United Arab Emirates / Dubai / Al Barsha South / GEMS Founders School Al Barsha

GEMS Founders School Al Barsha Review

Originally to be part of the GEMS Winchester brand, the decision to create a completely new brand has certainly worked for the GEMS Founders school - if a measure of a new school's success is the number of students joining it. On this measure alone, Founders has been without doubt one of the most successful schools to have opened in Dubai, reaching 5,500 students from over 100 countries in its fifth year of operation.
Parents' Rating
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3.6 out of 5 based on 223 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
AED 29,000
Annual fees
AED 22,455 - 33,683
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
2016
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
12%
Principal
Matthew Burfield
Owner
GEMS Education
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
India

Nearby nurseries

1.2km • Bespoke Curriculum curriculum
1.5km • EYFS curriculum
1.8km • EYFS curriculum
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GEMS Founders School Al Barsha
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
AED 29,000
Annual fees
AED 22,455 - 33,683
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
2016
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
12%
Principal
Matthew Burfield
Owner
GEMS Education
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
India
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Originally to be part of the GEMS Winchester brand, the decision to create a completely new brand has certainly worked for the GEMS Founders school - if a measure of a new school's success is the number of students joining it. On this measure alone, Founders has been without doubt one of the most successful schools to have opened in Dubai, reaching 5,500 students from over 100 countries in its fifth year of operation.

The story so far...

Heading towards its fifth year of operation (from September 2021)  GEMS Founders School (GFS) Al Barsha has clearly proven what many commentators had advocated for the education scene in Dubai: There was a clear and significant gap for good quality schools which are moderately priced, without the need for extravagant facilities, but with the promise of delivery of a recognised curriculum by qualified staff in a modern and attractive environment.

The sum of the maths is this: mid-price fees plus premium curriculum, subtract expensive facilities, equals an immediate 1800 students on its opening year in 2016; 3250 students for the 2017 school year, 3,800 students for 2018, over 4,200 for 2020 and 5,500 for 2021.

The fact that the school has been able to successfully manage this growth in its first years, and achieved a KHDA Good rating on its first (and second) inspection, is itself a testament to the school's success.

And it's not just the KHDA who are happy with the performance of GEMS Founders!

Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Survey shows parents are also more than satisfied. With responses from well over 200 parents, an overwhelming 87% of parents would recommend GFS to other parents, and 86% have never considered moving their child to another school - a considerable achievement given the usual teething problems associated with any new school. Even fees are felt to be acceptable to the majority of respondents, with 71% (compared with a UAE school average of 50%) saying they represent good value for money and only 5% disagreeing.  Read all about their views in the Buzz.

Inevitably there are niggles - in a school of this size and popular it would be a miracle if all members of the community are happy.  Some concerns around A Level and IGCSE options have been expressed, and it appears that communication does not always work 100% of the time, but the vast majority of parents who commented on our surveys reflected comments similar to the following:

"I have 4 children who have attended the school since its opening. Two are in primary and two in secondary. Our children's happiness and wellbeing, along with their safety are definitely the strength of GFS. I'm extremely happy and satisfied with their learning, progress and opportunities that are constantly offered to my children."

Students come from 102 different nations, with the top ten Indian at 14%, followed by Egyptian (7%), Pakistani (6%), Jordanian (3%), UK (2%) and Filipino (1.8%). US, UAE each represent around 1%, whilst Syrian and Sri Lankan citizens each represent just under 1%. GFS also educates a substantial number (close to 500) of students who have been identified as students of Determination.

According to the school it offers "the best value for money in the UAE.  We are a DSIB rated “Good” school in our very first inspection with modern state of the art facilities and a truly internationally recognised curriculum. Most importantly the culture and ethos at our school is second to none with the most positive and kind community you will find".

The proof of the pudding, so to speak, is clearly in the eating...

In March 2021, GEMS announced that GEMS Founders Al Barsha is to expand into the now defunct GEMS Al Barsha National School for Boys' premises, opening its doors in September 2021 to an additional 1,800 students.

In so doing, GFS will become the largest UK curriculum school in Dubai with close to 6,000 students in total across the two neighbouring campuses.  The expansion will not only increase capacity, but will enhance facilities, with students having access to two additional sports halls, two multi use games areas, a football pitch, a dance studio, two libraries, one dining hall and an additional 200sqm of playground.

Read our recent WSA Review Visit

Under the leadership of Principal Matthew Burfield and Vice Principal Janet Foley, the school has accepted children from FS 1 to Year 13 in the current academic year. As an indication of the demand for the school, and its success in meeting this demand, GEMS Founders School opened with 14 Foundation Stage classes for 2016 and by 2018 this had risen to 24. 

One of the few 'affordable' schools in the New Dubai area, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com understands that the school is one of the few currently with healthy waiting lists. Demand for places at the original GEMS Founders has been exacerbated by the decision to put on hold the opening of a second GFS campus at Al Waha, originally mooted to open in September 2020. 

In common with most new schools in Dubai, the demand, and therefore number of classes, drops as students head towards Secondary school. With 600 children in the Foundation Stage alone, these 3 to 5 year olds are numerous enough to occupy a school of their own.  Meanwhile, the Primary school now has 2,160 students, whilst the Secondary school, with 1,200 students is clearly growing quickly.

Unusually, Founders went ahead with opening Year 12 (the first year of Sixth Form and A/AS levels) without waiting for students to complete their IGCSE exams in Year 11.  The first Year 11 students sat their IGCSE exams in June 2020.  Such was the appeal of the Founders offering that in 2021, the school has attracted 300 students to its Sixth Form.


Senior Secondary students at GEMS Founders.

Class sizes range from an average of 25 in Foundation to 30 from Year one to Year 11, reducing again to 25 in Years 12 and 13 - high for a premium school, but then this is a premium curriculum school at an affordable mid-range price point.  Maximum class sizes are 27, 32 and 28 respectively.

With 10 classes in FS1, 14 in FS2, and 12 per year group in Years 1 to 6, 8 per per year group in Years 7 to 11 and 6 each in Years 12 and 13, parents do need to appreciate from the outset, just how large this school is, and whether they feel it will suit their child. 

With the expansion of the school to the neighbouring building, GFS will be increasing the amount of FS classes and opportunities to increase secondary provision will also be available. At the present time, the school cannot confirm the extent of this as any increase in class  numbers will be dependent on restrictions in place due to Covid 19. However, there are no plans to increase Years 1 to 6 at the time of writing. 

Some 264 teachers support students throughout the school, and, in order to address adequate support within the Early Years and Key Stage 1 classes, a teaching assistant is available in each classroom - there are 68 teaching assistants across the school and a further 17 PTR staff.  The vast majority of teachers are native English speakers and come from a range of 50 different nationalities. Teaching staff are 50% UK-trained (not related to nationality but their qualification) and 50% from a non-UK trained background (with qualifications from India, Pakistan, South Africa, Serbia and Romania).

One of the most significant factors in GFS' success has been the consistent and stable senior leadership team who have been in post since opening in 2016. As the school has grown, there has been an increase in experienced colleagues joining the school.  This strengthening of the team has also facilitated the strategic direction, which has changed from achieving Good in the first KHDA/DSIB inspection round, to now driving towards Very Good and Outstanding judgements. 

With a teacher:student ratio of 1:18, delivering the level of personal attention and support can be a challenge - higher fee UK curriculum schools typically have a teacher:student ratio of 1:12 or thereabouts - and this is clearly where a compromise has been made in order for the school to deliver a UK curriculum at an affordable price. 

According to the school, "GEMS Founders School has a good mix of experience levels and different educational backgrounds. Staff range from newly qualified teachers to those who have taught for over 20 years. This blend allows us to benefit from the most current and up to date thinking form those who have just completed their university courses as well as those who have been teaching in multiple schools in multiple contexts. All teachers at GFS have a teaching qualification either a BEd or a BA/BSc followed by a PGCE/iPGCE". The school does not disclose the budget for professional development, but in common with all GEMS schools, we would expect this to be an area of ongoing focus.

Clearly GFS is making the right decisions in terms of recruitment. According to the KHDA, "comprehensive recruitment processes ensure that all staff are well qualified, have appropriate expertise and benefit from up-to-date guidance and professional development." Staffing is always going to be a concern when a school is operating at affordable fees - Founders seems to be showing that the right mix of staff in terms of background, experience and salaries can provide quality of education without delivering frills. And with staff turnover at a low 12% compared with a UAE average of 20-22% in international schools, it seems that GFS teachers also appreciate their workplace.

In March 2021, GFS was recognised by Optimus Education, a UK-based organisation that awards, supports and accredits schools for outstanding non-curricular provision. The awards are created in a way that schools must follow a framework of KPIs in order to successfully achieve the award and then remain accredited for a following three years.

GFS first started their association with the Optimus Education awards in September of 2018 by taking on three of the awards; Leading Parent Partnership Award (LPPA), SEND Inclusion Award (SENDIA), and Wellbeing Award for Schools (WAS). After only a year, the school then completed and was accredited for all three awards. At the same time, they then took on the other two awards; Best Practice with Teaching Assistants Award (BPTAA), and Excellence in Pupil Development Award (EPDA), both were then completed and accredited in March 2021.

Matthew Burfield, Principal and CEO of GEMS Founders School, Dubai said ‘Using the Optimus Education Awards as a framework to drive school improvement has been incredibly important in our journey at GEMS Founders School, Dubai (GFS) to Outstanding. We have been able to consider critical areas that go beyond any inspection framework but also feed into the standards for both DSIB and BSO. The framework has given us a clear strategy of improvement and the evidence gathering tools have helped sharpen our attention to meet the standards and in all cases go beyond.'

What about the curriculum?

As is evident, GFS follows the English National Curriculum, with the EYFS curriculum in the Foundation stage, and IGCSE, AS and A Levels through the Oxford AQA and Cambridge International Examination Boards in Years 10 and 11, and 12 and 13 respectively.

As a sign of its commitment to offer a genuine UK curriculum experience, the school was inspected by the British Schools Overseas accreditation organisation in 2019 and was awarded a Good rating. 

GFS is a High Performance Learning (HPL) school, which means it aims to follow the philosophy of removing all barriers and limits to students learning and aspirations. Lessons are not limited to just achieving an objective but moving beyond in their learning and constantly looking to challenge themselves both academically and personally to be an exceptional all-rounder.

GFS offers a broad range of twenty-three courses at IGCSE level. These include compulsory subjects such as English Language (or as a Second Language), English Literature, Mathematics (core or extended) and at least one of the two Science routes, as well as other subjects placed in five different option blocks. IGCSE options include Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Arabic as a First Language, Arabic as a Foreign Language, French, Spanish, Economics, Accounting, Business, Computer Science, Geography, History, Psychology, Sociology, Art and Design, Music and  Physical Education.

Year 10 and 11 core subjects also include Ministry of Education Arabic (only in Year 10 for non-Arab students), Islamic (Muslim students only), Prep (non-Muslim students only), Moral Education (non IGCSE), UAE Social Studies (non IGCSE), Physical Activity and Wellbeing (non IGCSE).

This is similar at A Level where students choose from subjects in five option blocks. A Level subjects include English Literature, English Language, French, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Accounting, Business, Computer Science, Economics, Geography, History, Psychology, Sociology, Art and Design, Music and Physical Education. GFS also offers the Independent Project Qualification (IPQ) as an optional challenge for students.

One clear sign that GEMS Founders does not intend to compromise on the standards it has set for its students or intends for them to achieve are the minimum requirements which students are required to meet.

Students must attain a minimum of 5 IGCSE/GCSE’s at grades A*- C (9 - 4) including English and mathematics to be able to stay on for Sixth Form studies. Students must attain A*- B (7 or above in new GCSE grading structure) in the subjects that they intend to study at International AS/A Level.

The school has also advises that Linear A Levels will be the preferred examination route for GFS students during the 2021/2022 academic year. Students who choose Art and Design (AQA) must follow the linear route.

The significance of this should not be overlooked.  Whilst international AS Level qualifications permit students to study their subjects in two stages effectively, with examinations at the end of Year 12 and again at the end of Year 13 - and to resit the Year 12 examinations to improve their overall grades if necessary - the Linear route requires that students sit A Levels only at the end of the two year period only.  This is therefore a more demanding route for students to take. 

There is a specific focus throughout the school on mindfulness and foreign languages with Arabic and French as part of the curriculum and Spanish as an after-school activity. The school intends to offer further foreign languages which in all likelihood will be parent led.

GFS has an appointed Career Guidance Counsellor who works closely with students from Year 9 upwards. The school believes the process for university preparation should begin in Key Stage 3 and encourages students to be mindful of the choices they will have to make throughout their academic lives. Students also have mentors from the middle and Senior Leadership who they are able to discuss career related questions with. Two other resources available to students are Unifrog and the GEMS College & Career Counselling Network.

The school offers a broad range of Extra-curricular activities, although in term 3, the majority are payable. Extra curricular activities are provided by external providers ESM and Delta. GFS also provides free after school activities once a week during terms one and two.  In term 3, activities include Football, Basketball, Tennis, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Ballet, Robotics & 3D designing, Hip Hop Dance, Social and Emotional skills, Home of Chess, and Nutty Scientists and Experiment.  Approximately 900 children participate in paid after-school activities and the range of teacher led activities.

What about support for Students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents?

Inclusion is a very big part of GEMS Founders School and so the Inclusion department, who support Students of Determination, includes four qualified SEN leaders, 8 SEN teachers and 30+ Learning Support Assistants. In addition to this there is also a partnership with Small Steps who are a specialist ABA provider who are based within the school. Small Steps caters for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who require a higher level of support to fully meet their individual needs.

GFS was the first school in the Middle East to achieve the SEND Inclusion Award from the UK accreditor Optimus Education which shows the provision is equivalent to an Outstanding SEN provision in a UK school.

One of the provisions on offer is Flourish. Flourish is for those requiring significant support for Maths and/or English in Year 3 – Year 8. The students attend Flourish twice a day and this offers them the opportunity to work in a smaller classroom environment every day with their SEN teacher in two of the core subjects. The curriculum in Flourish still follows the topics and themes of the year group; however it is adapted to be more functional with a hands on approach to learning wherever possible. The Flourish classes also gives students the opportunity to meet others and to form friendships to support their social and communication skills within a more nurturing environment.

GFS also offers support to those students who require help outside of the curriculum and this usually takes place though small group interventions. These groups of up to five students enables students to work on their IEP or personal goals with the SEN Teachers. In Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 this is called 'Grow'; however it is offered throughout the school. The interventions can range from fine/gross motor skills development through to emotional self-regulation. The students with IEP’s have personalised provisions in place which is written in collaboration with families and external therapists. In order to achieve the outcomes by the end of the academic year everyone takes responsibility of these being achieved and so it is a real 'team around the child' approach.

Some students have 1:1 support from a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) who are employed by the school and parents pay for this monthly (at a fee of AED 4,050 per month, September – June) and this is the only additional charge for Students of Determination.

Depending on the level of need this might be part time or full time and this would be agreed before enrollment into the school. The aim of the LSA at GFS is to support the child to become as independent as possible.

The long term goal for all the students who are supported by the inclusion department is "to prepare individuals for the world beyond school whether that be further learning, the world of work or to live as independently as possible."

The school has a holistic approach to inclusion and so there are key staff including Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) who lead on interventions for reading, phonics, maths for those who need a little support to get their learning back on track. This is in addition to all the teachers who adapt and scaffold their teaching to support all students to access their learning.

There are currently 217 students receiving specialist support from the dedicated SEN/Flourish teachers and an additional 280 students who are supported by the class teacher and HLTAs.

Within the Inclusion department there is also support for English Language Learners (ELL) specifically for those whose English is a significant barrier to their learning. The Head of ELL assesses the students and then places them on the provision they require. The support ranges from in class support (no fee) to weekly pull out sessions (AED 525 per month, September - June) and the criteria for enrollment is based on the age. The expectation of English increases the closer a child is to the exam years to ensure students are given the best opportunity to achieve their formal examinations by the time they are in Year 11. There are currently 30 students getting additional paid support and an additional 42 who are supported in class.

The number continues to grow as students discover new talents through new experiences offered from the school; there are now 225 Gifted &Talented students in the school. Every leader in the school plays a part in the provision of G&T students. This can range from the After School Activities Coordinator to the Head of Innovation who organise additional trips and activities; through to the Head of Maths and Head of PE who ensure there is challenge and opportunities to compete.

GFS says that "GEMS Founders School continues to invest and develop the provision in place and hopes that as the current cohort in Flourish grows through the school that there will be an alternative pathway to prepare students for the world of work, independent living and further opportunities for individuals to succeed and reach their full potential".

It seem that the KHDA's DSIB inspectors are also impressed by the provision and commitment at GFS.   

According to the 2019-20 KHDA inspection report, "Governors and senior leaders communicate a highly inclusive school ethos which is welcoming to students of determination. Significant investment in specialist staff enhances the effectiveness of the department. Inclusion leaders are well qualified and skilled. They are successful in promoting the best practices of inclusion." 

What about academic achievement?

We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are always among the first to say that the quality of education provided by a school cannot be judged on exam results alone.  However, there is no doubt that they are an important criterion and one to which we believe parents should have transparent access.

GFS did reveal the the results of the CAT4, PASS and Progress Tests which are used to internationally benchmark learners and "ensure provision is continuously reviewed, and adapted in light of the outcomes". Students also participate in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The first TIMSS results demonstrated the learners at GFS achieved significantly higher than the TIMSS Centre Point Score with Year 9 exceeding the school target in both Mathematics and Science.

Disappointingly, GFS has not fully published its first set of IGCSE  and A Level results - something of a shame since in not providing this information, there was a (hopefully) unwarranted suggestion that they were not as positive as had been hoped for.  To be fair, the cancellation of exams as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic in 2020 meant that results were based on grades calculated by the school's own staff.

We were therefore delighted to see that in 2021, GFS provided full details of its A Level and I/GCSE results which were again affected by the Covid 19 pandemic and based on Centre Assessed Grades.

A Level results were definitely outcomes of which the school can be proud! Its second cohort of  34 students were entered for a total of 99 examinations. Of these exam entries, 16.2% achieved the highest A* award, with 40.4% receiving A*-A grades and almost two-thirds  64.6% receiving A*-B grades.  Unfortunately, the school did not reveal further information in terms of those awarded A*-C or A*-E (or indeed the overall pass rate).  We hope that this is something they will have the confidence to do for 2022.

I/GCSE results showed that a sizeable cohort of 221 students were entered for 1,545 examinations.  A substantial 24.1% achieved the top grade of A*, with 40% of entries being awarded A*-A grades,  69.1% of entries being awarded A*-B, and 82.7% being awarded A*-C pass grades.

The school's website notes that for 2020:"We received our first full set of International GCSE and International A level results in 2020. Our early entry results for 2019 showed that we challenged our children to the highest level. 80% of our children entered for IGCSE Mathematics achieved a grade 9 (equivalent to an A*) In AS English Literature, 100% of those entered were awarded either an A or B grade. Subsequently, our results have continued to get stronger and stronger.".  

Additional results included 100% of IGCSE  grades achieved across all subjects were awarded A*-C (9-5) - a pass level.  Furthermore, 70%  of grades were awarded at A*-A (9-7) and 66% of  Modern Foreign Languages entries achieved A*. For AS, 21% of entries received an A, 49% of entries were awarded A-B, and 89% of Psychology entries were awarded A-C. It should be borne in mind that early entries are usually taken by students who are outperforming the majority, and the expectation would therefore be of higher overall grades.

The 2020 results which would have included all students (with early entry results added) resulted in November 2020 awards of 93% of students achieving Grade 9 in Mathematics, 100% of students achieving Grade 9 in English, 70% of students achieving Grades 9-5 in Science, 100% of students achieving A* in Further Maths, Accounting and French, and 100% of students achieving Grades A-C in Arabic and Geography.

August 2020 A Level overall entries resulted in 35% of grades at A*-A and 56% A*-B. Students achieved 100% A*-B in English Literature, 63% A*-B in Maths, 47% A*-B in Science, and 80% A*-B in Psychology.

Matthew Burfield in a statement said: “GEMS Founders School, Dubai, celebrated its first full set of IGCSE/GCSE results this year and we are so pleased to announce an outstanding set of results. We are so proud of our students and even more so because our top 10 achievers all were founding students when we opened in 2016. These children took a risk to come to GFS in 2016 with no prior results and have proven that it was indeed the right choice, for us and them. Well done to all of our students, their teachers and their families.”

This limited results information does not provide full disclosure across all subjects, with details of exam entries and results broken down into the range of bands usually included, so that a full overview of achievement can be seen, something that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com encourage. With a return to a more normal exam process for 2022, we hope that more detailed information will be provided.

The school also says that students of GFS have been finalists and winners in national competitions in music and art. 

What about the facilities?

The school may not have the most extensive (and expensive) facilities, but students are not hard done by either. There are, in fact, a wide range of facilities that includes a large auditorium, dance studio, specialist art rooms and music rooms, IT and science labs and a 3D printer equipped Mac Lab, as well as primary and secondary libraries and a canteen offering hot meals. GEMS Founders also offers a large multipurpose hall used as a gymnasium, but fully fitted with a stage, retractable seating, lighting and sound. 

The KHDA inspection report for 2019-20 notes that: "High-quality school facilities and resources provide a stimulating environment for high-level learning, sport and recreation. The facilities and resources for the early years are excellent, and a well-stocked collection of books in Arabic is increasingly used by students".

The only obvious facility missing from the school is a swimming pool, which in line with the school's mid-range fees, will not be added to the school's range of facilities. There is plentiful outdoor space both for sports and relaxation, including shaded courtyards for outdoor play as well as refurbished roofs that are astro-turfed and can be utilised as outdoor eating and play areas, as well as for 5-a-side football and cricket.

With the expansion of GFS to take over the facilities of the previous GEMS Al Barsha School for Boys, additional facilities will become available. At its launch, facilities at the neighbouring school included spacious teaching areas with interactive whiteboards/LED displays in every classroom, a fully-resourced bilingual library, Science and ICT Laboratories, a Creative and Visual Art Studio, Performing and Art Productions studios for Music, Drama and Dance, a Performance Theatre - a multi-function space designed for music and drama productions, school assemblies, meetings and exhibitions - and dedicated prayer Rooms.  Given the price point of GFS, it can be anticipated that some of these facilities may well be re-purposed.

In addition to indoor and outdoor learning and play areas, sports facilities include indoor and outdoor multi-purpose facilities and playing fields. There is also a 25 metre six lane swimming pool, and a dedicated learner pool.  WhichSchoolAdvisor.com understands that the operations and use of the swimming pools will be outsourced to one or more third parties, so that the costs are not borne by the school.  Whilst GEMS Founders students may have access to the facilities, they will almost certainly involve extra-curricular access with the payment of an appropriate fee. 

What the inspectors say

Having achieved a Good rating on its first KHDA inspection - an achievement of which Founders was justifiably proud, the school consolidated its inspection rating in 2019-20 with a second overall Good rating.  Founders was fortunate to have been one of the schools inspected prior to the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic which resulted in the cancellation of all inspections from February 2020.

In addition to the KHDA inspections, Founders also participated in an inspection by British Schools Overseas in 2019 - which aims to assess schools based on the criteria used by the UK Government - and was also rated Good. The report can be found here.  GFS is also accredited by British Schools of the Middle East (BSME) and COBIS (the Council of British International Schools). However, it is clear that there is some considerable way to go before Founders is likely to move up to a Very Good rating.

In common with all UAE schools, Founders did participate in the Distance Learning Evaluation process in 2020 where it was awarded a 'Developed' rating - the highest of the three options available to the inspection teams.  The DLE report can be found here.

The KHDA inspectors in their report for 2019-20 identified the strengths of the school as:

  • Students' very positive behaviour at all phases and their excellent attitudes to work and to other people
  • The very effective implementation by staff of the school's high-quality arrangements for health, safety, care and support, including the promotion of well-being
  • The partnerships with parents, and the involvement of parents in governance, in conjunction with the effective work of the local officers
  • The impact of the principal and other senior leaders in maintaining most standards and in improving various processes at a time of rapid growth.

The overall Good rating does rather belie the fact that Student Achievement is more variable than might at first be expected.  Whilst progress (the measure of student achievement from their starting points) is rated Good across all three core subjects of English, Maths and Science, attainment (the level of achievement measured against curriculum standards) is rated Acceptable throughout Foundation Stage and Primary, though the Secondary section and Sixth Form achieve Good ratings for English and Maths.

Meanwhile, Islamic Education and Arabic as both a first and second language are rated Acceptable - although worryingly, Arabic as a second language attainment in the Secondary section has fallen to Weak.  This will undoubtedly be a red flag for the school.

As far as the second Key Performance Standard of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation Skills is concerned, there has been improvement, with Personal development rated Very Good across the school, and Students' Understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures having all improved to Good - the same rating as their Social responsibility and innovation skills attained a year ago and retained for 2019-20.

Both Key Performance Standards of Teaching and Assessment and Curriculum retained their Good ratings in the most recent inspection.  As the two key standards that contribute towards Student Achievement, this is a reflection of what can be expected - improvement in these two key performance areas will almost inevitably impact positively upon Student Achievement.

Where inspectors were clearly impressed by improvements made over the past year was in respect of the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students.  Health and safety, including arrangements for child protection/ safeguarding, were rated Outstanding across the school, whilst Care and Support also improved to Very Good.

There were also improvements in ratings for Leadership and Management - rated largely Good, but with improved Very Good ratings for Parents and the community Management, staffing, facilities and resources.

Inspectors commented that "The school effectively engages parents in their children's learning and in school life. Parents, including those of students of determination, are well informed about their children's learning and development. Reports to parents are detailed, effectively personalised, and include helpful comments on their children’s next steps in learning. Effective links with a wide range of partners, including other schools, have a positive impact on students' learning and development".

In terms of areas for improvement, the inspection team identified the need for GFS to:

  • Improve attainment and accelerate progress in Islamic education and Arabic, particularly Arabic as a second language, and especially at secondary, by:
    - accurately identifying students’ strengths and gaps in knowledge, understanding and skills
    - modifying the curriculum and lessons to ensure that gaps are addressed and the learning needs of all groups are met.
  • With the aim of improving progress and increasing the proportion of students who attain beyond curriculum standards, ensure that:
    - lessons are more consistently of good or better quality
    - teachers set appropriately high expectations of what students can achieve and always challenge them in their learning.
  • Review the curriculum where necessary to ensure continuity and progression in all subjects and to develop students’ learning skills, particularly in relation to independent learning.

If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.

The Buzz

The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a significant number of responses. 90% of respondents feel that their children enjoy going to school and have at least quite a strong sense of belonging. The majority of parents (at least 75%) are completely satisfied with the quality of education provided by GFS, with the level of feedback provided and with the disciplinary policy, though a quarter of respondents also felt that additional external tuition for their children is necessary. Despite the comments made by parents and students to the KHDA, the vast majority of parents had no concerns in relation to bullying.

If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Founders School Al Barsha and would like to share your experience and opinions with other potential members of your community, please take part in our survey here..

Some 219 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey with 90% professing themselves satisfied with the quality of education provided by GFS. According to the report, all parents who responded thought that their children are safe in the school, and almost all were satisfied with the quality of education. Most felt that leaders listen to them and act on their views. A minority of parents had concerns about bullying and about their limited involvement in school activities.

Over 700 students responded to the KHDA's Well-being survey, and almost all students who responded to the survey felt safe in the school. Most were happy with the ethos. Most claimed to be involved in organised activities, including sports or music and the arts. These results were broadly in line with inspection findings. Almost all student feedback was more positive than the average for Dubai. A minority of students thought that there is frequent verbal or social bullying. However, Inspection findings did not support these views. 

Our View

There is no doubt that GEMS took a significant step into the unknown with the launch of GEMS Founders Al Barsha - filling a gap for good quality British curriculum education with native English speakers in a well-resourced facility at an affordable fee level.  They clearly used their experience of large-scale affordable schools that had long been part of the portfolio for mainly Indian families seeking a British curriculum, at schools such as Winchester School Jebel Ali and Cambridge International School.

An earlier attempt to introduce the same model with GEMS Metropole School has never quite achieved the standards of GFS, in part because of its higher fees due to the inclusion of a higher standard of facilities (including swimming pools!).

It would seem that in terms of a model that includes mainly UK leadership supported by less expensive teachers from other countries as well as a mix of experience, it has been possible to achieve the promise of good quality at an affordable price delivered by teachers trained to deliver the curriculum well. Interestingly, recent changes of leadership at Cambridge International and GEMS Winchester School (recently relocated to Dubailand from Oud Metha) have followed in the footsteps of GEMS Founders in terms of leadership staff. 

And if proof of the pudding were needed of the obvious success of the GEMS Founders brand, this can be seen in the opening of the second Founders school in Al Mizhar in September 2018, which has followed closely in the footsteps of GFS Al Barsha.  GEMS cannot be faulted for reading the market and delivering the product that many parents so obviously wanted and clearly appreciate.

When asked to tell the WhichSchoolAdvisor team what made GEMS Founders stand out from other schools, we were told that;

"GFS has transformed the educational landscape of the UAE. We have shown that it is possible to offer a rich English curriculum with fantastic teachers at an affordable fee point. We have achieved what many could not in our fee bracket by achieving a Good judgement in our first KHDA inspection, gaining our first outstanding parameters in our second one and securing 5 outstanding judgements in our British Schools Overseas inspection. Our aim is now towards Very Good and Outstanding and with our student outcomes improving constantly this is well within reach. GFS has grown exponentially and will continue to Grow, Flourish and Succeed".

We would fully expect GFS to continue to attract families for whom the price point and curriculum work. We believe that the school will not be complacent now that it has shown that it can make the model work to a Good standard.  And we do very much hope that GFS will be transparent in terms of levels of academic achievement through publication of its results going forward. This will ensure that parents will be able to see for themselves whether the promise is really being delivered.

What about the fees?

Fees range from AED 22,455 for FS1 to AED 27,559 through to Year 6, just AED 31,642 in Year 10, and AED 33,683 in Year 13. That is a very gentle increase for Dubai, and means if you can afford the school now, the chances are you will still be able to in 3-4 years time. This is not the case for many of the school's peers with considerably sharper year on year increases. Approximately 60% of children travel by bus to the school and make use of the service following on from their participation in after-school activities. 

The price point clearly has made the school accessible to a wide demographic. 

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

GEMS Founders School Al Barsha 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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