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 and quality 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.
And it would seem that GEMS Founders Al Mizhar has been equally successful with enrollments having reached over 3,000 at the time of the first KHDA inspection in March 2022. Concurrent with the DSIB inspection team's work, GFM was also inspected on behalf of British Schools Overseas, achieving a 'Good with Outstanding features' rating for the quality of education provided.
Feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been extremely positive - notably since the arrival of the current Principal and following the end of Distance Learning. Many parents have commented on the quality of education and the value for money fees. If there is criticism, it is the travel time for younger students and class sizes.
The following comment sums up the views of many:
"I have been a parent in this school for the past 3 years. My children love going to school, the staff and teachers are always happy and welcoming. The most important is the school listens to parents and whereever necessary implements suggestions given by parents. The school for me is a big community which works for the best of the children. My eldest is in Year 10, she has been guided well about the subjects and the teachers appointed by the school for high school are very nice. Teachers in the middle school and primary levels are equally very good too. I, as a parent, recommend Gems Founders Al Mizhar to new parents."
As 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's success in enrolling students has been proven, with plans announced in May 2021 for the construction of an extension to the original build which was completed for the start of the new academic year in August 2021.
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 11 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 Principal has clearly spent his first year-and-a-half at the school focusing on ensuring that GFM is developing its capacity to deliver on its Mission and Vision and meet the requirements for a successful first KHDA inspection in 2022.
This he has evidently done, with the school being awarded a Good rating - the highest awarded at first inspection - in March 2022.
In November 2021, as further evidence of the strengthening of the leadership team, GEMS announced the appointment of Kausor Amin-Ali as Head of the Secondary School. Mr. Amin-Ali had previously served as Principal at Al Salam Private School before moving on to its newly established Al Salam Community School.
According to the 2022 inspection report, the 3,030 students, with the largest population group described as Arab ( including 575 Emirati students - a significant 19 percent of the entire enrollment number) are supported by 172 predominantly British teachers and a further 18 teaching assistants. This results in a teacher:student ratio of 1:17, definitely on the high side, but to be expected in an affordably-priced school.
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 examinations yet taken by students at GFM - the first IGCSE cohort will sit their examinations in June 2022 - it is not yet possible to comment on the academic achievement of the school.
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.
At the time of the DSIB inspection, 133 students had been identified with additional learning needs. The inspectors were very positive about the provision for these students, awarding a Good rating overall.
The inspection team noted that "Governors and senior leaders promote an inclusive ethos which is reflected in everyday life in most areas of the school. An Inclusion Governor and an Inclusion Champion have ensured that the inclusion agenda is prioritised across the school. The school has an effective and detailed inclusion action plan. In most subjects the curriculum is adapted well for students of determination. Procedures for identifying students’ special educational needs are well established. Support for these students, Emirati students and others of differing ability is good overall, but inconsistent." This will clearly be an area of focus for the school as it moves forward.
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.
The awaited first DSIB inspection of GEMS Founders Al Mizhar took place in March 2022 and the school was awarded a Good rating - the highest rating to be given to any Dubai school on its first inspection, although the KHDA has indicated in the past that a higher rating is possible.
It is evident too, that the Good rating applies to almost all aspects of the school, with Very Good having been awarded for Health and Safety and for Management, staffing, facilities and resources.
Where the performance of the school evidently needs more focus - and this is so often the case in schools in the UAE - is in the provision of the Arabic subjects. Islamic Education and Arabic as both a first and second language were rated Acceptable across the board - although it has to be said that this is an achievement in itself. It is not uncommon for Dubai schools to be rated highly in all other key performance areas, but weak in this specific regard.
In terms of the strengths of GFM, the inspection team found these to be:
In terms of the overall rating for Student Achievement, this was rated Good, with progress in English, mathematics and Science rated at least Good across all sections of the school, and with attainment rated at least Acceptable and Good for both maths and Science in the Primary school.
Inspectors commented "From lower than expected starting points on entering the school, most students make good progress to reach at least the expected curriculum standards. Levels of attainment are strongest in the primary phase in mathematics and science. The rate of student progress in Islamic education and Arabic is slower than other subjects."
All other key performance standards - Students'personal and social development and their Innovation skills, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, Care and Support and Leadership and Management were rated Good.
Students' personal and social development is clearly a strength of the school with inspectors finding that they have positive attitudes and good relationships with other students and teachers. Students have a good knowledge of Islamic values and are proud of their own cultures, but understanding of the different cultures represented in the school is not fully developed. Students have an awareness of global environmental issues and those involved in the innovation club are developing strong enterprise skills.
Teaching was found to be equally good in all phases of the school, although less effective in Islamic education and Arabic, with most teachers having good subject knowledge. Assessment systems are well established but do not always result in an accurate measure of what students know and understand and the use of assessment to provide appropriate work for students of differing abilities is variable.
The curriculum was found to be well matched to the National Curriculum for England. In most subjects, students enjoy a range of interesting tasks that hold their attention and result in good progress. However, implementation of the curriculum in Islamic education and Arabic has resulted in gaps in students' knowledge and understanding.
Staff were found to provide a caring and welcoming environment for students and Health and safety arrangements are very good throughout the school.
Inspectors also found that strong partnerships with parents contribute to students’ learning. Governors are supportive of the school and have ensured high quality resources and facilities to promote student learning.
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team identified the need to:
Although these actions appear to focus on Islamic Education and Arabic specifically, there is no question that they will need to be applied to all subjects to ensure that improvements continue to be made across the curriculum and teaching of all subjects.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the full reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
There has been relatively limited direct feedback to us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com in relation to parent feedback for GFM parents (given the size of the school) via our Survey. Those responses that have been received have been largely positive, with an overall rating of 4.3/5 - a positivity rating of 86%.
63% of respondents believe that their children have a 'tremendous' amount of belonging and 57% believe that their children have a 'tremendous' enjoyment of school. Over half of respondents moved their child from another Dubai school to GFM - thus placing a high demand on the school to meet their expectations. 80% of parents would seem to be more than happy with their choice - they have never considered moving their child to another school!
An overwhelming 83% of respondents are satisfied with the academic performance of the school, although almost a quarter (24%) still feel the need for outside tuition - though this is under the UAE average of 29%. And 76% of parents are either 'quite confident' or 'extremely confident' in the school's ability to meet their child's individual learning needs.
Where there seems to have been a real turnaround since the arrival of the new Principal is in relation to communication. Prior to his arrival, only one third of respondents were satisfied with the level of communication they received - that has now improved to 80%!
These overall improvements in parents' ratings of the school are reinforced by the now 85% of respondents who would recommend GFM to others - compared with a figure of only 45%.
There has also been a very significant change in view with respect to the value for money that parents feel the school fees represent. Whereas previously only 33% of parents believed that fees did represent value for money, whilst 22% did not, these figures have changed substantially, with 63% believing that they do and only 4% totally disagreeing, although a third of parents still feel that fees only partially represent value for money.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Founders Al Mizhar, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
As a school that is entering its fifth year of operation, 2022-23 is likely to be a year in which we can expect to learn more about how GEMS Founders Al Mizhar is performing. Its first cohort of Year 12 students will join the new Sixth Form, and we would hope to see how successful these students were in their IGCSE examinations. The school will likely also see a second inspection by the DSIB and it will be interesting to see what progress has been made to address the issues raised in the first inspection.
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 and 11. Fees for the remaining year groups are AED 35,000 for Years 12 and 13.
GEMS Founders Mizhar School 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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