Not to be confused with the much longer established Cambridge High School (also part of the GEMS group), GEMS Cambridge International School opened in September 2013 on a purpose-built campus located in Baniyas.
A modern 3 floor building, but based on a traditional exterior design set around 2 large quadrangles, the school is currently home to 3,150 students. With a capacity of 3,340, the school is effectively close to full with the continued expansion to year 13 (it currently offers FS2 to year 11), it seems inevitable that this is yet another Abu Dhabi school which is operating on a wait list only basis. This is a great pity, as the school has been able to achieve Band A – High Performing status after a relatively short period and must be a target for many parents.
At present, the student numbers are heavily weighted towards the Primary school, with over 2,600 students attending this section. By contrast, year 11 has a total of 130 students – still a number that many new schools would envy. For families seeking places at CISAD, Secondary school is likely to be where there will be availability for the next year or two.
GEMS Cambridge International School is also truly international. With 83 nationalities represented across the student body, there is no predominant nationality and a balance of boys and girls. The school regards itself as an affordable, value for money school with Premium facilities and this is reflected during our tour of the school. Fees range from AED 20,000 – AED 36,000 p.a. Staff come from a range of countries – all are native English speakers – including UK, Australia, India, South Africa, the USA and Canada.
The school has a strong focus on children with little or no English skills on entry and offers an intensive Cambridge Examination Board course after school to develop the essential requirement as quickly and effectively as possible. The 25 week course comes with an additional fee of AED 4,000, together with guided support during normal school hours by the English Additional Language team. A focus on inclusion is an important aspect of the school with a dedicated SEN team consisting of SEN teachers, counsellors and support offered within mainstream schooling wherever possible.
The Senior team of the school aim to make this large school feel smaller and to ensure that every child feels that they matter. Staff are very hands-on and in addition to an open door possibility, the school makes strong use of modern technology (including regular vlogging – video updates) to enable parents to see and hear what their children are doing. A coffee morning is hosted for parents every second week and there is a strong support network in place as a result.
In addition to a focus on parental involvement, there is a particular emphasis on strong cooperation between Primary and Secondary school students. Student leaders have positions of responsibility within both parts of the school and cooperate to ensure that older students work with younger ones as buddies. This long term association also supports the aim of ensuring a smooth transition from Primary to Secondary school.
Our tour of the building started on the Ground floor in the Foundation unit where children are accommodated in light classrooms, all of which have outside access. The classes are well-resourced and children were busy and happily occupied. Each classroom has an interactive white board. One of the features of the building are the large corner rooms which are located at each end corner. These rooms lend themselves to indoor play spaces, but also for break-out rooms, art rooms and other spaces where more freedom of movement is possible.
In addition to FS2, the ground floor is occupied by Years 1 and 2. There is also a large indoor Gym and a multi-purpose hall. Two canteens operate a badge payment system and the cost of a main meal including a drink is AED 10.
On the first floor, classrooms are occupied by year 3 to 6, whilst the second floor is given over to the Secondary school. All classes are separated by gender and corridors from year 7 onwards, but return to mixed groups again for GCSE (in year 10). The Secondary school is split into subject corridors, with students moving between specialist classes and subject rooms.
As would be expected, there are a full range of specialist classrooms, including Art, Drama (a Blackbox room), Music, Food Technology, IT and a Mac lab. Laptops and I-pads are provided by the school. There are also sizeable Primary and Secondary School libraries.
Outside, the school again offers impressive facilities, with two swimming pools and a full size soccer pitch, as well as other AstroTurf surfaces for a range of sports. At one end of the sports fields is the car park which hosts the 65 buses that operate daily to pick up students from all over Abu Dhabi.
Once again, GEMS seems to have delivered what it promised. This is a very busy, but happy and organised school with an enthusiastic team of teachers and satisfied parents, students and ADEC inspectors. It is just a shame that the options for the admission of new students is so limited. However, the school does actively promote admission still and aims to fill any spaces from its waiting list wherever possible. Given the restriction in Abu Dhabi on students transferring schools within the academic year, overseas families are best placed to be able to find a slot for their children.
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