was not able to maintain this rating and received instead the minimum Acceptable rating for 2019-20. The Boys' school was inspected for the first time in 2019-20, and achieved an Acceptable rating.
The first inspection of the school, postponed as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, did take place in March 2022, when the school was awarded an Acceptable rating. This will no doubt have come as a disappointment to the school. The second inspection took place in March 2023, when the school was again awarded an Acceptable rating.
As is so often the case, the overall rating does not indicate the amount of improvement which had clearly taken place over the intervening year.
The majority of the key performance measures are now rated Good across Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills, Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum, with strong improvements in the Primary section in particular. The ratings for the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students is largely rated Very Good, though the Secondary and post-16 sections still need to catch up from their Good rating for Care and Support specifically.
Whilst there have been a number of improvements in Student Achievement to Good, the achievement and progress remains mixed, more so in the Secondary section, which will need to be a focus for the school. The improvements in Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum have not yet filtered through to student outcomes.
In terms of the strengths of the school, the DSIB inspectors identified these as:
The recommendations for the next year for the school identified the requirement to:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings and the detailed recommendations - you will find it here.
A limited number of parents have responded to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey. They have rated the school 3.7/5 (a positivity rating of 74%).
Those parents who have responded to the parent survey agree that their children enjoy going to school and have a strong sense of belonging to it. Despite being overwhelmingly satisfied with the academic performance of the school, well over 1/3 of parents still feel the need to arrange external tuition for their children (a growing trend across many schools).
The majority of parents are satisfied with the feedback from the school, its disciplinary policy and its implementation, although almost half of parents have some concern about bullying. Close to 90% of respondents feel that their child's confidence has grown significantly as a result of the school. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 84% of respondents would whole-heartedly recommend GNS to other parents, though 11% were not sure and 5% would not.
As is often the case, the most contentious issue appears to be the perceived value for money represented by the school's fees. Only 26% (half the UAE average) agreed that they did so, whilst 16% totally disagreed with this view and the remainder were not sure.
If you are parent, teacher or senior student at GEMS Al Barsha National School and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey here
Although no parent survey data was published this year, the inspection team rated the relationship between the school and its community (including parents, teachers and students) as Good.
In a new evaluation introduced by the KHDA this year, schools were rated on the Quality of Wellbeing provisions and outcomes, which at GNS was rated at a High Level.
Inspectors found that:
The team at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was truly impressed by its visit to GNS in October 2021 and therefore somewhat disappointed in the outcome of the inspection six months later. This is a school that has clearly been through some ups and downs as its owners determined what would work best for parents and students as well as for shareholders. In adopting the more traditional approach to gender-separation in Primary school, it has clearly recognised the preference of its community in this context, without the need to operate two separate schools. However, the implementation of these changes, and the bringing together of an entire new leadership team, middle management and teachers is clearly taking some time to bed in.
An important detail shared with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com when we visited the school in October 2021 was the GNS is now part of the 'Wellington cluster'. The significance of this is that the school is now working with, and being actively mentored by, the leaders of the other established GEMS Wellington brand schools, including Outstanding rated GEMS Wellington International School under the leadership of Maryssa O'Connor. This will ensure that best practice is shared across the schools in the cluster - something from which they will all benefit.
GNS told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that "Our status as a Wellington Partner school provides us with a strong network of support to maintain the continuous raising of standards in our provision."
GNS also shared with us its priorities for the next period from 2021-25 which focuses on six key areas.
Clearly GNS has already identified the key performance areas that it believes are necessary to enable the school to deliver the standards of curriculum, teaching and achievement for its students.
The school is clearly ambitious in terms of the curriculum and standards of education it wishes to offer its students, and has ambitious plans in this context. It also has a strong leadership team with a mentoring and support structure in place to ensure that the academic standards it wishes to see are achievable.
The improvements seen in the 2022-23 KHDA inspection suggest that improvements have already begun to follow this arrangement.
For the growing number of families in Dubai who seek an education that integrates the best of international curricula and staff within a setting that honours and encourages the UAE's values and beliefs, we believe that GEMS Al Barsha National School has the potential to meet those needs.
KHDA approved fees range from AED 42,000 for FS2 to AED 62,000 for Year 13. There is an application fee of AED 525 per child.
GEMS Al Barsha National School is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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