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 a relatively new school and will have its first cohort of Year 13 students in the 2019-20 academic year. The school has grown very rapidly in the past three years, with teaching staff having grown by one-third during this period, and reflective of student growth. Based on the successful format of the long-established Cambridge International School Dubai, providing a UK curriculum education at a mid-range price point, both schools are currently rated Good by the respective Regulators.
In early 2022, it was announced that CIS Abu Dhabi had been rated Outstanding by British Schools Overseas, an inspectorate set up under the UK Government' Department of Education, designed to accredit international schools offering the English National Curriculum.
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".
With some 3,500 students in 2018, CIS Abu Dhabi is, as with most newer schools, "bottom heavy" in so far as most of its students are in the Primary school (including FS2) with numbers resting at approximately 2,000 students. There are a further 750+ in the middle, and some 400 students in the high school section. UAE nationals make up just under 30% of the student body population, with the next largest nationalities being Pakistani and Egyptian (12%) and Indian at 11%.
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The school employs some 200 teachers and a further 30+ 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 teacher:student ratio of 1:17 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. Staff turnover, at 9% in 2018, is well below the average of the UAE of 20-22%; however, the ADEK report for 2017-18 does note that the school had been impacted by higher turnover figures in the previous two years which had affected consistency of teaching. 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 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 are 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.
Find out more about the school, its teachers and facilities here.
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".
Overall, three of the six key performance standards - Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and Leadership and Management - were rated Very Good, whilst the usual triumvirate of Student Achievement, Teaching and Assessment and Curriculum, were rated Good. Rarely is a school able to achieve a strong overall performance without these three key ratings being a strength of the school!
Students' achievement is, in fact, overwhelmingly rated Good. Issues remain in Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language (though the latter fares better in Primary) where the ratings are predominantly Acceptable. Conversely, Maths in the Primary section is rated Acceptable, whilst it was found to be Good across the remainder of the school.
The quality of teaching and assessment was also found to be Good. Inspectors noted that "High quality teaching and assessment practice exists but is not always being applied consistently across the school. Teachers do not always use assessment information to suitably modify lessons to meet students’ needs". And, although the Curriculum was found to be Good overall, inspectors found that while most teachers plan work for higher-achieving students, it is not always challenging enough. In addition, opportunities for enterprise, innovation and creativity are provided and involve the students in developing their digital competences, but lessons in the Key Stage 4 and 5 do not offer sufficient opportunities for the development of these skills or for independent research.
A further very positive statement by the inspection team related to the Leadership and Management of the school - "The overall quality of leadership and management is very good. The inspirational principal and leadership team have established an aspirational vision which is shared by all". They also noted that "With the reduced staff turnover and a more settled school roll the school has a very good capacity to improve". This suggests that the capacity of the school to improve to a Very Good overall rating is seen to be present in the school...a vital recognition.
In terms of strengths of the school, the inspection team identified:
Areas of improvement identified:
GEMS Cambridge International School seems to be well on the way to achieving the high quality education at an affordable price to which it aspires. We look forward to seeing how the school has progressed when the next ADEK inspection takes place in 2019-20.
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.
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 2.8/5, this is a positivity rating of only 56% from a total of 28 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.
64% of respondents stated that they have considered moving their child from the school, with only 57% of parents saying that they would recommend the school to other parents (well below the 80% average rating in the UAE). Whilst 42% of parents were satisfied with the academic performance of the school, and the same percentage were partially satisfied, 46% of parents felt that their children required additional tuition outside school.
Almost 30% of respondents expressed serious concern about bullying and 29% felt that the quality of education provided by CIS Abu Dhabi was below the standard they would find in their home country. The usual thorny issue of fees attracted mixed views. Whilst 32% felt they offered value for money, 61% only partially agreed this statement. However, a relatively low 7% felt that the fees did not represent value for money (rather better than the UAE average of 12%).
Whether these concerns are indicative of substantive issues, or due the rapid growth of the school is not clear. Hopefully, as noted by the ADEK team, the ability of students and staff to settle into a positive regime will improve the perception.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Cambridge International School Abu Dhabi, please share your experience and opinions and take our survey here.
Fees at CIS Abu Dhabi start at AED 20,700 for FS 2 to AED 35,200 for Year 13.
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