GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah is a relatively new addition to the GEMS schools in the UAE, which opened as planned in September 2019. It is located in the Muweilah School Zone, close to the University area.
True to their statement that GEMS would focus on the non-premium school sector, the launch of GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah (GCS) provided an affordable British curriculum-based education from the UAE's largest school group, underpinned by the success of its Cambridge brand.
The school opened with 60 teachers, and parents needed no second invitation to enrol their children at the new Sharjah school, with 840 students joining it at its opening in September 2019. While not quite as successful in terms of student numbers on opening as the GEMS Founders' Schools in Al Barsha and Al Khawaneej, the GEMS Cambridge International Sharjah school was not far behind.
In explaining why families should choose the newest member of the GEMS Cambridge schools, GEMS said "the new school draws from the GEMS Cambridge success story [that] is based on a legacy that is 36 years old. A multicultural legacy further enhanced by the presence of over 45 nationalities at our GEMS Cambridge schools".
Quite why it took GEMS so long to establish a further British curriculum school in Sharjah is something of a mystery – waiting lists in Sharjah schools have always been notoriously long. Perhaps the fact that an affordable school was the only way Sharjah parents might be attracted had not previously offered the incentive required. But with the slow-down in demand for premium sector schools in Dubai, GEMS decided to look north at last.
What, however, is very clear, based on feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, that the school has become extremely popular with its community in a very short time!
"It's the most wonderful school I have ever seen. Facilities, curriculum, fine arts, Music, extra activity, quality of building, eveything rated 100%. I would like to say thank you to all the staff in this school."
"I think the school’s strength has been its versatility in adapting to change required by the challenges of this pandemic. The faculty and staff are always ready to take on the challenges and producequality results in teaching and assisting the children. The friendliness of the staff in the school is also factor in getting a good feel towards the school".
"I believe that if your child is happy and developing at school then it's a good school, so let's dance because we are loving the education and my girl is happy at her new school. As a parent that have tried and tested all curriculums I must say we are loving the progressive way of learning at GCS".
"If I look at myself, I never remembered by only reading books; I learned by doing things and that's what the progressive program is about. Education is the Passport to the future and you will never regret that you invested in their education but I always say if the child is happy that is what matters the most. Thank you to Ms. Albie, Ms. Shahana and all the teachers at GCS for working hard in this pandemic situation. Much appreciated."
The Sharjah school is the fourth in the UAE to carry the Cambridge name, along with the original Dubai school, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, The Cambridge High School Abu Dhabi which is also over 25 years old, and the newer GEMS Cambridge International School , also in Abu Dhabi. The opening of GCS also brings the number of UK curriculum schools operated by GEMS in Sharjah to three, with the established Westminster School Sharjah and the relatively recently purchased Wesgreen International School already operating under GEMS ownership.
The school is located in the building formerly occupied by GEMS Our Own Boys School, in the Muweilah School Zone, overlooking the American University of Sharjah; the building has been extensively renovated. GEMS says that the school "is strategically positioned to provide the best access to students and families across Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman".
In line with Sharjah Education Zone's grading structure, the school follows a pre-KG to Grade 12 structure (equivalent to FS1 to Year 13), and opened from pre-KG to Grade 5 (Primary school) in its first year. Classes were extended to Grade 8 from September 2020. Classes are mixed gender up until Grade 4, becoming single gender from Grade 5 onwards. The initial intake of students came from 40 different nationalities, with the largest proportion (approximately 40%) from Egypt, followed by students from India and Pakistan. Class sizes are 25 in KG and up to 30 from Grade 1 upwards.
While all grades are not yet open, GCS started out with a capacity of roughly 1,600 students, suggesting a final student roll of around double that number once expanded to Grade 12.
In line with the practice at the other GEMS Cambridge schools, the leadership is largely from the UK and has direct experience of the National Curriculum for England, while many teachers are from other English-speaking destinations. When the school first opened, these teachers received intensive ongoing daily training and mentoring to support their professional development. Current teachers are largely from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the UK, meaning that those not from the UK have potentially not had previous British curriculum experience.
However, these concerns have been soundly addressed by the GCS approach, most significantly with the hiring of its Principal and CEO, Mrs. Albie Huyser. A South African national with British curriculum training, Mrs. Huyser most recently served as Deputy Principal at Cambridge International School Abu Dhabi, which made her ideally placed to support the development of new staff while the school found its feet. As the original press release for the school outlined:
"Not only will we implement the best practice from our family of schools, but we will also create a unique school with its own identity and strengths".
A further benefit of the new school environment – as opposed to an established organisation – is that all staff are working together to build relationships and expertise. One of the advantages of 'on the job' training is that teachers are provided with development in the latest UK practice and, in some cases, UAE practice (which in relation to ICT is felt to be ahead of the UK).
A particularly interesting case is that of the school’s Arabic team, who are benefitting greatly from this situation. Many UAE schools struggle to reconcile their Arabic departments with an English curriculum structure, resulting in Arabic teachers feeling unsupported. At GCS, however, the new environment allows Arabic teachers to appreciate and experience Best Practice, removes typical barriers to cooperation with other staff, and ensures they have support available. The GCS team is coordinating the inculcation of Islamic values within the curriculum for both English and other subjects, and as a result, there is a fluid, problem-solving approach for all staff.
But GCS doesn’t place the weight of the school’s expectations on just the teachers – one of their major focuses is on developing the leadership skills of its students as well. The school looks to “create a learning environment that enhances academic achievements by instilling values, which guide the daily lives of our students”. Students take the lead on areas such as innovation and sustainability, as evidenced by the school’s organic garden. Students also take leadership roles in relation to the Library and as a team of prefects.
The school follows the National Curriculum for England, which provides students with an education that is recognised around the world. It is a skill-based curriculum, supported by excellent textbooks and resources, with its own standardised testing mechanism. The curriculum fits into the English public examination system, which is recognised by universities throughout the world.
GCS’s approach to the curriculum centres on offering " a robust values-based approach to education with a strong focus on design thinking and problem solving. This will form a core part of the curriculum which will enable students to explore innovative solutions to complex challenges".
Since many students at the school have come from neighbouring schools in Sharjah and surroundings, there is a very definite focus on building students' oral skills and self-confidence, as well as developing resilience, perseverance, and diversity. One particular element of the curriculum which students seem to appreciate is the Wetel WeTV programme, which is designed to develop students' writing and presentation skills, while at the same time enabling them to develop self-confidence.
Students have access to computers, tablets, and iPads during classes, and parents must sign a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy upon their child’s admission to the school.
In the Primary school, the curriculum is divided into core and foundation subjects. The core subjects include: English; Mathematics; Science; Arabic (for Arabic speakers); Arabic (for non-Arabic speakers); Islamic Studies (for Muslim students only); UAE Social Studies; and Moral Education. Foundation subjects include: Computing; History; Geography; Art; Music; and Physical Education (PE).
The core subjects remain the same throughout the Secondary school, but foundation subjects become specialist subjects. These include: Computing; Humanities (History and Geography); French; Personal, Social, and Health Education (for non-Muslim students); Physical Education; Art; and Music.
Once the school opens Grade 9 onwards, students will be prepared for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) courses, Advanced Subsidiary (AS), and A-Level Examinations. Core subjects at this level will include English Language, Mathematics, Science, Arabic, Islamic, Social Studies, and Moral Education. Optional subjects will include Arabic, Art & Design, Business Studies, Drama, English Literature, French, Geography, History, and ICT.
Beyond lessons, students are kept busy too. Students are expected to do homework, which is aimed at reinforcing and reminding them of curriculum content. Student Planners are used to encourage parents to work with their children at home, and teachers set a variety of self-marking online homework activities, to encourage student engagement and enjoyment. Additional, more formal activities may be set by the teacher depending on the needs of the students.
The school also offers a wide variety of enrichment opportunities, with extra-curricular activities taking place during the last two lessons on Wednesday afternoons; teachers offer 'taster sessions' in activities that give them personal enjoyment. GCS aims to equip its students with all the necessary skills required "to explore the opportunities of the present and face the challenges of the future with confidence". The school does so through the offering of academic, sporting, cultural, and fun activities, including sports days and swimming galas. Each student is sorted into one of the four school houses, which are named according to the school’s value-driven philosophy: Respect (Red), Integrity (Blue), Kindness (Green), and Honesty (Yellow).
GEMS has long been a staunch supporter of inclusion across its schools, having introduced the first Achievement Centre at Jumeirah Primary School in the early part of 2006. In keeping with this best practice, GCS offers an inclusion team to support children with additional learning needs; intervention groups are established by wave, depending on the level of support required. This team also provides professional development to Teaching Assistants and Shadow teachers. Where a student requires 1-1 support, the Inclusion team will lead the hire of an appropriate person (though parents will pay the salary of the individual).
The Inclusion team also supports children with Gifts and Talents, as well as providing a separate English as an Additional Language team (which was already supporting 77 children upon the opening of the school).
According to GEMS, in 2018 one in ten A-Level entries at the Cambridge schools received A* grades and more than 80% achieved grades A*– C. In addition, over the past 3 years GEMS Cambridge students have been accepted to 97 universities in 26 countries and have received partial to full scholarships to these universities. Unfortunately, in line with GEMS' policy not to be specific about students' success, they do not mention the percentage or number of students who have gone on to university, nor the details of those who have received scholarships.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis; while there were a few instances of inspections being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, schools did not generally publish the outcomes. With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the intention is that schools will be inspected using the common framework already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However, SPEA has decided to seek a collaborative approach with the schools for this process, and although we understand that initial inspections did take place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, results of these inspections have not been published.
As a result of the pandemic, Sharjah schools have participated in Distance Learning Evaluations, implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), GCS’s implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Feedback from the inspectors was overwhelmingly positive, applauding the school’s approach to safeguarding and wellbeing, curriculum implementation, and both short- and long-term planning.
Safeguarding and wellbeing was recognised as “the highest priority for the school and the wellbeing team provides very effective support for both students and teachers”. Inspectors noted that the “promotion of attendance and participation is very successful, and this results in high attendance rates and ensures that students have equal access to all the distance learning provision”.
In terms of the implementation of the school’s curriculum, inspectors hailed it as:
"carefully planned and delivered with teachers sharing intended learning outcomes clearly with both parents and students. Lessons are interesting with skilled use of MS Teams and Nearpod in particular. This is supplemented by a wide range of challenges and activities to support wellbeing. Students can complete and submit their assignments in a coordinated and flexible way and both written and oral feedback is effectively provided.”
Finally, inspectors praised the school’s approach to Covid-19 and its handling of short-term and long-term planning. They described it as “effective, reviewed weekly, and adjusts to changing circumstances such as the work patterns of parents”. Inspectors also noted that the “leadership team communicate clearly and directly with parents, manage resources effectively and use Classroom Monitor to ensure core content is delivered”.
Areas for development were minimal: inspectors suggested the implementation of appropriate online summative assessment processes, and asked that the school provide further support to parents, specifically to enable them to access peer support networks.
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings – you will find it here.
In terms of the regular inspections, it is difficult to say what kind of rating parents can expect from GCS, given the lack of published results and the impact of Covid-19. However, the previous ratings of other GEMS Cambridge schools can give us an idea of how GCS may perform.
Cambridge International School Dubai was rated Good by the KHDA (Dubai's regulator) for the 12th year running in the 2019-20 inspection round, and both the Cambridge High School Abu Dhabi and its sister school, GEMS Cambridge International School Abu Dhabi, are also currently rated Good by ADEK. As Sharjah Education Zone does not publish the results of inspections, we can only trust that GCS will aim for a similar quality.
The existing Cambridge schools do not appear to aspire to reach a Very Good or Outstanding rating, but rather to maintain the Good rating that the regulators expect all schools to achieve. Inevitably, there are some compromises as a result – notably in respect to subject options for Grade 9 and 10 and Sixth Form students, which can often be limited. By contrast, GEMS' premium international curricula school, such as GEMS Jumeirah College, GEMS Jumeirah Primary School, and the GEMS Wellington schools, are consistently rated Outstanding or Very Good, with academic subject choices and achievement reflecting these ratings.
The GCS campus has state-of-the-art facilities, including a spacious school library (offering a panoramic view of Sharjah University), as well as a multi-purpose hall, prayer rooms, a cafeteria, clinics, and a parent café. Academic and sporting amenities include advanced science labs, ICT laboratories (including robotics), a STEAM Lab, audio-visual facilities, an art and music room, indoor and outdoor play areas for KG students, and a range of dedicated sports areas.
All classes are equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards.
Given that GCS is only a couple of years into operation, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com had the unusual opportunity to receive direct parental feedback very early on. This can be a risky move for any new school – after all, they potentially have no idea what parents really think . . .
The team at GCS, however, certainly did not have any cause for concern.
The parents that we met on our initial visit to the school in 2019 (with children in KG2 and Grades 4 and 5) simply could not be more thrilled at what they had found and what their children were experiencing. For example, GCS established a Parents' Committee, which was enthusiastically received and got together weekly (before Covid-19, of course). On Tuesdays, there was an Open Door policy which enabled parents to come into school and see what their children were doing, as well as providing them with the chance to discuss any concerns. The parents we met in 2019 described their experience at GCS as like 'joining a family'. They particularly praised Ms. Huyser for her very open, enthusiastic, and communicative character, for the creation of such a friendly environment, and for the availability and openness of teachers.
Parents were also delighted with the curriculum and, more particularly, the method of teaching and the relationships between children and teachers. Children were seen to be motivated and enquiring, and learning at a rapid rate in comparison with their previous experience. Teachers were quick to identify individual student needs and to provide support.
Parents told us that their children were so happy to be at GCS that they would gladly come in to school at the weekend!
If there was a concern for parents upon the school’s opening, it was the switch away from text books towards on-line resources via the i-Pads. However, within a few months of GCS’s opening, parents were enthusiastically embracing modern technology and their children's use of it.
The final word was from one parent who stated "I am blessed to be part of GEMS Cambridge School Sharjah".
GEMS has, over the years, earned a reputation for "doing what it says on the tin", and we have no doubt that GCS will follow closely in the footsteps of the other GEMS Cambridge schools in terms of curriculum, staffing, and ethos.
Despite the list of facilities, we don’t expect to see the addition of 'bells and whistles' – there is no mention of a future swimming pool or Performing Arts Centre, for instance. However, for parents seeking an affordable, 'good' quality of education with an established UK curriculum, GCS Sharjah will no doubt be a solid option.
In common with arrangements for all visits by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com to individual schools, GEMS Cambridge Private School Sharjah was requested to ask parents and staff to participate in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange this at the time, and the onset of Covid-19 has made getting further feedback more difficult.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at GCS, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our Survey here.
School fees are broadly comparable with the Abu Dhabi schools, and marginally higher than the Dubai school. The school is currently enrolling students from Pre-KG to Grade 8 with very limited availability. Judging by the parents that we met at the school, we would expect these higher grades to fill quickly.
The school fees range from AED 20,000 in pre-KG, to AED 22,000 for Grades 1 to 5, and AED 24,000 for Grades 6 to 8; Grade 9 fees are currently set to be AED 28,000.
Transportation fees are not included, and are paid separately in three instalments (one per term). GCS offers bus services for Muwailah, Sharjah, Al Qusais/Ajman, and Mirdif/Al Warqa, International City, and Silicon Oasis. These fees range from AED 3,900 per year to AED 5,100, depending on the location.
GCS also offers Founder Scholarships according to its website, but does not provide details of what these might be.
GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah 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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