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 New Millennium School Al Khail (offering the Indian CBSE 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 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 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, together with the growth in properties in Mohammed bin Rashid City, has meant that all three schools have attracted significant numbers of students.
In June 2020, GEMS Education announced the appointment of 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.
Mr. Herbert (FRSA, with Masters in Educational Leadership from Bath University and Bachelors in French and Latin from Nottingham University) is British, and married with three children. Prior to joining GEMS, Mr. Herbert
worked in leadership at Fettes College in Edinburgh, as Principal of Dulwich College Beijing and has also worked in France, Kenya and London.
It would seem that Mr. Herbert's early experience at Fettes may be of particular relevance to GIS. 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". Whilst it would be unfair to suggest that IB results at GIS are mediocre, there is definitely an opportunity to raise standards of attainment as the limited information provided by the school shows. More information can be found here.
In a further strengthening of the Leadership team at GIS, the school has announced the appointment of Amanda Murphy who joins in August 2021 as new Head of Secondary. She is Irish/Australian, married with two children, and is currently Vice Principal of Oeiras School in Portugal. Mrs. Murphy has also worked in Australia at St Brigid’s College. She gained her Bachelors at Murdoch University in Perth and her Masters at Deakin University, Melbourne.
In February 2021, the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team had an online "Covid Catch-up" with the team at GIS and much of the information in this review has been updated as a result.
We asked the GIS team what made the school special and enabled it to stand out from others; this was their reply.
"Our culture is ‘respect, trust and ambition’ and we are reinforcing this for all, particularly given what a wonderfully diverse student body we have. Our unique selling points are very much our broad, diverse, and warm community, our all-through IB programmes, our student leadership opportunities (for all ages, with risk taking and failure allowed as part of a normal learning process, so that students can then try again and succeed, within safe parameters). And of course our Centre of Excellence.
For next year, our focus continues to be on the wellbeing of our whole community, which has been crucial during this pandemic. We look forward to reintegrating 100% of our community. Along with this, we have four strategic aims this year: the educational journey (smoothness of the journey from K-12); clarity of ambition; self-evaluation (transparency and critique as a school); keeping a big school small (the personalisation and systems for knowing all students, such as through house competitions, grade level clubs and meetings, vertical alignment, peer tutoring, mentoring and buddy systems)."
GEMS International School Al Khail currently has approximately 1,300 students on its roster, a small decrease over the previous two years - and unsurprising in light of the economic changes that have taken place. In common with most newer schools, students numbers are higher in the Primary section than in the Secondary. Whilst most grades have between four and six classes, pre-KG has only two, and KG1 has three. Grades 11 and 12 each have two classes. As a result of increased demand, three additional classes have opened in the current academic year. With an average class size of 22 students, and a maximum of 25, the school currently has a very favourable teacher:student ratio of 1:11.
Find out more about GIS by reading the school's answers in our Q and A section here.
There is no single nationality at GIS which dominates. 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 top 10 nationalities are Indian, American, Canadian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese, Pakistani, Italian, Australian and the Netherlands.
The 115 teachers come from 22 different nations and, on average, have 6 to 7 years of experience. There are a further 30+ teaching assistants support students. Many are IB examiners, and workshop leaders. There has been a clear focus on improving the IB backgrounds and the recruitment of more experienced teaching staff more recently. After several years of high staff turnover, no more than 10% of staff are expected to leave the school at the end of the current academic year - half the UAE average.
GIS describes itself is "a fully inclusive school that celebrates diversity". This statement certainly appears to be borne out by the fact that approximately 20% of the school's cohort are identified as students with additional needs and are supported by a strong, qualified team of Inclusion Support Teachers. In addition, 5% of the students are identified as more and exceptionally able.
Across the school, there are currently six teachers working with students of determination, three counsellors and four ELL teachers. The school has a very successful English Language Learning (ELL) programme. Students entering the school with low levels of English proficiency are enrolled on an intensive language programme through which they receive daily lessons in small groups from specialist ELL teachers. The teachers also support integration into the mainstream and support for new families. There is an additional charge for the intensive programme, but not for the lower level of in-class support once full transition into the mainstream has taken place.
Teachers adopt a universal design approach to teaching all students together in the classroom. The inquiry style approach to learning enables support and stretch to be embedded into the curriculum. The school adopts a personalized approach to supporting all students who are identified with additional needs, including in-class support, booster group intervention sessions and a range of specialized intervention programmes. There are also close links with partnership therapy centres to ensure that all students with additional learning needs receive the coordinated support that they need. The needs of most students are met as part of the standard school services without additional charge.
Where individual needs fall outside the scope of this service, there is an additional charge for personalized programmes and in class support from a dedicated team of learning support assistants (LSAs). LSAs are employed and trained by the school. Where students need very specialist support, GIS works closely with partner therapy centres to employ appropriately trained external LSAs as part of their school therapy programmes.
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 three programmes - the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (IBDP) 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 school is very well balanced across the curriculum and offers strong science, maths and arts. The IB programmes have the learner profile at their heart and ‘balanced’ is one of the ten key traits. The school is one of the GEMS ‘Centres of Excellence’ and has a dedicated location for Aeronautics, Aviation and Space. Boys and girls of all ages have access to this exceptional facility and can train for pilot’s licence, drone building, coding, robotics, AI and the discovery of space.
In February 2021, GIS announced the introduction of the IB Career-related Programme in August 2021 which is designed to provide a more vocational focus for IB students. In addition, the school will also offer UK curriculum-based BTEC programmes in Sport, Business, and Creative Media in August 2021. This will broaden the offering to students who may be seeking an alternative pathway to university, tertiary education or more creative and technical options.
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 Diploma programme 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.
A bilingual diploma is also awarded to students who complete and receive a Level 3 or higher grade in two languages selected from the DP course studies in Language and Literature.
In addition to the IB Diploma programme, GIS also offers the IB Courses (Certificate) programme. This is a scaled-down version of the full Diploma, focusing on six subjects, and without the requirement to undertake the Extended Essay or Theory of Knowledge requirements of the full Diploma. The Courses programme is also accepted for university entry in some countries, albeit mainly at Foundation level (prior to students embarking on their degree studies).
Graduates of GIS also receive a Council of International Schools-accredited High School diploma.
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 the Middle Years Programme there is a wide choice of electives at Grade 9. These include textiles, food design, product design, visual arts, drama, music, Centre of Excellence (aeronautics, aviation and space), second language, mother tongue and Mandarin.
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 entering the final four years at GIS are supported by an excellent school careers counsellor with Grade 9 conversations on pathways individually and groups, and the organisation of Options evenings, parent workshops, and brochures to enable them to make appropriate choices. Their move to university and beyond is supported through Unifrog careers from G7, and university open days and fairs, some of which are organised at the school.
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 and from August 2021, will have two further options through the IB Careers-related Programme and the BTEC programmes on offer.
During the current academic year, with the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic continuing to cause school closures, GIS has offered the opportunity to have on campus learning to all students. Over 90% have taken this option, reassured that the school teams have made the campus as safe as possible. The remote option is also available and no learner is left behind, no matter their circumstance. In the Primary School, GIS has allocated remote learning specialists who have responsibility for remote learners in each grade level.
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) and including debating, sport, Model United Nations and peer tutoring 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!
Recent enhancements include the opening of the Centre of Excellence in Aeronautics, Aviation and Space and a State of the Art Design Technology Lab and Food Technology lab. There are also large Art Spaces with a Kiln for pottery-making and a Textile lab.
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.
The school also recently fully kitted out a Fitness Suite for use of selected age levels helping them to keep their BMI under check with a specially designed plan from the PE team, as well for staff as part of the 'My Health' initiative at the school.
Unfortunately, in common with many GEMS schools, GIS did not initially publicise its first IB cohort's results. However, subsequent information provided on the school website shows that its first cohort of 25 students graduated from the school in May 2019.
21 students were enrolled in the full IB Diploma Programme, achieving a sixty-two percent passing rate. The average point score for those students who passed was 30.1, higher than the global average of 29.6. Subject average passing scores were 4.79, above the global average of 4.76.
Four students took the scaled down version of the Diploma and completed the IB Courses Certificate. Of students choosing to access higher education, 86% were directly admitted to degree programmes, and 14% were admitted to Foundation programmes.
2020 results were based on assessments by the International Baccalaureate Organisation. GIS revealed further information about its second cohort of students, saying that 34 students achieved a 62% pass rate and overall average points of 32. 57% of passes were at 30 points and above, and 19% were at 35 points or higher. The highest score being 'over 40' - a possible highest score is 40 - whilst the school's first bi-lingual candidate scored 34 points.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are somewhat disappointed that the school has informed us during our 'Covid Catch-up' in February 2021, that it will not publish full details of its results, instead relying on GEMS' central publication. Instead GIS will publish its IB average on its website. This is a great pity, in our view, since it means that students who make particularly strong achievements, and improvements from year to year across the "point boundaries" will not receive the credit they are due.
It is clear that by comparison with other GEMS IB curriculum schools, GIS has some way to go. To be fair, it is very early days, and there is no doubt that the IB Diploma Programme is very demanding.
In 2020, GEMS Wellington Academy DSO's cohort of 68 students achieved an average of 32.1, but with a 94% pass rate with 80% of results at 30+ points, 22% at 35+ points and 3% of results at 40+ points. GEMS World Academy's cohort of 76 had the next highest set of results with an average of 35.5, a 100% pass rate with 91% of passes at 30+ points, 61% at 35+ points and 13% at 40+ points. The most successful GEMS IB curriculum school - GEMS Wellington International - with a cohort of 95 students achieved an average of 36.3 with a 96% pass rate. 92% of passes were at 30+ points, 64% at 35+ points and 26% at 40+ points.
The arrival of Mr. Herbert, with his experience of developing success in the IB curriculum, will hopefully provide the further support that GIS will need if it is to enable its students to achieve similar results over time.
In addition to the examinations held in Secondary school, GIS also participates in TIMMS and PISA tests, along with MAP and CAT4 (the latter is used internally but not as a benchmarking test). According to GIS, its students perform well above average in TIMMS against other private schools. In PISA reading, Maths and science results were well above UAE average at 563 versus 480 (in the highest performing quartile) for reading, 542 versus 483 in Science, and 561 versus 470 Maths .
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 as this did again in February 2019. The fourth inspection, which took place in January 2020, again awarded GIS with a Good rating.
It seems that the main challenge for GIS is the achievement of consistency in a number of areas. In particular, they noted that in all phases, attainment is lower in Islamic education and Arabic than other subjects.Teachers of Arabic and Islamic education do not follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) approach to teaching and learning. Most teachers use assessment information well, particularly in KG, but it is not used well in Arabic and Islamic education. Transitions between programmes are carefully planned, although the PYP to Middle Years Programme (MYP) transition is still developing. Educational leadership is most consistent in KG and the PYP. It is less effective in Arabic and Islamic education.
Unfortunately, whilst there are evidently improvements to be made across various aspects of the school, it is the performance of the Arabic and Islamic teachers and student attainment in these subjects which will inevitably hold back GIS - an issue common to many international schools in Dubai.
Whilst Student Achievement in Islamic Education is largely rated Acceptable, with progress in PYP being rated Good, four of the six measures in Arabic as a first language are rated Weak. And where Arabic as a second language had been rated Acceptable a year ago, attainment in MYP has fallen to Weak in the current inspection.
Student achievement in Arabic and Islamic Education are clearly significantly weaker than the core English-language based subjects of Maths, English and Science, which are rated Very Good in the KG section, and in Science in the PYP section, and largely Good overall in the remaining subjects and sections of the school.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are also largely rated Very Good, with Personal development in KG and PYP rated Outstanding. Whilst teaching and assessment are rated Very Good in KG, they are rated Good across the rest of the school. Similarly, Curriculum design and adaptation rated Very Good in KG and PYP, and Good in MYP and DP sections.
Health and safety is rated Outstanding across the school, whilst the care and support of students in now rated Very Good with the exception of MYP which has remained Good.
Finally, the key performance standard of Leadership and Management achieved the same ratings as 2019, with the exception of the school's self-evaluation and improvement planning which was downgraded to Acceptable. The inspection report notes that " The school uses a concise set of improvement goals but does not track their development sufficiently rigorously." It seems that this is a particular issue in relation to the improvement of teaching practice.
Overall, the DSIB team found the best features 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 322 parents (a very significant number) responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and of these, 91% said that they were happy with the quality of education provided by the school. Most parents were satisfied with the overall quality of the school. They appreciated the safe environment, inclusive values and the school’s response to their views. Almost all say that teachers have helped their children to develop learning skills. They express some concern about Arabic and the management of homework in MYP.
335 students participated in the KHDA's Well-being survey. Almost all students who responded reported being happy and satisfied with life. They reported a very high rate of 'connectedness' with adults in school and emotional engagement with teachers. Academic self-concept was also high, although a significant minority of senior students still reported a low rate of engagement (we wonder if this contributes to the IB outcomes).
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey received a relatively low number of responses from GIS parents. We found that whilst 53% of parents would recommend the school to others, an emphatic 27% would not. A surprisingly high number (47%) also felt that the standard of education was not up to that of their home country and 60% had considered moving their child to another school. In addition, 20% felt dissatisfied with the level of academic performance of the school. Fees are also clearly a bug-bear with only 20% agreeing that they were value for money and a significant 47% 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.
GIS says that it is "at an exciting phase of its development and our close community of staff, students and parents will ensure that the next stage is fulfilling for all our students, so that they reach the best of their ability, develop a love of learning for life and become philanthropic leaders in the future".
It is clear to us that whilst GIS has much ambition for itself and its students, it has had some difficulty in realising its goals. As an IB curriculum school, GIS is set up to offer one of the most highly rated curricula globally, but one that puts great demands of teachers and students. Whilst the KG and PYP sections are clearly well established and operating effectively, there appear to be more challenges in MYP and at the DP level, which GEMS through its staff appointments, and the new Leadership team itself are clearly addressing through their new curriculum options and strengthening of staff through key appointments.
There is no doubt that GIS is a Good school in most respects - and Very Good or Outstanding in many - but there is not yet consistency of teaching and curriculum delivery across all sections and all subjects. With the arrival of an experienced new Principal, it is to be hoped that he will be able to pull all of the diverse threads together.
This is a school will much promise, it will hopefully now turn to the promise into a broader reality.
Fees for GEMS International School Al Khail are premium starting at AED 48,460 for KG and rising to AED 73,490 for Grade 12. Fees are not inclusive of a non-refundable AED 500 registration fee. Sibling discounts of 15% for the third child, 25% for the fourth child and 50% for the fifth child are available.
GEMS International School Al Khail 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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