GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah is a relatively new addition to the GEMS schools in the UAE, opening as planned in September 2019. It is located in the Muweilah School Zone.. It has achieved the rare distinction of being awarded a Very Good rating in the 2022-23 SPEA inspection process.
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 840 students. Parents certainly needed no second invitation to enrol their children at GCS. In the 2022-23 academic year, there are over 100 teachers and 38 teaching assistants, with 1,843 students currently on the roll - an increase of 1,000 since its opening in September 2019.
GCS is accredited with British Schools Overseas (BSO), British Schools of the Middle East (BSME) and the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). GCS says that it "maintains a rigorous process of self-reflection and analysis of internal needs on current practices and self-improvement by undergoing multiple inspections and awards evaluations". The school is an accredited Microsoft Showcase school, Special Olympics Unified School, Commonsense Media School, Eco- School Green Flag Awardee, UNCC Edducate Global School Awardee and BSME Ed Goodwin Award Winner.
And it is not just the school that is an award winner. In May 2023, it was GEMS Cambridge International School Year 10 student, Naomi Maetel Madrid Ibe, had scooped the prestigious Outstanding STEM Student Secondary award, in recognition of her innovative projects, after beating over 60 schools from the Mideast and India during the 4th edition of the Global Annual STEM Best Practice Summit and Awards 2023.
The GCS Vision is: "Through values we succeed". The GCS values are Kindness, Integrity, Honesty and Respect. The school seeks to ensure that the "GCS values are embedded in whatever we do!" This is supported through a Values-based house and reward system- where primary students are given Dojo points and secondary students are given house points .
GCS is also a pilot school in the adoption of the Oxford Wellbeing framework (which includes weekly well-being lessons and assemblies based on the Oxford well-being framework), and the MASAR initiative by Ministry of Health and Sharjah Child Friendly School.
It is also the only school in Sharjah to have won all eight awards of Optimus and the Safeguarding Alliance. The Optimus awards included Well Being, Best Practice for Teaching Assistants, Leading Parent Partnership and the SENDIA Award for Inclusion. The Safeguarding Alliance awards included Governance, COVID-19, Leadership and Inclusion.
Based on feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, it is clear that that the school has become extremely popular with its community. Recent comments from 2023 are consistently full of praise.
"Management is very supportive and GCIS has the kindest Principal. Strengths are the Multicultural environment, with many nationalities; these are distributed across all sections. There is fairness and balance. Further strengths are the number of students in the classroom. The ethos of the school is very positive. Staff are so helpful and we have seen a huge leap in the behaviour and confidence of our children. The Anti-bullying and anti-racism policy is in place and discipline is positively reinforced. Safeguarding is a top priority at GCS . It is a very clean school. School is a happy place for our kids; they will never consider moving to another school."
"Teachers at this school are amazing; they are completely cooperative with us especially MOE teachers and also SLT members; communication with the school is of a very high level and my son feels very comfortable with them."
"Just happy to be a part of the GCS family."
"The leadership is accessible at all times. Communication is consistent."
"Excellent teaching and school core values are followed in school."
"They listen to the parents, they improve every year and care about every child in school."
And not only parents are impressed! Feedback from teachers is also exceptionally positive.
"Very positive and student friendly school."
"Our school is a wonderful place to work - thank you GCS."
"Strengths - technology, infrastructure, innovation, and also academic teaching."
"Everyone in the school is supportive. I feel this school gives me opportunity to grow and to improve myself."
"Strengths: Team work , Integrity, Kindness, Honest and Respectful. These strengths build a successful school."
"Strengths: A positive working environment, great opportunities and friendly co-workers."
And students too have shared their feedback about GCS.
"The biggest strength is its diversity. Supports students. going out of its way with extra curricula events. (Sometimes too) high expectations."
"Strengths: You get access to adequate resources at school to do extensive study. Every child is given equal consideration and a fair opportunity to engage in their preferred activity, and a variety of competitions in which to compete."
"Gems Cambridge has lots of strengths compared to any weaknesses. They know how to educate students in different ways so that they always feel entertained. Gives opportunities to students that would benefit them in the future. Also knows how to guide students to the path they want to be on, even if at the time they are not sure. Develops character, works with the students on their goals."
"Strengths: The school provides you with opportunities, including the chance to participate in numerous competitions and events. This school teaches you several skills such as leadership, communication, and others. This school assists you in deciding your future by organising career workshops and other activities. This school's pupils are joyful and have a good time at school."
"Strengths: Opportunities, Leadership, Extra-Curricular, Academic Support, Career Options, Innovation, Sports; Mostly everything a student could ask for."
The Sharjah school is the fourth in the UAE to carry the Cambridge name, along with the original Dubai school, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary, The Cambridge High School Abu Dhabi which is also over 30 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 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".
The school follows an FS1 to Year 13 structure (equivalent to pre-KG to Grade 12 ), and opened from FS1 to Year 6 (Primary school) in its first year. Classes are mixed gender up until Year 5, becoming single gender from Year 6 onwards. Students come from 66 different nationalities, with the largest proportion from Egypt, followed by students from India and Pakistan. Class sizes are 25 in FS and Year 1 and up to 30 from Year 2.
GCS is now open for all grades from FS1 (pre-KG) to Year 13 (Grade 12). The first cohort of Year 13/Grade 12 students will graduate in 2023.
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 nations. When the school first opened, these teachers received intensive ongoing daily training and mentoring to support their professional development - an area of focus which appears to be highly appreciated by staff. 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 previously 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 benefiting 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 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 forms 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.
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.
GCS offers enriched selection of personalised learning at Post 16, all leading to University entrance. We offer students a wide range of subjects allowing each student comprehensive opportunities to effectively “Choose their future” by studying A- levels in subjects they are passionate about. GCS delivers the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) courses, Advanced Subsidiary (AS), and A-Level Examinations. Core subjects at this level include English Language, Mathematics, Science, Arabic, Islamic, Social Studies, and Moral Education. Optional subjects will include Arabic, Art & Design, Business Studies, Psychology, English Literature, French, Geography, History, and IT.
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 on Tuesday 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.
"The inspection report notes that "Systems to identify Special Educational Needs and disabilities students (SEND) are rigorous. Students are assessed using a range of internationally recognised tests and detailed information is made available. The school provides effective support for SEND students through the Head of Inclusion and support staff including shadow teachers. Support for the gifted or talented is a developing feature".
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.
With the first cohort of students having been entered for their IGCSE examinations in 2021, when examinations were awarded on the basis of teacher assessed grades. The school did not publish its examination results for 2022, but we hope with the graduation of the first cohort of A Level students in 2023, that GCS will join the majority of GEMS schools which have released full results since the pandemic.
The new SPEA inspection report does note that student achievement for English at AS level examinations in 2022 was Outstanding, whilst those for maths was Very Good and science, Good.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not, until the 2022-23 academic year, participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis.
With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the schools have been inspected using the common framework that were already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On its first published inspection, GEMS Cambridge International School was awarded the second highest Very Good rating - one of only nine Sharjah schools to do so.
The summary of GCS' performance notes that:
"The overall performance of the school is very good. The principal and senior leaders have a shared vision and established a clear strategic direction which has led to this very positive result. Leaders ensure that the learning environment is positive and, as a result, students respond with positive attitudes and behaviours, showing respect for each other and the traditions of the UAE. Professional development, together with a strong culture of sharing best practice among staff, has contributed to the high quality of teaching, learning and to the curriculum in all subjects. The well-being and safeguarding of students are priorities for the school and acknowledged by parents as at a very high and consistent level."
With such a glowing view presented by the inspection team, the report then considers GCS's performance across the six key performance standards.
Every aspect of student achievement is rated Very Good - including Arabic and Islamic Studies which is so often a challenge for international curriculum schools in the UAE. The same is true of Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, and Leadership and Management. The Protection, care, guidance and support of students is rated Outstanding.
Commenting on the strengths of the school, the inspection team found these to be:
In terms of areas for improvement, the inspectors recommended:
The inspection report lists detailed steps for the school to take in order to achieve progress on the recommendations:
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the detailed reasons behind the ratings and the recommendations– you will find it here.
The GCS campus has state-of-the-art facilities, including a spacious school library (offering a panoramic view of Qasmia University), as well as a multi-purpose hall, prayer rooms, a cafeteria, clinic, 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 FS students, and a range of dedicated sports areas. All classes are equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards.
GCS is now a well established school and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received considerable direct parental feedback. Some 85 reviews by parents have been received and the school has been rated 4.5/5 - a 90% positivity rating.
Children clearly enjoy going to school (79% tremendously) and have a tremendous sense of belonging (72%). 65% of parents believe that GCS has improved their child's confidence 'a great deal' and a further 21% 'a lot'.
63% of students attended other schools in the UAE before joining GCS - so a positive decision to join by parents with experience of other institutions. Having made the decision to join GCS, only 12% of parents have considered moving their child to another school (under half the average UAE figure of 25%).
86% of respondents are completely satisfied with the academic performance (whilst a further 10% are partially satisfied), although in common with the UAE average of 29%, 31% feel that their child requires additional tuition. 87% of parents are completely satisfied with communication between the school and home, whilst 90% are satisfied with GCS' disciplinary policy and its implementation. 78% of parents believe that the quality of education offered at GCS is better than in their home country.
Even the often contentious issue of whether fees represent value for money is viewed positively, with 77% agreeing that they do, whilst 17% partially agree and only 6% of respondents (half the UAE average) disagree.
Perhaps, therefore, feedback that 95% of parents would recommend GEMS Cambridge International School to others should not come as a surprise.
We would very much like to see further feedback from parents, teachers and students at GCS to ensure as wide a participation as possible.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at GEMS Cambridge International School Sharjah, please share your opinions and experience with other potential members of your community and complete our Survey.
From its earliest days, GCS has welcomed and encouraged parents to participate in the life of the school. For example, GCS established a Parents' Committee, which was enthusiastically received and got together weekly (prior to the impact of Covid-19). 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.
Prior to the inspection, SPEA surveyed parents and received responses from 504. 91.9% of respondents said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by GCS.
The inspection report notes that "The school successfully engages parents as partners. Parental engagement through the parent committee is well established and the ‘open-door’ school policy ensures parents views are taken into account, including in the development of the school's self-evaluation and improvement plans".
GEMS has, over the years, earned a reputation for "doing what it says on the tin", and we have no doubt that GCS will continue to follow closely in the footsteps of the other GEMS Cambridge schools in terms of curriculum, staffing, and ethos.
For parents seeking an affordable, genuinely very good (and improving) quality of education with an established UK curriculum, GCS Sharjah is, without doubt, a solid option. No wonder that the school has waiting lists for many year groups.
School fees are broadly comparable with the Abu Dhabi schools, and marginally higher than the Dubai school.
The school fees range from AED 20,000 in FS and Year 1 to AED 22,000 for Years 2 to 6, and AED 24,000 for Years 7 to 9; and AED 28,000 for Years 10-13.
Transportation fees are not included, and are paid separately in three instalments (one per term). Fees range from AED 4,500 to AED 6,000 per year depending on destination.
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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