GEMS Al Khaleej National School is a K-12 co-educational private school located in Al Garhoud, Dubai.
One of only four US curriculum schools operated by GEMS Education in the UAE, their Al Khaleej National School (AKNS) was established in July 1992. Located in the central Al Garhoud area of Dubai, the school has not yet achieved the recognition of the newer, but consistently KHDA Outstanding-rated GEMS Dubai American Academy located towards the south of the city.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is told;
"At AKNS, our vision/mission is to develop our students as:
- Principled Leaders who understand values and carry an international mindset;
- Independent Learners who can independently acquire knowledge and master skills for lifelong learning.
We ensure that our vision is achieved by providing our students with high quality and comprehensive instructional program which is enhanced by targeted teaching and learning. Our focus on the delivery of a standard-based curriculum has led us to make improvements in the delivery, teaching and assessment of curriculum as an integrated process. At AKNS, we believe that every student can learn. They just learn differently".
AKNS is popular with Emiratis who currently make up 51% of the student body. Other major nationality groups include Egyptian at 12%, Jordanian at 9%, and other Arab nationals make up a further 12%. There is total of 68 nationalities within the school. Overall, the school has just over 2,050 students enrolled, with separate sections allocated for boys and girls from Grade 5 upwards. The split between girls and boys is almost even, with 48% Females:52% Males.
Organisationally, AKNS is split into KG with 269 students, Elementary with 857, Middle School with 426 students and High School with 500. An average of at least 4-5 sections/ classes is usual across all grade levels.
The school is led by Superintendent/CEO Ms. Ghadeer Abu-Shamat, a professionally qualified educational bilingual leader with more than seventeen years of experience. She is a Chemist by qualification and achieved an MA in Educational Leadership and Management from the Institute of Education (IOE) at University College London (UCL), in addition to a Higher Diploma in Educational Leadership and Management from the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Ms. Abu-Shamat is currently furthering her studies in order to obtain a Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from University College London (UCL). She started her educational career as a teacher at Amman Academy –Jordan, then after six years she was promoted to become the youngest principal in Jordan at the age of 26.
Prior to her appointment in January 2015 as Superintendent/CEO at GEMS Al Khaleej National School, Ms. Abu-Shamat worked as the Founding Principal of Asamiah International IB School in Jordan.
Interestingly, although Al Khaleej National School is mixed-gender, the entire management team at the school is female with most having roots in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and South Africa.
At the time of this review update, there were 140 teachers and 45 teaching assistants (the main nationality groups being Lebanese, Jordanian, South African, Egyptian, British, American, Canadian and Palestinian ). Teaching Assistants assist in the teaching and learning process in the classroom actively by supporting the groups assigned to them by the lead/classroom teachers. The school also employs two Guidance Counsellors.
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Staff turnover, at 23% in 2020, 25% in 2019 and 26% one year prior, is a little towards the high side for an international school in the UAE which generally averages between 20-22%.
AKNS tells us that the school has a blend of staff in terms of experience; "While we offer opportunities for fresh graduates and experienced teachers alike, we ensure that our teachers know the best internationally acclaimed instructional practices. Our teachers are selected not only based on their experience, but also their passion for education and wellbeing of students. Middle and senior level staff are required to have relevant experience of at least 3 years in the field of their expertise".
Staff are expected to have either a Bachelor’s Degree in relevant the Subject Matter, or a Bachelors of Education/ Diploma in Teaching. Teachers who do not hold a Teaching Degree/Diploma are required to have a minimum 4 years of Teaching Experience. Currently all new hires are required to have a teaching qualification in addition to a minimum of Bachelors as subject qualification.
As further evidence of its commitment to its staff and their training, almost 15% of the school budget goes into teacher development. GEMS works in partnership with Tellal Institute to ensure that all teachers working in GEMS schools are qualified and have many opportunities for career development both within and outside of school.
With a teacher:student ratio of 1:13 from KG to Grade 2, and 1:26 through the rest of the school, classes average 28 students overall with a maximum class size of 30 students. These class sizes are in line with those found in schools of around the price point of AKNS.
GEMS Al Khaleej National School follows a US curriculum and has been an accredited member of NEASC (a KHDA requirement for all US curriculum schools) since May 2018. This accreditation means that the school is offering a curriculum and teaching that meets the standards of the New England Association for Schools and Colleges and that High School Diploma Certificates issued by the school will be recognised by colleges and universities globally.
AKNS also implements and follows College Board curricula for Advanced Placement (AP) subjects and AKNS students are required to take PSAT and SAT exams in accordance with the schedule set forth by College Board. Additionally, AKNS students are required to take the IELTS exam as a part of MoE diploma attestation procedures.
AKNS follows the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language and Maths classes, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), California State standards for other subjects taught in the English language, and the Ministry of Education (MOE) (for Arabic, Islamic, and Social Studies) curricula, with graduating students receiving the US high school diploma. The school runs regular assessments using American standardised tests, including the Iowa tests and MAPS testing.
The Kindergarten programme focuses on an activity-based approach where learning and social development through field trips and structured games form an integral part of the curriculum together with songs, rhymes, art and craft, pictures and stories to enable students to learn new skills such as phonics, numbers and conversation.
From Grades 1 to 5 students build on their foundations in reading, writing, Mathematics, Science, ICT and a structured Physical Education programme. Students in the Elementary Department are encouraged to develop the skills and abilities that they need to interact and integrate effectively in today’s world.
The education provided at AKNS is not solely focused on the academic. At the completion of Grade 5, apart from developing skills in reading, writing, Science, Mathematics and ICT, students will also have developed an appreciation for their culture and community, an understanding outlook towards fellow human beings and love for the world in which they live.
The Middle School Programme for students in Grades 6-8 is designed to consolidate and reinforce the educational foundations established in the Elementary School. The learning process in the Middle School focuses on individualized student needs and extends academic expectations. Students are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their learning as they mature and they will be expected to work with increasing independence.
The High School Academic Program consists of two facets, the Core Program and the Enrichment Program. The Core Program includes the required subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Arabic, Islamic Studies and Computer Studies. The Enrichment Program offers Music, Art, Cultural Enrichment and Physical Education. The school says it is committed to providing a child-centered learning environment that values diversity and embraces a whole child approach to develop well-educated citizens.
During the High School programme, AKNS says that "students are motivated to make a difference; to learn how they can affect real change across the community, the nation, and the planet. We mold young people who are ready to take the lead, to take advantage of the breadth and depth of opportunities that we offer".
The school promotes an atmosphere that fosters creativity, self-reliance, and academic success, with students graduating with a High School Diploma upon satisfactory completion of a specific number of courses. The high school offers a college-oriented programme and students are graded from A to F in each course. Prior to graduation, students are expected to take the MAP, PSAT, SAT, SAT 1, and the TOEFL and IELTS tests. The school is also an official SAT and TOEFL/IELTS computer testing centre with approved labs for these computer-based tests.
The school also emphasises that grade points earned at AKNS are based on a system of continual assessment, assigning grades for each course taken, noting that "We want our students to enjoy their childhood to the full and to have developed and pursued passions, both academic and extra-curricular, because almost everything a student does will influence the final grade. This includes examinations and tests, essays and written assignments, laboratory work and reports, class attendance and class participation".
AKNS offers three pathways to graduation with a minimum credit requirement of 22.5. Students have the choice to graduate with an AP diploma as well as a General diploma according to their career interests/choices and aspirations.
The school prepares its students for college and career by ensuring that U.S. curriculum expectations are taught in depth. The school focuses on the development of both students’ mother tongue as well as their English language skills since Arabic is the first language for most of the student population.
Students have access to 14 Advanced Placement courses available at the school which enables them to consider their tertiary education with a career focused mind set. The school offers high school students the opportunity to graduate from one of four pathways:
AP subjects include STEM, Arts, Business, Humanities, as well as Technology. Additionally, AKNS offers German and French to students in high school. Students are encouraged to take at least 3 AP courses in grades 10, 11 and 12 to earn university/ college credits.
Current AP course offerings include: AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science Principles, AP Physics C- Electricity and Magnetism, AP Physics C – Mechanics, and AP Environmental Science. In addition to the more Science or Technology focused subjects, AKNS also offers a range of more Liberal Arts focused subjects including AP Art – 2D, AP Drawing, AP Psychology, AP Human Geography, AP English Language and Composition, AP World History – Modern and AP Comparative Governments and Politics.
In addition to the academic, AKNS offers a wide range of co-and extra-curricular programmes which encourage students to explore and develop their personalities, creativity and skills.
AKNS says that "It is our objective to encourage balanced, holistic development in addition to a sense of healthy competition and team spirit. Students' life skills are also improved through helping them to develop balanced personalities together with physical fitness. These activities encourage students to explore and develop their personalities, creativity and skills".
Closely linked with the afternoon sessions are games, support classes, sports and other physical education programmes ECAs are offered to students through a diversified Enrichment Programme E365 which incorporates the following:
There is a wide range of extra-curricular activities offered by school. Some examples of such activities offered by the school are:
Most extracurricular activities are free. Some activities are paid by the parents especially if there is an activity that prepares students for a competition.
AKNS is an inclusive school and provides support for all of students regardless of their abilities. About 3% of all students, 62 students in total, have SEN requirements. A further 25 students are designated with G&T (Gifts and Talents) requirements and about 85% of students in school are English Language Learners since Arabic/another language is their first language.
The SEN team consists of four dedicated SEN teachers and a further three Learning Support/Shadow teachers. In line with KHDA requirements, three levels of support are offered to SEN students. Six students are receiving support at level 3; 47 students are receiving support at level 2; while 9 students are receiving support at level 1.
Specialist facilities for students include three fully equipped resource rooms, assessment batteries to screen students’ learning needs, as well as specialist supporting curriculum materials where the curriculum is fully modified in the case where a student is not able to access the relevant grade level curriculum.
No extra cost is levied for SEND provision in school. However, parents are required to pay for Shadow teachers (either hired by them or the school) as well as therapy needs. Whilst the school can source Shadow teachers or Learning Support Assistants, parents are given a choice as to whether they hire their own resource or source them through school. For students whose first language is not English, AKNS provides extra language support for which there is also no extra fee.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com were delighted to see that AKNS has provided details of student achievement and college destinations.
The school offers a broad range of student assessments including
AKNS students’ scores in TIMSS (standardized tests for Math and Science which are organised globally every four years) in the last three cycles show that the students in Grade 8 Science have improved their average score by 77 points in comparison to 2015, and 114 points in comparison to school’s starting point in 2011. Accordingly, in TIMSS 2019, AKNS students scored significantly higher than TIMSS center-point in Science in Grade 8.
AKNS students also showed progress in the other grades/subjects (+59 points in Math in Grade 8, + 28 points in Science in Grade 4, and + 42 points in Math in Grade 4), though students performed lower than the TIMSS center-point in Math and Science for Grade 4 and Math in Grade 8.
AKNS students’ performance in PISA 2018 (Program for International Student Assessment, operated by the OECD) shows that students are performing about 30 points below the target set by KHDA for Maths, Science and Reading for students in Grade 10.
Whilst there is clearly some improvement to be made in relation to these standardized tests, those AKNS students who sat AP exams in the 2019-2020 academic year scored an average of 3.56, as compared to the UAE Average of 3.24 and the world average of 2.95.
90% of senior students go on to tertiary education. Since many male students (UAE nationals) opt for one year of military service after their high school years within the UAE, the percentage changes slightly each year. However almost all senior students, regardless of military service gap year, go on to tertiary education after completing high school.
Further details of university destinations can be found in the High School Profile, but they include Zayed University, American University in Dubai, University of Sharjah, Higher Colleges of Technology, University of Birmingham, UAE, American University in Cairo, Egypt, German University in Cairo, Egypt, York University, Canada, Carlton University, Canada, Concord College of Canada, Canada, Charles University, Czech Republic, Pennsylvania State University, U.S.A, University of Central Florida, U.S.A, University of Bradford, U.K., and The Royal College of Surgeons - RSCI, Bahrain,
AKNS offers a full time guidance counseling program run by its guidance counselors to all of its middle and high school students for career guidance, university preparation, choice of electives and support with college applications process.
AKNS has a wide range of facilities which have been upgraded in recent years, including a new Primary school section. The school has 81 classrooms in total, all of which are equipped with interactive smart boards as are all meeting rooms. WIFI is available to which students and staff can connect their devices.
Classrooms sizes can be on the small side based on KHDA inspectors' comments that although "facilities and resources are adequate. [However], the small classrooms are not conducive to collaborative and innovative learning." Indeed, they are described as overcrowded by the inspection team. This must be an issue of concern to the school and its community.
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All classrooms are equipped with cutting edge smart-boards which have replaced white boards. All public areas excluding bathrooms as well as classrooms are equipped with CCTV cameras.
Additional facilities include six science laboratories equipped for the purpose of enhancing practical applications, demonstrations and experimentation. The physics labs are provided with additional facilities and equipment to teach electronics and digital analysis. There are also five ICT laboratories each with 25 computers, a Makerspace and three Art rooms.
The school has three libraries containing learning and teaching resources that are available for all students. The school libraries provides variety of interactive teaching resources. In order to support boys in their reading, a comfortable reading area is located in the boys section that aims to provide a conducive atmosphere, encouraging development and practice of this essential skill.
In common with the holistic approach of the US curriculum, two rooms support music and singing. A selection of percussion instruments, drums, recorder and traditional instruments is complemented by a piano. A multi-purpose hall is equipped with sound, stage, lighting and equipment to support school events including music and and performing arts.
The school canteen provides a food service during lunch and break times. It offers a range of healthy snacks and beverages.
Sports facilities are an important element of the school with a football pitch and grassed areas, a swimming pool, a gymnasium which is used for indoor activities and sports as required, two Basketball Courts, and an Indoor Football Court.
Despite being located in one of the busiest and most central areas of Dubai, the entire school is flanked with green ways and gardens that give it a pleasant atmosphere and plenty of space for students during break times. In recognition of the largely local population, two mosques are conveniently located on campus, one for boys and one for girls, designed to enhance the school's preservation of traditional values.
Other outdoor facilities include a Kindergarten Play Area, where the youngest students can play in a safe and secure environment, designed especially for the enjoyment and capabilities of young children. The area is equipped with a variety of outdoor play equipment. There are two further outdoor play areas.
What the inspectors say
After being rated Acceptable by the KHDA's DSIB inspection teams for nine years, Al Khaleej National School was finally upgraded to Good in the 2017-18 inspection round, a rating it has retained for 2018-19 and 2019-20. It thus remains in the ranks of almost all other schools owned by GEMS Education - that is rated either Good or Outstanding.
With the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, AKNS was one of a limited number of schools to receive an inspection in the 2019-20 academic year. Along with all other UAE schools - both private and public - it also participated in the Distance Learning Evaluation process which took place in May/June 2020, and achieved the highest rating of Developed. The report of the evaluation can be found here.
GEMS Education, one of the UAE's biggest education providers, in general, does very well with the KHDA inspection process. Raising the progress and attainment of students at Al Khaleej is a priority for the school as well as GEMS, with GEMS investing additional financial resources into the school to raise teacher salaries and provide additional programs and opportunities for students.
The upgrade after so many years at Acceptable was evidently attributable in large part to the leadership and management of the school. KHDA inspectors noted that "The newly-structured leadership has a clear impact on raising students’ progress and ensuring continuous school development.
The KHDA identified the strengths of AKNS as:
In terms of Student Achievement, almost all ratings are now Good. The exceptions are for Attainment in the Middle and High school sections for Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language which are rated Acceptable as is Progress for Arabic as a first language in Middle school. Similarly, attainment in English across Elementary, Middle and High school sections is rated Acceptable, though Progress is Good. Attainment in Maths in the Elementary and Middle school section also remains Acceptable.
It is clear, however, that the KG section is making significant strides, with all three English-taught subjects (English, Math and Science), rated Good for Attainment and Very Good for Progress. Math Progress and Science across both measures are rated Good or Very Good (in High school).
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are a strength of AKNS with six of the twelve key performance measures rated Outstanding, whilst the others are rated Very Good. The inspectors commented that "Students’ attitudes and behavior are outstanding in the KG and elementary phases and very good in the other two phases. All students possess an excellent appreciation and understanding of Islamic values and knowledge of Emirati heritage and culture. They are willing contributors to the school community, often taking responsibilities and initiating projects to interest and benefit others".
Teaching and assessment, which had been something of a weakness at the school, is now rated a solid Good across the school with the exception of KG where Assessment was found to be Very Good. The inspection team noted that "Teaching is generally effective, with increasing emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking, problem-solving and inquiry skills. Students are more engaged in learning through increased opportunities to collaborate and use technology, not only for research but also for programming".
But it was the design of the Curriculum and its adaptation which saw the most improvements in this report, with the latter criterion rated Very Good across the board, whilst Curriculum design and implementation was found to be Very Good in KG and High school, but remained Good in Elementary and Middle school sections.
The fifth Key Performance Standard of The Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students is also now rated Very Good across all sections of the school.
The inspection team's were particularly positive in this context, noting that "The school provides a very safe, caring and inclusive environment in which students flourish. Consequently, relationships are very positive. Improvements to attendance and behavior policies are having positive effects. Academic and personal support is systematically provided by teachers, the support staff and counsellors. Beginning in the middle school grades, guidance for students, regarding careers and associated curriculum pathways, is extremely effective".
The school was found to be highly inclusive with the inspectors commenting that "This is a highly inclusive school. The provision is well led and the systems for review, implementation, monitoring and evaluation are effective". However, it would seem that the provision available for students with Gifts and Talents was not as strong and this is an area on which the school will need to focus.
Somewhat surprisingly, in our view, and despite several very positive comments, the Leadership and Management of the school was rated Good.
The inspectors commented that "The superintendent, with other senior leaders and supported by a growing middle leadership team, is improving the school’s performance. Leaders know their school well and effective planning is raising the students’ achievements. Parents are actively involved in their children's education and governors are knowledgeable and supportive. Enhancements are being made to the management, staffing and resources but the building is limiting students' learning experiences".
Despite the very clear improvements noted in this year's inspection report, and the upgrade to Good, it is evident from the inspection report that the school's staff and students alone cannot take all the necessary steps to improve to the next level. Further investment from the owners and stronger parental participation are also called for, as can be seen from the key recommendations. These include the need to:
It is evident that GEMS Al Khaleej National School is on the path to greater improvement - after many years at Acceptable, its achievement in finally making the step up to Good and maintaining this, cannot be under-estimated. This is not the first time, however, that the Inspection team has called upon GEMS to make the investment in facilities, and the pressure must be growing to ensure that this take place.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
The 2019-20 KHDA inspection report noted that "Parents are actively involved in their children's education and governors are knowledgeable and supportive". A relatively small number of parents (81) completed the KHDA pre-inspection survey, but most of those who did so were found to be positive about the quality of education provided by school - although this number, at 80%, suggested that a sizeable number of less positive parents had made a specific effort to participate in the survey.
Most parents reported that teachers help their children to learn and that they have the information they need to support their children at home. The majority reported that they are involved in school activities at least monthly and that the school listens to their views. They feel that their children have good relationships with their teachers and other students. The inspection report made no mention of the reasons behind the less positive overall percentage of parents who were satisfied with the overall quality of education provided.
By contrast, a significant 438 students responded to the KHDA's Wellbeing survey. The results indicated that students’ views about persevering and worrying about school work, the extent to which they belong and are being cared for at school, are slightly below those of students in other schools. They are more likely to believe that they face physical and verbal bullying than their peers in other schools. The inspection team were at pains to note that they did not find evidence to support these concerns.
Surprisingly, the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com school survey has not received any responses from parents, teachers or students at GEMS Al Khaleej National School. If you are a parent, teacher or student at the school, please do share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
It is very clear to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team that GEMS Al Khaleej National School is making significant strides in its provision and is well on the way not only to solidifying its rating as a Good school, but to ensuring that it is at a minimum Good with a range of Very Good features. The school is very much at the affordable end in terms of fees for a US curriculum school - particularly one that is offering an increasingly broad range of Advance Placement courses.
For families seeking a good quality school with a strong focus on Arab and Islamic values but one that also offers the opportunity for students to mix with a broad range of nationalities, AKNS is definitely worth consideration.
Fees are in the affordable range, starting at just under AED 16,546 and rising to AED 31,661 by Grade 12.
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