Having opened in September 2018, following the lead of the original GEMS Founders School in Al Barsha, GEMS Founders Mizhar School intends to offer parents a highly affordable UK education.
Two years after the launch of the original GEMS Founders School - Dubai in the southern end of the city in Al Barsha South - with easy access to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and Sheikh Zayed Road, Mirdif became the second area to benefit from the launch of an affordable British curriculum model school in the form of GEMS Founders Al Mizhar (GFM) which opened in September 2018.
The Mizhar district is located just over the Khawaneej Road, and is already home to numerous, primarily US curriculum schools. The neighbourhood is only minutes away from not only Mirdif, but also Muhaisanah, Al Warqaa, Al Qusais and the ever expanding Al Khawaneej districts.
The school is a continuation of the Founders brand which has been one of the most successful ever school launches in the UAE. In the first year alone, the Al Barsha school doubled in size, rising from 1,800 students to well over 3,000.
It is expected GEMS Founders Mizhar School has followed the same formula as the original iteration: a well developed school delivered at a value price point, with a mix of an experienced leadership with UK experience and UK teachers in their early years of teaching, together with internationally qualified, mainly native English speaking, staff.
How successful GFM has been in delivering on its promise will only be seen from an independent standpoint when the first KHDA/DSIB inspection takes place in the 2021-22 academic year.
The school is led by Principal Akram Tarik, who in his introduction informs parents that "As a Dubai school that teaches students the National Curriculum for England, we offer a reasonably priced world-class education for Foundation Stage to Year 10 students and eventually growing to provide an education from FS to Y13".
Akram joined GFM in August 2020 having previously held the role of Principal at GEMS Westminster School - Ras Al Khaimah. Prior to moving to RAK, he spent 19 years in a variety of leadership roles in inner-London.
Born in London and with Moroccan ancestry, Mr. Tarik dedicated the early part of his career in education working in the state school sector in the UK. He is driven by the ambition to provide world-class experiences and deliver exceptional educational outcomes for young people. Akram is also a trained UK Department of Education (OFSTED) inspector with a background in Natural Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry.
The school's Mission is 'Creating tomorrow's successful and caring citizens today.'
Its Vision is 'To empower students to have the heart to celebrate uniqueness and the mind to be innovative, creative problem solvers, bringing a positive change to the world in which we live.'
The new Principal will likely spend his first year at the school focusing on ensuring that GFM is developing its capacity to deliver on its Mission and Vision and will meet the requirements for a successful first KHDA inspection in the next academic year.
GFM says that it teaches the traditional UK curriculum but in an international context where the UAE Ministry of Education syllabus is incorporated into the curriculum structure.
In addition to the development of specific skills and competencies, the curriculum emphasises enquiry, creativity, analytical evaluation and "other skills needed to meet the challenges of the future" - a direction that many UK curriculum schools are now following, incorporating many of the enquiry-based, cross curricular approaches that traditionally were more commonly found in the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
Children join the school in the Foundation Stage which introduces young learners to school-life, as students develop their motor skills, foundation-level numeracy and literacy skills, and self-esteem through play-based learning activities. The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum includes the following areas of learning: communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world, and expressive arts and design.
At Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2), students are still discovering their skills and competencies, and at this stage they are introduced to subjects that will lay the foundation for learning as they go into higher year levels. Core Subjects include English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic as a First or as a Arabic Second Language, UAE Social Studies, Moral Education, Computing, Humanities (History and Geography), Islamic Studies (for Muslim students) or Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCEE) (for non-Muslim students), Art, Music, and Physical Education (PE).
As students move into Key Stage 2, so they begin to develop their independent learning skills more fully whilst continuing with the core studies from KS1. From Year 3, they also have the option to study French.
By the time students move into the first years of Secondary school in Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9), they are ready for creative and accelerated and further independent learning responsibilities include the need to set daily goals and to have long-term objectives.
Core Subjects are made up of English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic First or Second Language, UAE Social Studies, Moral Education, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Humanities (History and Geography), Islamic Studies (for Muslim students) or Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCEE) (for non-Muslim students), French, Art, Music, and Physical Education (PE).
Although GFM's first cohort of Year 10 students will have started to study for their IGCSE examinations from September 2020, details of subject options beyond the compulsory English, Mathematics and Science have not been confirmed by the school. However, assuming that GFM has followed the lead of GEMS Founders Al Barsha, we would expect to see the following subjects: Arabic A, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, French, Geography, History, Mathematics, Music, Physical Education, Physics, Psychology and Sociology. Students will also continue to study UAE Social Studies, Islamic A or B for Muslim students and non-examined PE.
A particular focus of GFM is Computational Thinking According to the school, "We believe that it is not only a subject or a skill but also a way to learn any subject or skill as well as solve real life scenarios and challenges. In short, it is the new critical Literacy".
In order to shape its vision, GFM has remodeled its Innovation Lab by making visible and purpose built areas for different tasks such as identifying a problem and working through different critical thinking strategies to reach a solution. Computational Thinking is introduced as early as Foundation Stage where students apply it through Bee-bots, and is continued all the way to Year 10 in various ways including the use of technology such as Drone Programming, Sphero Programming and other Robotic suites including WEDO & EV3. Students are also learning programming languages such as Python to realize ideas into solutions.
As part of the focus on technology and innovation and to keep all skills relevant to real life, GFM Innovation Challenges are run in different year groups/subjects. Students are required to work in groups to select a Sustainable Developmemt Goal (SDG) such as Water, Education and Environment on which they focus their improvement efforts.
Students go through the four stages of Computational Thinking; Decomposition, Pattern Recognition, Abstraction and Algorithm Design to come up with a feasible solution. They apply High Performance Learning (a form of curriculum delivery based around the belief that students are capable of far greater academic achievement irrespective of their background or prior education, recently adopted by a number of GEMS schools and led by GEMS Jumeirah College) and the usage of technology in order to bring their ideas to life. Further details of HPL can be found here.
Unfortunately, GFM provides no information about Extra-curricular activities, but we would expect it to offer the traditional mix of creative, academic and sports activities based on teacher-led (and therefore cost-free) and fee-paying activities provided by external suppliers.
With no independent KHDA or accreditation inspection as yet, and no external examination results, it is early to make comment on the likely academic achievement of students at GFM. However, providing feedback to students and parents is clearly a further area of focus at the school.
The Secondary school follows a five-year assessment scheme, which is in line with the new GCSE grading system. Students' achievement grades are presented in reports as an indication of what GCSE grade they would obtain if they sat for their exams at the time of reporting. Subject performance is graded from 9-1, with 9 being the highest achievable mark. GFM has introduced minus (-) and plus (+) to show a student's progress within the academic year at the time of reporting. A student with a -3 would thus be working at the lower end of the grade boundary, whereas a student with a 3+ would be working at the higher end of that grade boundary.
As a school, GFM has set a minimum expectation for students to achieve grade 5 in each subject by the end of year 11 when they would take their IGCSE examinations. A pass grade at GCSE is Grade 4, with a Grade 5 being the equivalent of a high C grade using the IGCSE A*- G structure. Whilst this may not seem overly ambitious, the key measure for most schools in the UK is that their students achieve a minimum of 5 GCSE passes at Grade 5 including Maths and English.
In line with the provision at sister school, GEMS Founders Al Barsha, GFM offers a range of good quality facilities, but without some of the more expensive infrastructure (such as swimming pools and auditoria) demanded by parents of higher cost schools.
At GFM, these include classrooms equipped with high-speed internet and quality resources, (including built-in class washrooms for Foundation Stage), dedicated computing suites, science labs, a large open-plan innovation hub with robotics, drones and coding equipment to support computational thinking, Arts rooms, Music rooms, a Dance studio, school libraries (with an extensive collection of literature for all ages), a Dining hall (serving nutritious foods and drinks), and Parents Cafe.
Sports and outdoor facilities include a Multi-Purpose hall, a large Football pitch, outdoor multi-purpose sports courts and cricket nets, as well as indoor and outdoor play areas for FS students.
There has been limited direct feedback to us at WhichSchoolAdvisor,com in relation to parent feedback for GFM via our Survey. Those responses that have been received have not been especially positive, with the main concerns seemingly related to value for money in relation to fees (22% of respondents felt they were not receiving value for money, whilst a third did), and the same 22% were not happy with the academic performance of the school. Communication seems also to be something of an issue, with only a third of respondents satisfied with the level of feedback they receive. And whilst almost half (45%) of parents would recommend the school to other parents despite their concerns, a further 33% were undecided.
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As a school that is entering its third year of operation (with a new Principal leading it), 2020-21 is likely to be a year in which we can expect to learn a great deal more about how GEMS Founders Al Mizhar is performing. As a rule, GEMS has a reputation for "doing what it says on the tin", and whilst there will have been some inevitable bumps along the road - as with any new and fast-growing organisation - we would expect that GFM is beginning to reach a level of maturity in terms of its staffing and delivery.
Parents around the Mirdif area have an increasing range of other options in terms of good British curriculum schools, but few that will be able to compete with GFM in terms of quality, facilities and price. We definitely think that the school warrants a place on any short-list.
Fees at GEMS Founders Al Mizhar start at AED 23,000 for FS1, rising to AED 26,000 in FS2 and AED 28,000 for Years 1 to 6. Secondary fees start at AED 30,000 for Years 7 to 9 and AED 33,000 for Year 10. Fees for the remaining year groups have not yet been published, although according to the KHDA website, parents can expect to pay AED 33,000 for Year 11 and AED 35,000 for Years 12 and 13.
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