GEMS International School Al Khail is an all-through IB World School located off of Al Khail Road that teaches the full range of IB programmes (PYP, MYP, and DP) with students graduating with the highly regarded IB Diploma.
The story so far...
GEMS International School (GIS) opened in 2013, and is located together with GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail (offering the UK curriculum) and GEMS Millenium School Al Khail (offering the Indian curriculum). GIS is the second all-through IB World School in the GEMS group, and as such, sister to the much longer established GEMS World Academy. The school is now fully open from KG to Grade 12, with its first IB Diploma students having graduated in May 2019.
The mission at GIS is "to develop lifelong learners who engage in meaningful learning experiences that build compassion, resilience and understanding of their role in our ever changing global community". The vision of the school "as a GEMS International Baccalaureate World School, is to provide exceptional quality education to meet the needs of a diverse, international community in an ever changing world."
The location of the school, at the edge of Mohammed bin Rashid City, overlooking the Al Khail Road and the Al Qouz industrial area, is not at first particularly appealing, but the location has also enabled all three schools to be provided with substantial space, both internally and outside. Access has improved considerably, staggered timings between the schools have been effective and the ease of access both north and south on the Al Khail Road and also towards the east and west from Umm Suqeim Street, has meant that all three schools have attracted significant numbers of students.
The school states that its focus is on "building a safe environment for all students and employees. We have a focus of high academics and rigor, child centered learning, developing student leaderships and outcome focused results."
GEMS International School Al Khail currently has approximately 1,400 students on its roster, a small increase over the previous year. Approximately 10% of students are identified as students of Determination with SEND requirements. Internal departments support students within the school's Achievement center, Gifted and Talented Program, and a counselling team includes School counsellors for PYP and MYP students, and Guidance Counselor.
Many students require English Additional Language support and there is a dedicated ELL team at the school who works along side the subject teachers to ensure students are able to access the curriculum.
There is no single nationality at GIS which dominates, although the largest nationality group is described by the KHDA report as Arab. Students from a vast range of nationalities attend the school - almost 90 in fact - and there is a diverse mix of students and faculty as a result. The majority of the 125 teachers at the school are British, and a further 40+ teaching assistants support students. The teacher to student ratio is currently at 1:11 - a very favourable ratio with a high level of personal support available to students as a result.
Find out more about GIS by reading the school's answers in our Q and A section here.
In 2018-19, the teacher turnover rate had finally started to stabilise with only 17% of staff moving on, compared with 28% and 30% in the previous two years. The average for Dubai is in the 20-22% range, and it is a positive step forward for GIS under its Principal, who arrived in August 2017, that greater staffing stability has been achieved.
In June 2020, GEMS Education announced that Principal Glen Radojkovic would be leaving the school at the end of the current academic year. His replacement is Simon Herbert who has worked in the education sphere for over 30 years, having taught and held leadership roles in high-profile schools across the globe.
Prior to joining GEMS, Mr. Herbert was based in China, where he rose to the position of Headmaster of Dulwich College Beijing after initially joining as Head of Senior School. Over the course of his eight years with Dulwich, the school achieved consistently high average IB results as well as superb university placements, while maintaining its holistic and philanthropic values. With Herbert at the helm, the school also picked up numerous accolades, including the International Schools Award 2019 for Creativity in Learning and being named the Hurun Education Report’s Top Ranked International School in Beijing.
Mr. Herbert also spent 12 years with the prestigious Fettes College in Edinburgh, Scotland, first as Head of Modern Languages and then as Housemaster of Glencorse House. During his time at Fettes, he led the introduction of the IB Diploma Programme and transformed the effort grades of his house from mediocre to best-in-college.
Together with an MA in Educational Leadership and Management, a PGCE: Modern Languages and a joint honours BA in French and Latin, Herbert is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, and a member of the Council of International Schools Inspector.
What about the curriculum?
The International Baccalaureate Organisation was established in Switzerland in the 1950's to support the families of staff at the United Nations. As such, it was designed to provide an education to students from around the world, with a strong international focus.
GIS is an IB World School offering the four programmes that focus on teaching students to think critically and independently, and how to inquire with care and logic. The IB prepares students to succeed in a world where facts and fiction merge in the news, and where asking the right questions is a crucial skill that will allow them to flourish long after they’ve left the programmes.
The IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better world through intercultural understanding and respect. The programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners. Increasingly, the IB is viewed as the Gold Standard for university and post 18 studies due to its breadth and depth of subject knowledge and application and the rigour with which the programmes are taught.
The Kindergarten program at GIS is an inquiry based programme that caters to the individual needs of each child. Since children learn at different rates, the school provides them with opportunities to develop at their own pace whilst challenging them to reach their full potential. Children are provided with an individual and holistic learning experience and opportunities that promote social, emotional, cognitive and physical development.
Teachers encourage students to ask questions and make meaningful connections through the key concepts, skills, knowledge and attitudes of the IB PYP curriculum. Language, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science are taught through the units of inquiry, enabling students to construct their own meaning through tailored scenarios and activities that challenge young students in their thinking. Students participate in various specialist classes, such as Art, Music, PE, Swimming and Arabic.
KG students benefit from an outdoor learning space where they develop and hone their motor skills. The outdoor play area provides opportunities for water and sand play, creating games, learning about team work and solving problems during play.
The Primary Years Programme philosophy, for students from Grades 1 to 5, centres around the IB Learner Profile, where character traits are extensively explored so that students can become more open minded and globally conscious. The curriculum is divided into three components: the written, taught and assessed curriculum. Each has been developed to effectively extend students as they explore the six Units of Inquiry. The Units of Inquiry, “Who we are, Where we are in place and time, How the world works, Sharing the planet, How we express ourselves and How we organize ourselves”, are common to all IB PYP schools around the world. Different aspects of each unit are explored every year, so that students build upon their understanding in a cyclical manner.
The International Baccalaureate curriculum is taught conceptually, so that students develop knowledge and understanding which can be applied to real world situations and within varying subject areas and contexts. Core subjects include Mathematics, Language (including MFL options of French or Spanish from Grade 4, in addition to English and Arabic), Science, Social Studies, Art and Physical, Social and Personal Education. At the end of the PYP students participate in the PYP Exhibition.
The Middle Years Programme (MYP) curriculum framework for students from Grades 6 to 10, comprises of eight subject groups providing a rigorous and balanced education. Subject flexibility in the final two years of the programme, allows students to withdraw from certain subjects, while selecting options that may assist them in their curricular pathways going into the Diploma programme in Grades 10-11.
Core subjects at the MYP include Mathematics, Language and Literature, Sciences, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies (Humanities), Physical and Health Education, Arts, and Design. Students in Grades 6 to 8 will take Product Design which provides access to 3-D printers and to the resistance materials lab, and Digital Design with a focus on coding. They also take Music and semestered Drama and Visual Arts. In Grades 9 and 10 subject flexibility will allow students the choice of Visual Arts, Music, or Media Arts, or Product or Digital Design as electives.
MYP students prepare for the Diploma Programme's compulsory Creativity, Action and Service element by connecting to a seven-outcome, Service Learning component which can be met both within the curriculum and outside the classroom.
Additionally, students in Grade 10 complete a Personal Project; a personal interest project that demonstrates the student's connection to the Approaches to Learning. It is based on the student’s interests and talents. The personal project is the link between the PYP exhibition and the Diploma Programme extended essay which is a compulsory requirement for all students.
Students taking the IB Diploma Programme study six subjects at either Higher or Standard Level. These comprise of one subject from each Language and Literature - GIS offers a remarkable 56 language options through its school supported and self-taught programmes - Language Acquisition (French, Spanish or Arabic), Individuals and Societies (Humanities, including Business and Management, Politics and IT), Sciences (including Environmental Systems and Design Technology), Mathematics, and the Arts (Visual Art or Music). All Diploma Programme students take a Theory of Knowledge Course; participate in the Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) Programme, and write an Extended Essay.
Academic requirements for the DP are rigorous and students who do not meet the entry requirements are offered the option of the IB Courses Programme which is a 'slimmed down' version of the full Diploma.
The school offers a wide range of Extra Curricular activities (some 60+ ranging from African Drumming to Zumba academic, creative, IT-focused and sports in-between). The extra curricular programme extends to more languages such as French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Mandarin both for new learners and in support of native speakers. The schools' GIS Jaguar Sports squads are also active across a variety of sports including Swimming and Dance in Primary, and Swimming, Basketball and Football in Secondary.
What about Facilities?
As with all Premium GEMS schools, GIS has access to a considerable range of resources and facilities. The campus includes speciality Science, Technology and Visual and Performing Arts Classrooms, Science and IT Labs, a Black Box Theatre, Outdoor Amphitheatre, a Dance Studio and fully-equipped Music Classrooms. Students have access to libraries and a cafeteria, whilst a Parent Café is available to parents and visitors.
Read our most recent review visit here!
Sports facilities include a 6-Lane 25 Meter Swimming Pool and a learner pool, a full-sized football pitch, a multi-purpose Performance and Sports Hall, and outdoor mixed-use games courts for basketball, netball, and tennis. Shaded outdoor spaces are available for older students whilst indoor and outdoor KG play areas are provided separately for the youngest children.
What about Academic Achievement?
Unfortunately, in common with many GEMS schools, GIS did not publicise its first IB cohort's results. This is a pity in our view, since although results are not the be-all and end-all of education, they are certainly a criteria for parents to consider when making decisions about their school choice. We understand that the average IB points score at GIS was 30; and whilst this was above the global average of 29.62, it was below the UAE average of 32.26. No information about student numbers or highest point scores was published.
Given that this was the school's first cohort and a new experience for all concerned, it will be interesting to see how students progress in the coming year's exams.
What the inspectors say
The first KHDA review of GEMS International School Al Khail had the school firmly situated as an Acceptable school with most ratings of students' progress and attainment as Good or Acceptable throughout the core subjects across the sections. The PYP section (effectively Primary School) showed the greatest Good attainment and progress in the school, especially in science. Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language were rated as Weak in the MYP and Acceptable in the PYP.
The second inspection by the DSIB team took place one year later and the overall rating for GIS improved to Good - the minimum target for schools set by the KHDA. The third visit by the inspection team took place in February 2018. Again, the inspection team rated GIS as Good. In the most recent inspection in February 2019, GIS again achieved a Good rating.
It seems that the main challenge for GIS is the achievement of consistency in a number of areas. Whilst Student Achievement in the KG is Very Good, it is variable across the other sections of the school. Teaching quality is Good overall, but again the inspectors note that it is inconsistent. And while the curriculum is firmly established in the KG and Primary Years, the inspection team found that it is not fully established in the MYP and DP. Although they noted that the curriculum is adapted to include a wide range of interesting and motivating experiences, overall adaptations are...inconsistent. Health and safety procedures are firmly in place, but not all MYP teachers consistently follow recommended guidelines. Students of determination receive variable support though this is often better when provided by specialist teachers.
Overall, the DSIB team found the strengths of GEMS International School Al Khail to be:
In terms of recommendations, GIS should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Parents certainly seem to rate the school relatively highly. Some 175 responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and of these, 94% said that they were happy with the quality of education provided by the school. Most were confident that the school listens to their views and appreciate the open-door policy operated by the Principal. Parents reported an improved partnership but feel that they would benefit from more timely communication about their children's progress.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey received a relatively low number of responses from GIS parents. We found that whilst 55% of parents would recommend the school to others, an emphatic 27% would not. A surprisingly high number also felt that the standard of education was not up to that of their home country. In addition, 18% felt dissatisfied with the level of academic performance of the school. Fees are also clearly a bug-bear with only 9% agreeing that they value for money and a significant 45% totally disagreeing.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS International School Al Khail, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey.
Fees for GEMS International School Al Khail starts at AED 48,460 for KG to AED 73,490 for Grade 12. Fees are not inclusive of a non-refundable AED 500 registration fee.
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