GEMS Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi, is a co-educational school located in East Baniyas, with a student population of approximately 3,500 students.
Established in 2013, GEMS Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi is an established school that graduated its first cohort of Year 13 students in the 2019-20 academic year. The school has grown very rapidly in the past five years, with teaching staff having grown by one-third during this period, and reflective of student growth. The Abu Dhabi school follows the the same successful format of the long-established Cambridge International School Dubai, (rated Good by the KHDA), and the newer (2019 established) GEMS Cambridge International School Sharjah (rated Very Good in the 2022 SPEA inspections), providing a UK curriculum education at a mid-range price point.
In late 2021, it was announced that CIS Abu Dhabi had been found to offer an Excellent standard of education with several Outstanding features by British Schools Overseas, an inspectorate set up under the UK Government's Department of Education, designed to accredit international schools offering the English National Curriculum.
This endorsement was followed by ADEK in its 2021-22 inspection which took place in March 2022, when CIS Abu Dhabi was awarded the second highest Very Good rating for the first time, joining the Sharjah school in this achievement.
CIS Abu Dhabi states in the Principal's address that its vision "is to provide an outstanding world class education for all of the students in our care. We know what matters and what makes a difference to learning and staff at all levels promote a culture of inclusion, ambition, challenge, support and achievement for all that is totally student centred. Children are our priority and our expectations and support allow every child to excel".
The school has just over 3,500 students from 88 different countries of whom the majority are nationals of Pakistan, India and Egypt. UAE nationals make up just over 20% of the student body population.
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The school employs some 170 teachers and a further 25+ teaching assistants. Teachers come from a range of nationalities, but interestingly, the school advertises its recruitment policy, noting that "the senior leadership team and a core team of teachers from the United Kingdom are complemented by qualified professional teachers from other countries to meet the needs of our international student population". This makes perfect sense and ensures that students are receiving an education that is genuinely based on, and led by staff with direct experience of the UK curriculum as taught in the UK.
The school is led by Principal, Ms. Hazel Govender, a South African educated graduate of Psychology who also holds a Masters in Educational Leadership and Management. Ms. Govender joined CIS Abu Dhabi in 2016 and was appointed Principal in 2022.
The teacher:student ratio of 1:20 is on the higher side but should still enable sufficient attention to be paid to students' individual learning needs and adaptation of the curriculum to match them. Historically, staff turnover, at 9% in 2018, has been well below the average of the UAE of 20-22%.
Close to 3% of students have additional learning needs and the school has a strong policy of inclusion with approximately 1% of students having been identified with additional learning needs.
The school is a UK curriculum school, preparing students for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), the Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and A Level Examinations of the University of Cambridge (UK). Additionally, the school offers Edexcel BTEC Level 2 and 3 qualifications in a range of vocational subjects.
Children in Foundation 2 and Key Stage 1 (Year 1 and 2) are introduced to Reading, Writing, Science, Mathematics and Information and Communications Technology through a system of practical applications, supported by a positive and stimulating learning environment. Learning through structured play and a regular programme of field trips forms an integral part of the Foundation and Key Stage 1 curriculum. By the end of Year 2, all students will have developed social skills and a love of learning, as well as be able to read and write, and use simple Mathematics at a level appropriate for their age or beyond. Children will also have had significant exposure to History, Geography and Science, enriched by Personal, Social and Health Education. Creative talents in Art and Music will be nourished, alongside physical development through Dance, Games and Gymnastic activities.
In Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6), the core academic curriculum includes Arabic, Islamic Studies, English, Mathematics, Science and Information and Communications Technology. French is also offered as an additional language. Additional subjects include Humanities, Art, Music, Physical Education, and Personal, Social and Health Education.
Students in Years 7 to 8 (Key Stage 3) continue to follow the National Curriculum for England with core subjects of English, English Literature, Mathematics, Humanities, Sciences, Computer Sciences, a selection of second languages, Art and Design, Physical Education. and Personal, Social and Health Education. By Key Stage 4 (Year 9, 10 and 11), the IGCSE curriculum is introduced. A wide range of subjects are offered, including the compulsory subjects of Arabic, Islamic Studies, English, Mathematics and Physical Education, together with optional subjects include ICT, French, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Business Studies, Accounts, Economics, Art, Drama, Media Studies, Travel and Tourism and Environmental Management. BTEC Level 2 qualifications are also offered in Sport, Performing Arts and Engineering.
During the final two years at CIS Abu Dhabi, students sit for the AS and A levels. In line with the IGCSE options, a wide range of subjects are offered which are designed to prepare students for higher education studies or a multitude of career opportunities. BTEC Level 3 qualifications are also offered in Business, IT, Media and Travel and Tourism. Support classes in a variety of subject areas are extremely popular with students who require additional guidance and for those who wish to acquire additional expertise.
CIS Abu Dhabi is also keen to ensure that students do not simply focus on the academic, but are also involved in a range of creative, community and other extra-curricular activities. All students are expected to represent their school in inter-school sports activities and tournaments or more academic competitions. Regular sports activities include Swimming, Cricket, Football, Rugby and Athletics among others. Photography, Chess, Drama, Arts, Environmental Clubs and Debates are regular features of the after-school programme.
Students are also offered CISCO ICT qualifications at additional cost. In 2017, Secondary students attended the Model United Nations event at Harvard University, where they debated with students from around the world, and were awarded first prize in the international essay competition. Innovation competition first prizes include the Idea Factor Competition organised by Abu Dhabi University and the Future Intelligence Programme sponsored by Emirates Islamic Bank. Sporting successes have included 19 winning or second placed teams in Abu Dhabi Emirate and UAE competitions, 239 medals won by the swim squads, two male athletes being ranked in the top five outstanding performers at the UAE Teen Sports Awards and winners and runners-up at the World Ju Jitsu Championships.
The school notes that "Our strength lies in our many different faces of success – academic, leadership, sporting, creative or innovation – we find it, nurture it and celebrate it. We are a big school that celebrates the little things that can change students’ lives forever and we are exceptionally proud of our student ambassadors who have the potential to be world leaders".
Whilst the majority of GEMS schools are reluctant to share their academic results, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com were delighted to see that CIS Abu Dhabi has published at least some data in relation to the achievement of their first cohort of IGCSE students in 2017-18.
Whilst academic results are not the be-all and end-all of education, they are clearly important, not only for the ambitions of the students involved, but for parents when considering school choices. We believe that results should be shared and celebrated.
In 2022, with a return to the normal examination process post Covid, the school shared some, but not full, details of its students. A total of 208 students were entered for some 620 examinations. Of these entries, 14% were awarded A*, whilst 32% achieved A and 53% were awarded A*-B. Results for IGCSE were not shared with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
In 2021, CIS Abu Dhabi published its A Level and I/GCSE results in considerable detail. For the second year running, students were unable to sit their examinations, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Results were therefore based on Centre Assessed Grades, whereby teachers and leaders of the school allocated the results based students' performance and assessments and predicted grades resulting from these.
For A Levels, the school informed WhichSchoolAdvisor.com a cohort of 75 students were entered for 191 examinations. 16.2% of entries were awarded A*, 42.4% A*-A and 77.5 A*-B. The school did not provide information about A*-C and A*-E grades (all pass grades at A Level).
IGCSE results for 2021 included 1,450 exam entries by 197 students. 29.9% of entries were awarded A*, 50.3% A*-A, 77.3% A*-B, and 89.3% (A*-C), representing a total pass rate of almost 90% across all entries.
With both A Level and IGCSE results for 2020 being awarded by teachers as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, CIS Abu Dhabi published the achievements of its A Level students for its second set set of full A Level results, with 18% of entries achieving A* grades, 27% graded A*-A and 50% graded A*-B.
The highest sets of grades achieved by A Level students included one student who achieved 3A* results, two students who achieved 3A* and an A, and the highest performer, Aya Hammad, a Sheikha Fatima Award winner, who achieved 4 straight A* grades.
CIS Abu Dhabi also celebrated its Year 12 students' AS results which included 9 students who achieved straight A* grades. Complete results for IGCSE in 2020 were not provided, but the school did advise that 46% of all entries were at A*-A.
CIS Abu Dhabi published its exam results for its first cohort of I/GCSE students in 2018. The school's website notes that "Students at the GEMS Cambridge International School achieved beyond expected potential with 26% of all entries being graded at A* or A, and 50% of all entries being graded at A*, A or B. In Biology and Chemistry students averaged a grade A, whilst in Physics and English Literature students averaged a grade B. 8 students achieved A*/A grades in all curriculum subjects".
Unfortunately, the results information does not allow much analysis, given that there is no detail of student numbers, nor the percentages of results achieved at the different grades. In general, we expect schools to confirm the percentage of students who achieve 5 IGCSE's at Grades A*-C including Maths and English at a minimum. We hope that CIS Abu Dhabi will emulate its sister school, GEMS Jumeirah College, which is the most transparent of all GEMS UK curriculum schools in this context.
Set in a large modern building, (though architecturally with a nod to traditional UK high fronted schools), CIS Abu Dhabi has a wide range of pleasant classrooms with the usual technological support, including WiFi access throughout the campus. Lab facilities include nine fully-equipped Science laboratories and seven computer (ICT) suites. In addition, a Primary Library and a Secondary Library and three art studios, music choral and ensemble rooms, design and technology and media suites provide additional specialist facilities.
Sports facilities at the school include a learners and 25m swimming pool, cricket nets, playing fields and an indoor sports hall. A separate, well-equipped, grassed playing area is available for students in Foundation 2 to Year 2.
In the 2017-18 ADEK inspection report, CIS Abu Dhabi retained the Good rating achieved two years earlier. Given the growth of the school, this was a solid achievement.
The overall rating does not entirely reflect the positive comments from the inspection team who noted that "The overall performance of the school is good. The school has grown significantly in size and has had almost one third of its teachers new within the last two years.The school has successfully integrated these incoming students while maintaining a good standard of achievement". Importantly, the report also notes that "The school has made good progress in addressing the recommendations of the previous inspection report with recommendations being fully addressed or inroads made".
Shortly prior to the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic and the resultant cancellation of inspections for the remainder of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years, CIS Abu Dhabi was again awarded the Good rating.
Fast forward to March 2022, and the school was finally awarded a Very Good rating (the second highest level). The ADEK inspection followed that of a team from British Schools Overseas in October 2021 - an inspection process offered on behalf of the British Government's Department of Education, which measures performance based on the standards of the DoE's Ofsted inspections, to which all state schools in England are subject.
For reasons that have not been explained (we assume to enable inspections to take place at all schools that had not been inspected in 2019 and 2020), the inspection team reviewed only four of the six key performance standards and issued abbreviated reports without commentary. Of those measures inspected, an astonishing 47% were found to be Outstanding (no Outstanding ratings were achieved in the previous 2019-20 inspection), whilst 24% were found to be Very Good. The balance of 29% were not inspected. Post 16 attainment and progress in English, Maths, and Science were all rated Outstanding, and this section is clearly a particular strength of the school.
If you would like to read the abbreviated inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to understand the details of the ratings and indicators of those areas that still require improvement - you will find it here.
Interestingly, the relatively low number of parents who have completed our Parent Survey, are rather less enthusiastic about the school. With an overall rating of 2.9/5, this is a positivity rating of only 58% from a total of 32 respondents.
Given the size of the school, it has to be said that this is a relatively small sample, but as is often the case, it is less satisfied parents who take the time to comment.
Just 53% of those who responded would recommend the school to other parents, well below the UAE average of 82%. Whilst 16% would definitely not recommend the school, 3 in 10 parents were not sure (over three times the UAE average). Doubts seem largely to revolve around the value for money of fees, communications and the level of academic performance where the proportion of parents who were undecided was as large or larger than those who were satisfied. The fact that 66% of respondents had considered moving their child to another school suggests a large degree of uncertainty.
In order to enable us to provide a representative view of the school with other potential members of your community, if you are a parent, teacher or senior student at GEMS Cambridge International School Abu Dhabi, please share your experience and opinions by taking our survey here.
Fees at CIS Abu Dhabi start at AED 21, 400 for FS1 to AED 37,440 for Year 13. Uniforms range in price from AED 355 to AED 395. Bus fees are a straight AED 5,000 per school year.
New admissions are required to pay a fee of 5% of the fees on receipt of the offer letter which is deducted from the first term's fees. This fee is non-refundable or transferable.
A re-registration fee of 5% is also required each year to secure the place of the student for the following academic year. This is deducted from the first term's fees.
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