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 to a school which offers 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 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.
A premium British Curriculum rooted in the Culture, Values and Vision of the UAE;
Character and Leadership Development programmes;
Arabic language development, outcomes and bi-lingualism;
Developing students' understanding of the role and values of Islam in UAE Society;
Single gender provision from Year 4 upwards.
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.
The school has since opened to Year 13 and grown to just over 1,150 students at the time of writing in December 2021. Of this number, 134 children attend the Foundation Stage, whilst there are a further 582 students in the Primary school and 434 in the Secondary school with 60 in the post-16 section (Years 12 and 13). The first cohort of Year 13 students will graduate in June 2022.
A total of 29 nationalities of staff and students are among the community of GEMS Al Barsha National School. The largest nationality groups within the student body are UAE nationals at 78%, Jordanian passport holders at 3%, and Pakistani nationals at 2%.
Classes are mixed gender from FS1 to Year 3 inclusive, separating into separate Girls and Boys sections from Year 4. There is a slightly lower proportion of males at 47% compared with females at 53%. There are an average of four classes per year group with an average class size of 22 students in the Foundation Stage, and 25 in the other year groups. A maximum of 27 students is permitted from Years 1 to 13. The teacher:student ratio is an impressively low 1:9 students.
Students are supported by 108 teachers and a further 22 teaching assistants. Teachers are recruited largely (66%) from the UK, with Jordanian staff (12%) 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".
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 22% was toward the top end of the average for the UAE of 20-22%, but has improved considerably compared with the figure of 57% from 2019.
The Senior Leadership Team of the school, led by Principal Karim Murcia who has joined from the original Boys' school, 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 will lead the 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.
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 130 students (11% 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.
GNS uses both GL and PT assessment as part of its programme.
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.
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 due to be inspected for the first time in 2019-20, but this was cancelled due to the school closures as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic.
With the merger of the two schools, no full inspection has yet taken place and confirmation has not yet been received as to whether inspections will resume during the 2019-20 academic year.
However, GEMS National School Al Barsha has confirmed to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that it will participate in its first British Schools Overseas inspection in the current academic year. BSO inspections are accredited by the UK Department of Education and conducted in line with the Department's OFSTED inspections. That GNS has determined to go this route independent of the KHDA's DSIB inspection process is, in our view, a very positive step towards providing transparency in relation to current standards.
A further 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. It will be interesting to see how far the inspectors - when they do finally visit - feel the school has come in achieving its goals.
A very limited number of parents have responded to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey and we believe it to be insufficient to draw conclusions at this stage.
If you are parent, teacher or 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
A relatively small number of parents - 72 - responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey for the Girls school during their inspection in 2018-19. However, those who did respond - and whom we would assume still have children attending the school - were positive in their vews. 89% of parents who responded to the survey stated that they were satisfied with the quality of education the school offers, and 98% felt their child was safe at school. Parents considered that school leaders listen to them, that teachers effectively helped their children to develop learning skills and that they were kept well-informed of their achievements.
113 students responded to the KHDA's Wellbeing survey. Almost all students felt safe at school and reported positive engagements with teachers. Reported incidences of all forms of bullying were significantly lower than other Dubai private schools.
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.
The team at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was truly impressed by its visit to GNS in October 2021. 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,
The school is also 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.
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.
Fees range from a flat AED 46,800 from FS2 to Year 6, to AED 55,800 from Years 7 to 13. There is an application fee of AED 525 per child.
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