GEMS Dubai American Academy, part of the GEMS school group, is a US curriculum school offering a US High School Diploma and, increasingly, the option of the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme. It is the only US curriculum school to have achieved the highest inspection rating of Outstanding from the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, now for ten years, with the issue of the 2022-23 KHDA inspection report.
Founded in 1997, GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA) is without question the most successful for-profit US curriculum school in Dubai. There is something rather ironic in its current location, next door to its nearest competitor, the not-for-profit (and significantly older) American School of Dubai (ASD).
However, DAA is the only US curriculum school to have achieved the highest KHDA inspection rating of Outstanding, a rating which it has retained for all 11 inspections since 2011-12. To be fair, there are very specific grounds for ASD not having achieved a higher rating (details can be found in the review).
Following DAA's relocation to the campus of the short-lived, but highly anticipated GEMS Nations Academy, student numbers have grown in 2023 to around 2,970 in a campus with an original capacity of 2,750. The school is co-educational from KG1 to Grade 12.
Parent feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has been mixed. Whilst many aspects are positive, there is concern about over-crowding (see above) and the topic of fees is mentioned regularly - with only 14% of the 76 survey respondents believing that they represent value for money.
Recent comments include the following:
Positive: "Strong IB program. I chose this school as my children can study film, Theatre, Music and Art. It is the only school I could find that offered all as IB subjects. IB results in those disciplines are excellent. Counselling department is very supportive and students are well rounded."
Negative: "School population is growing every year and it is becoming very hard to move around the school and teacher to student ratio is increasing every year."
Find out more in the Buzz from DAA parents
DAA has always had, and retains, a much broader international base of student nationalities, whilst ASD remains largely North American in terms of its student and faculty nationality. There are, in total, an impressive 100+ nationalities represented within the DAA student body, with the biggest numbers coming from the US, Canada, and India. There is a 50:50 male to female ratio.
At the end of the 2022 academic year, Superintendent, Tammy Murphy, after five years as Principal of the school, during which she led the school through its relocation to the current campus, and through the Covid 19 pandemic, left the school. A mark of her success was the retention of the Outstanding inspection rating, despite these challenges.
Her successor, since August 2022, is Dr. Ethan Hildreth, as Superintendent and CEO of the school. Dr. Hildreth has a varied background, having originally obtained a Bachelor of Science in International Relations and Affairs at the US Air Force Academy, followed by a Master of Arts from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and subsequently a Doctorate of Philosophy in English Language, Literature and Letters from Georgia State University. Prior to joining DAA, Dr. Hildreth's most recent position had been as Principal at Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga.
Dr. Hildreth's role at DAA is not, however, his first experience of education in the UAE. He worked for Nord Anglia Education from 2016 to 2019, and was involved in the development of a new US curriculum school in Abu Dhabi, the opening of which was subsequently cancelled. He was also responsible for the integration of three schools into the Nord Anglia Group in Rotterdam, Moscow and India, and founded a new school in Beijing.
With the growth of the school, leadership of DAA has been devolved with a Deputy Superintendent and Principals leading the school at each level - KG, Elementary, Middle and High School sections. Twelve Guidance Counsellors across the school support students with four school counsellors in the High School who work specifically with students to support their career and college interests and applications.
The school employs 240 teachers and 72 teaching assistants. The majority of teachers come from the US. The student:teacher ratio is 12:1 on average across grades. All teachers are degree educated, and a majority hold Masters degrees or above.
Staff turnover at the end of 2017, at 36%, was significantly above previous levels - and above the norm in Dubai of between 20-22% - presumably as a result of the merger. Turnover in 2018 had reduced to 19% - back to the averages of previous years such as 2015-16, when the turnover was 25%, and in the year prior, 20%. In the 2021-22 academic year, staff turnover had reduced significantly to 9% - an indication of a stable and satisfied work force and this figure was retained in 2022-23.
DAA is fully accredited by the Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and has been since 2004. In addition to the US High School Diploma, DAA offers the IB Diploma Program for students and parents wanting a broader, more internationally focused qualification. .
The school follows the US Common Core curriculum leading to a NEASC accredited High School Diploma, whilst offering the IB Diploma program in Grades 11 and 12. The school has also added Advanced Placement and the IB Career-related programs to its curriculum to respond to the requirements of students seeking US college placement on the one hand, or a more vocational pathway. According to the school, 67% of all graduates in 2018 achieved the IBDP, together with the High School Diploma. Remaining students received the High School Diploma alone.
Go here to jump to the academic results section.
The Superintendent's introduction speaks clearly to the curriculum direction:
"From their earliest ages, DAA students are loved and develop a love for learning. We introduce them to the joys of inquiry, curiosity, and the science of learning. At DAA, excellence means stretching and extending personal limits. We help students learn resiliency in a world requiring such ability. As their horizons broaden, they internalize habits of daily growth as well as their sense of responsibility to family, community, and the world. By graduation, our students are prepared as innovators, exceptional thinkers, and visionaries. In a word, leaders. ".
Curriculum innovations include a focus on AI through an AI curriculum for all students to Grade 10, a supply of over 1,200 iPads in the Elementary School, a Drone Activity agreement with Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to enable the students to build and fly drones, and a focus on coding and robotics. Students from Middle school (Grade 6) upwards bring their own devices to school.
GEMS Dubai American Academy Elementary was recognized as an Apple Distinguished School in 2019, for its continuous innovation in teaching and learning and implementation of technology in student learning. Apple Distinguished Schools are said to be "centres of innovation, leadership and educational excellence that use technology to inspire creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. They showcase innovative uses of technology in learning, teaching and the school environment, and have documented results of academic accomplishment..."
With 1:1 iPads in its classrooms, the school aims to enable its students to be constantly innovating, creating and thinking critically, "whether by creating GIFs in Keynote, using iMovie to make tutorials to share with peers, or creating multimedia eBooks, students and teachers create and collaborate anytime and from anywhere..."
A further focus in on the development of the soft skills of students and the cross-curricular approach of DAA's curriculum which integrates technology, such as AI, robotics and drones, with media and art skills, and an enquiry-based approach preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. This is what is described as Future Fluency or DAA 2.0.
The school runs annual Week Without Walls activities (usually involving both local and overseas visits to enhance students' community involvement or internship options), and this has included a group travelling to Silicon Valley to visit major technology companies. MAP testing takes place 3 times per year to assess students' performance in key curriculum areas and to ensure that they are on track or receive additional support where necessary.
DAA is known for its friendly, participatory approach to teaching. Children are said to be a happy bunch, and look forward to going to school. The school is also noted for a strong program for children who don’t have English as a first language.
GEMS Education has worked on the SEND provision across all its schools for many years and has always had a more open policy. In 2013/14 academic year, 124 students at DAA had been identified as having some form of Special Educational Needs, a figure growing to 220 in 2018-19 and to 334 in 2022-23. SEND provision had been deemed to be Very Good by the KHDA inspectors in 2018-19, finally receiving an Outstanding rating in 2022-23.
The school has a governor and a champion for inclusive education and the school has an inclusive and strategic education improvement plan in place. Most students with SEND make good progress over time, according to the inspectors. Students also are provided with equivalency for the High School Diploma through the GEP programme.
Dubai American Academy has in the past provided information on where its students head for university, and rather limited information in respect of examination results. More recently, DAA has shared its IB results directly with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
In 2023, as grade boundaries were returned to pre-Covid 19 levels by the International Baccalaureate Organisation leading to expectations of lower top scores and pass rates. Despite these changes,UAE students exceeded the global average Diploma Programme score of 30.24 points, with 31.97 points. As impressive was the UAE overall pass rate of 89.7%. The global average pass rate has fallen to 79.3% - a fall of 6.3% compared with 2022.
DAA again shared its students' outcomes. With one of the larger cohorts of IBDP students at 147, the average point score was 32.7 well above both the global and UAE figures. At 97%, the pass rate also far exceeded the global and UAE averages. The highest score by an individual student was 43 points (two off the 45 point maximum). 68% of entries achieved 30+ points, whilst 32.7 achieved 35+ points and 6.1% received 40+ points, placing these students in the top scorers.
With the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic affecting IB Diploma students who were not able to sit examinations in either 2020 or 2021, results were issued through a process of Centre Assessed Grades and through the submission of assessments which have been reviewed by IB examiners. In 2022, students sat full examinations again for the first time since 2019.
In 2022, one of the largest cohorts of 154 students of any Dubai school, were registered for the IBDP. The 149 successful students obtained an average score of 35.4 points, with 84% of results being above 30 points, 57% at 35+ points and with over 1 in 5 students (21%) achieving 40+ points.
The intention of the IBO was to ensure that results were graded half way towards those of 2019 given the significant increases in overall point scores as a result of the Teacher Assessed Grading process during the pandemic. The fact that DAA's average score was higher than those of both 2020 and 2021 suggests the genuine strength of their students results, where many other schools had seen a reduction in average scores compared with the previous two years.
You can see the full 2022 IB results round up for all UAE schools here.
In 2021, DAA announced that a cohort of 173, which was the largest among the GEMS schools, achieved an impressive pass rate of 99.4%. The average score for the school was 34.2 with 23 students achieving 40 points or more, and two achieving the top score of 45 points.
In 2020, DAA's initial results (prior to a subsequent review by the IBO which positively impacted all schools), showed an average score of 33.6. The pass rate was 96.8% in a larger cohort of 158 students. The school also provided a further break down of the points awarded to students, with 80% of awards at 30+ points, 43% at 35+ points and 12% at 40+ points.
The 2019 IB Diploma results were published on 5th July - after the start of the Summer break and closure of the school. Information on DAA results was limited, but WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was informed by GEMS at a Corporate level that DAA's 2019 cohort achieved an average points score of 34 (the same as 2018) - some 4+ points above the global average of 29.62, and well above the UAE average of 32.26. 98.5% of 130 candidates for the IB programme achieved a pass in 2019, although no details of highest scores or breakdown of overall scores is currently available.
Across the six schools in the GEMS group offering the IBDP programme, the pass rate was 94% and we would expect that DAA's students would be among the high achievers given their overall average figure.
In 2016-17, the 146 Grade 12 students made over 1,150 university applications and graduates received approximately 500 acceptances. Students have continued their education in several countries, with the largest percentage going to the United States, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia.
The school claims to achieve "100% entry to higher educational institutions, including the best universities and colleges around the world" in the WSA Q and A. Go here. In further correspondence with DAA, the school notes that 2% of students opt to take a gap year.
In an initiative introduced for the 2021-22 academic year, the Academy announced a collaboration for senior students, while still at school in Dubai, that earns them university credits at Arizona State University (ASU) as a result of GEMS Education’s collaboration with the highly-rated American university.
ASU is a comprehensive public research university based in Tempe, Arizona. It is rated a top world university by the Center for World University Rankings and ranked #9 in the world for global impact by Times Higher Education.
A total of 27 DAA students were enrolled in college-level courses in 2022 taught directly by ASU’s faculty. Students can choose from over 20 of ASU’s first-year Universal Learner Courses, all which are taught by experts in their respective fields. Options selected for the initial cohort include College Algebra, English Composition, History, and Habitable Worlds.
This additional online learning experience for high school students is highly flexible, enabling them to design their own tailored pathway and preparing them in advance for university success. The university credits gained can result in significant savings in terms of both time and money if students choose to enrol at ASU for an undergraduate degree. The earned credit can also potentially be transferred to any other accepting university. GEMS Education plans to roll out the opportunity to study with ASU throughout its schools in the near future.
The school building is organised across four floors, with KG to Grade 2 classes located on the ground floor, followed by grades 3-5 on the first floor, grades 6-8 on the floor above, and grades 9-12 on the top floor of the building. High School students have their own separate lounge and study area - designed by the students - at the top of the school. Expansive technology, science and performing arts and other specialist and sports facilities are also provided.
The facilities of the 70,000m2 campus are truly state-of-the-art and include: a 50m Olympic pool, 400m running track, a large gymnasium, playing fields and shaded playgrounds. There are also dedicated science labs across all grades, a Technology suite, with a workshop, Visual Arts with dedicated areas for all grades, including Studios for 3D and 2D art, a Ceramics/ kiln room and Photography dark room.
Facilities, of course, including MAC rooms, Drone labs and similar technology-focused classrooms, are of the highest standard. The technology focus is not just "scientific" in nature, with the Music faculty, for instance, including both a Recording and a TV studio, and green screen room.
Students interested in Performing Arts benefit from Music rooms, Band rooms, Individual music practice rooms, a Music technology suite, Recording studio. Performing Arts students also have access to a Theatre and Dance, an Ultra-modern auditorium seating 1,200, a Black box Digital theatre, Drama classrooms and a Dance studio. Multimedia facilities include a TV studio/‘green screen’ room, a Radio suite, Mac lab/editing suite and a Digital/blended learning zone. There are four separate libraries across the school.
Indoor Sports facilities include a Main sports hall which accommodates 3 full basketball courts with retractable seating, Elementary sports hall large enough for a full-sized basketball court, an indoor running track/fitness trail, a fully-equipped fitness suite and Sports science classrooms. Outdoor roof play areas provide space for three soccer pitches, a Baseball diamond and rooftop tennis courts.
Much investment has been made in the construction of the school, in terms of technological innovations for cooling and recycling energy. Classrooms are light, bright and as would be expected for a new-build and technologically enabled throughout. KG children all have direct access to the outside areas of the school including gardens where they plant and grow their own vegetables. Whilst the youngest children from KG to Grade 2 eat lunch in their classrooms, there are two large cafeterias for Elementary, Middle and High School students with access to outdoor space. The scale of the school is significant.
GEMS Dubai American Academy is presently the only school in Dubai following an American standards-based curriculum to have been awarded an “Outstanding” rating by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau. It is the eleventh inspection year that DAA had made the grade after three years of a Good rating, although there was no inspection in the 2016-17 academic year due to the school's involvement in the KHDA's mentoring project (the Abundance Project) and during 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic.
According to the KHDA's DSIB inspection team in October 2022, Dubai American Academy provides an Outstanding quality of education.
The school is now rated Outstanding across every key performance standard aside from Student Achievement. Even here, there were improvements, with English attainment in Elementary and Middle School, and English Progress in Elementary, now joining all the other ratings for this subject as Outstanding. The same measures for Maths in the same sections retained their Very Good ratings - clearly a target for further improvement.
Whilst Arabic as a second language is now rated Good across the board, and progress in Arabic as a First language improving to Good in Elementary, Islamic Education and attainment in Arabic as First language remains Acceptable for the most part; these subjects are the Achilles Heel for many international schools in the UAE.
Key strengths are:
Overall recommendations for improvement from the inspection team include the need to:
To read the full KHDA inspection report - which we strongly recommend you do, in order to understand the reasons behind the rating and the recommendations - go here.
In the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, opinions are very definitely mixed. With an overall rating from just over 75 parents of 3.5/5, this is a 70% positivity rating.
GEMS Education does not, as a rule, encourage its parents to participate in external parent surveys, and when parents do, there is more often that not a higher proportion of those who are less satisfied.
Whilst 60% of respondents say that they would recommend the school to other parents, 21% (over double the UAE average), said they would not. A surprisingly high 55% have said that they have considered moving their child to another school - compared with the UAE average of 25%. Only 14% of respondents agreed that fees represent value for money, whilst 31% of parents totally disagreed.
Student enjoyment of going to school is also on the low side, with those doing so "quite a bit" or "tremendously" showing 74%, compared with a UAE average of 86%. And, given the high average scores for the IB Diploma compared with other UAE schools, a surprisingly low 51% are fully satisfied with the level of academic performance of their children, with 37% believing that their children require additional tuition outside of school.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at DAA, help us to ensure representative feedback from your community, and share your opinions and experience with us and other potential members of your community through our Survey here.
There is no doubt that for parents seeking a US curriculum education for their children, with the added benefit of the IB Diploma option in addition to a High School Diploma, GEMS Dubai American Academy will remain a very popular choice.
Whilst perhaps not having the 'cachet' of the neighbouring American School of Dubai, and without the not-for-profit status, DAA comes as close to a high quality US curriculum school - and with all the attendant co-curricular and extra-curricular options and the strong community involvement - that parents are likely to want to find for their children.
The fact that it has been rated Outstanding for so long is an additional factor, particularly for families who want their children to receive the full US curriculum experience, but alongside the Islamic Education and Arabic provision which has long been an area where ASD has been marked down by the regulator (as indicated by the Good rating which it has held for a number of years).
There is currently no doubt, that there is not yet another US/IB curriculum school in Dubai which compares to the provision of GEMS Dubai American Academy. But this provision comes at a significant price. The only school that we currently see being able to compare to DAA - and this is still some way off - is Dunecrest American School, operated by ESOL Education, which also offers the US/IB combination.
Fees at the school are in the premium range, with fees of AED 62,026 in KG1 and KG2, and from Grade 1 to Grade 12 a flat figure of AED 88,848. There is a registration fee of AED 525 (including VAT) for new admissions, together with a deposit of 10% of the annual fees on offer of a place; the latter is offset against the tuition fees in the first year.
A re-enrollment fee of 5% of the tuition fees is payable annually to confirm a place for the following academic year and is adjusted against the first term's fees.
GEMS Dubai American Academy 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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