GEMS Metropole School has without question been one of the most successful school launches over the last few years, in terms, at least, of student numbers and with 3,000 students, it is evidently pleasing parents and students. Whether it has quite hit the mark in terms of school performance is a different question, but improvements are clearly in focus. Support of students of determination is a particular strength of the school.
The story so far...
GEMS Metropole School (MTS), priced as a mid-range plus school, has appealed to parents on more moderate budgets who have clearly been attracted by the purpose-designed building with excellent facilities (including the swimming pool which adds the “plus” to its designation) and the promise of a solid UK curriculum education by the largest provider in Dubai.
According to Principal, Dr. John Hughes, "the aim of the school and its diverse staff is to build a community of lifelong learners, empowered and equipped to face the challenges of an ever-diversifying global economy; self-motivated, collaborative and globally responsible problem-solvers."
Set up prior to the opening of the mid-market (no pool, and therefore no plus) GEMS Founders' School in Al Barsha and now Al Mizhar, MTS seems to have fallen between two stools, not at the Premium level that its facilities probably warrant, but not at the affordable level either, which would potentially have offered wider opportunities in relation to staffing in particular. In terms of overall school performance, MTS has struggled to move above the Acceptable rating originally conferred by the KHDA inspection team in 2016-17 for the first time, and which has been retained for the subsequent two inspections. GEMS Founders Al Barsha, meanwhile, achieved a Good rating on its first inspection.
To find out how GEMS Metropole looks and feels, read our Experience report.
Class sizes of 30 (rather than 22-24 offered at the premium schools) do not seem to deter parents . There are currently approx. 3,000 students at the school. As the Principal, Dr. John Hughes, mentions in his introduction to the school, GEMS Metropole may offer the UK curriculum, but its student body is extraordinarily international, even by Dubai standards, with over 100 nationalities speaking over 50 languages. According to the most recent (2018-19) KHDA report, the largest nationality group is Arab, but no one nationality appears to dominate. Just under 10% of students have been registered as Students of Determination.
Teaching staff are predominantly from the UK. There were close to 190 teachers in 2018-19, and a further 68 teaching assistants. A teacher:student ratio of 1:16 is about what would be expected for a school operating at this price-point.
There is no doubt that staffing at GEMS Metropole has been something of a challenge. Staff turnover was 33% in the last academic year, although this was an improvement on the 37% of two years prior. For any school to lose 1 in 3 of its staff does not bode well for a stable environment, especially given the requirement to induct so many staff at the beginning of the academic year. The school, which is in its sixth year of operations, is now on its fourth Principal. And with a change at the top, changes lower down an organisation often follow. The current KHDA inspection report notes "following the previous inspection, swift and effective action was taken by governors to improve leadership", which has "brought about improvement in many areas of the school." It is to be hoped that this applies to retention of quality staff also.
What about the curriculum?
MTS offers the English National Curriculum, including IGCSE and GCSE at 16, and AS followed by A Levels for Years 12 and 13. The first cohort of A Level students will sit their exams in June 2020.
The delivery of the curriculum is a relative strength of MTS, and is fully compliant with the Early Years Foundation Stage learning goals for children in FS, and with the UK National curriculum for students from Years 1 to 13, although Primary and Secondary students are said to benefit from a broader range of curriculum options than post-16 students. There is a particular focus on reading within the school which is having a positive impact on learning.
The core academic areas of learning in Foundation Stage are English, Mathematics, Art, Music, and Personal, social and emotional development. The learning of the core concepts of knowledge is achieved through both lessons and hands-on learning, with play and activities being essential components of Foundation Stage students’ day.
Once children move on to Years 1 and 2 (Key Stage 1) subjects include English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Art and Design, Music, Physical Education (PE), Arabic Language, Islamic Studies, and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). At this stage, students continue to receive support, as they begin to work out how they, as individuals with unique identities, fit into the world. Building friendships and self-confidence are important areas of development, alongside the traditional and necessary academic programme.
As students move into Years 3-6, (Key Stage 2) they continue to follow the KS1 subjects with the addition of a Modern Foreign Language (French). Students begin to learn at a higher level and apply the knowledge they have gained in their earlier years. They also have a better understanding of their own identities and likes, and begin to be curious about areas they are interested in discovering.
Once students move to the Secondary School, from Years 7 to 9, the focus is on preparing them for the IGCSE and GCSE exams that they will study for in Year 10 and 11. A greater range of subjects is available from which students can choose, in order to develop their own interests and strengths. In addition to the KS2 subjects, new subjects include English Literature, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages, Drama, Design Technology, Computer Science and Swimming as an addition to PE.
During Years 10 and 11 MTS students study for and sit the UK-based GCSE and IGCSE examinations needed to enable them to move on to Sixth Form for university entry AS and A Level subjects. The school is registered for the EDEXCEL, AQA, and OXFORD AQA Boards.
MTS has clear core principles in terms of what it aims to deliver at this level:
GEMS Metropole Sixth Form aims to offer personalised pathways available to students, which include International AS and A Levels, and some traditional (UK content-based) AS and A Levels. A levels are particularly well suited to students who have strengths in two or three subjects from the curriculum and wish to study them further in greater depth. Recent changes to A Level qualifications mean that they are wholly examined at the end of Year 13. (with no option to retake whilst still studying at school). The AS level is a standalone qualification taken at the end of Year 12 and does not count towards the A level.
International A levels are also recognised by top universities worldwide. Although they are similar to A levels, they have a more flexible, modular structure than A level and the syllabus content is designed to have greater international relevance. Both IAS and IA are taken as examinations at the end of each academic year. The AS is half the content of the A level and counts towards the final A level result. It is taken at the end of Year 12. Unlike AS level, International AS level modules can be retaken to try to improve a student’s overall A Level score.
Options for IA/A Level at MTS include English Literature, Core Mathematics, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Sociology, History, Psychology, Business, Information Technology, Computer Science, Economics, Arabic as a first language, Art & Design (2 year course only), Drama (2 year course only), Physical Education (2 year course only), French (2 year course, or 1 year full A Level for native speakers), Spanish (2 year course, or 1 year full A Level for native speakers), and Media Studies (2 year course only).
In addition to the academic at Sixth Form, Enrichment Activities include the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, the IPQ (the Independent Project Qualification, participation in which is subject to academic performance), Community Service, Prefect/Student Council, and Model United Nations.
MTS offers a range of extra curricular activities, many of which are offered free of charge, whilst external companies also come in to the school to offer paid activities. The school's sports teams take part in the DASSA League, GEMS' Sports Series and World School Games, as well as many other competitions through the school year. Teams include Football, Basketball, Netball, Rounders, Swimming, Water Polo, Tennis, Gymnastics, Badminton, Cross Country, Athletics (Track & Field) and Aquathon.
What about inclusion?
In addition to the UK curriculum, GEMS Metropole also offers a curriculum which incorporate elements from ASDAN. ASDAN is an education charity and awarding organisation whose courses foster personal, social and work-related skills. ASDAN programmes are widely recognised by educators for providing an engaging curriculum that empowers students through personalised learning and choice. Courses are designed to motivate and enhance learners' confidence, self-esteem and resilience. In addition, learners develop core skills in teamwork, communication, problem solving, research and self-management. The programmes are designed for young people and adults aged seven to 19 and over.
The MTS School Inclusion Team offers individualised assessments to cater for students with additional needs. These assessments inform the development of Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) which are written in partnership with the student, parents/guardians, teachers, any external therapy agencies and Learning Support Assistants. MTS has a range of working partnerships with external therapy agencies as well as its in-house Inclusion team which works closely with a Counselling Team, the English Additional Language Team and the Small Steps Autism unit, based at GEMS Metropole.
Small Steps is a joint venture with a specialist provider - www.bloomingtree.co.uk/ - from the UK. The Small Steps unit is designed to work with no more than 11 students in the age range from 2 to 6 years of age. The aim is to provide early intervention that will allow these children to develop to the extent that they will then be able to enter the mainstream of the school by year 2, where places will be guaranteed. The main focus is on providing support for children with Autism.
What about Academic Achievement?
Unfortunately, GEMS Education has a policy of not providing detailed information about academic performance in public examinations at most of its schools. The exceptions are the high-achieving schools such as GEMS Jumeirah College and GEMS Wellington International School.
We find this to be a great pity. Examination results are not, and should not be, the be-all and end-all of education, but they do play an important part in most students' futures, and we believe that schools should be transparent in this context.
In the case of MTS, the school did reveal that its results at A* - C grades for I/GCSE were above the UK average (75% compared to 67%) for 2018-19, but this is very limited information upon which to judge real achievement. For comparison, please read our 2019 I/GCSE results article here.
What about the facilities?
Two very large new extensions have been built since the opening of the school in 2014 – one at the front of the school which houses predominantly younger students, and a further block at the end and rear of the original building which houses older students. Now fully open to Year 13, this second extension has made space for the Sixth Form and includes all the additional specialist rooms associated with the senior school.
Innovation is an essential part of the way in which the curriculum is delivered at MTS and the school offers Wi-Fi throughout the school buildings, iMac Computer Suites and a Portable Windows Computer Suite - the use of technology is based on a ‘Bring your own Device’ programme. All classrooms are equipped with either an interactive whiteboard or a large LCD television. There are three libraries - Foundation Stage, Primary and Secondary - six Secondary Science Labs - 'offering spacious, excellent facilities in which students can study Biology, Chemistry and Physics'. Primary students have access to a Primary Discovery Lab.
The school also features Innovation Rooms, Music Rooms, Art Rooms, Performing Arts Rooms, a Sixth Form Common Room & Study Room, Parent Café, Student Canteen, and the Inclusion Centre for Students of Determination. Outdoor facilities include fully equipped playgrounds in both FS and Key Stage 1, a Peace Garden, and Student Gardens.
Read our Experience visit report here to find out more about the facilities at GEMS Metropole.
Sports facilities include a Foundation Stage PE Hall, two Multi-purpose Sports Halls, a multi-purpose astroturf field with markings for a football pitch, athletics track and rounders pitch, a trainer pool and main Swimming Pool, two multi-use games areas with markings for tennis, basketball and netball courts and a Dance Studio.
What the inspectors say
MTS received its third Acceptable rating from the KHDA's DSIB inspection team in 2018-19. Whilst this is the minimum rating that the KHDA expects all Dubai schools to achieve, their aim is for all schools to be rated Good or above and the Regulator has recently taken proactive steps to encourage families to move from Acceptable to Good schools. There is no doubt that GEMS Metropole will need to improve its performance significantly if it is to please the regulator.
The most recent report does, however, note that improvement initiatives are beginning to take effect. Students' achievements in most subjects have improved since the previous inspection, with students making acceptable progress in almost all subjects. In common with many UAE international schools, Arabic is a weakness within the school, particularly in Secondary and post-16 where it is rated Weak - not a good situation when the highest proportion of student nationalities is Arabic.
MTS' students, on the other hand, are a strength. They have positive and responsible attitudes to learning; they work diligently to succeed. Whilst assessment tools are used by teachers, the quality of teaching and the use of assessment information is inconsistent. Teachers are sufficient in number and suitably qualified with a strong commitment to their own professional development. They respond skillfully to students' additional learning needs and students who study English as an Additional Language, are taught very well in specialist lessons.
In fact, whilst Student Achievement, including Learning Skills, is largely rated Acceptable throughout the school across the non-Arabic core subjects, the provision and outcomes for Students of Determination is rated Good.
The curriculum is broad and balanced and many teachers adapt it well to meet students' needs. Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are features of some lessons and co-curricular activities. Improved leadership has brought about improvements in many areas of the school.
In terms of the strengths of GEMS Metropole School, the inspection team noted
As far as areas of improvement are concerned, MTS should:
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Well over 700 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. The vast majority - over 85% - believe that the school is providing a satisfactory quality of education to their children. However, a significant minority - 13% - disagreed with this view. Those parents who were satisfied with MTS felt that teachers help their children develop effective learning skills. Most think staff listen to them and take account of their views. A large majority consider their children are happy at school. A few parents praised the school's inclusion policy - this is felt by the KHDA inspectors to be a strength of the school.
Some 540 students took part in the Dubai schools' Well-being Census. 79% of Metropole students felt a medium or strong level of happiness, although on measures of social and emotional well-being and relationships, and learning at school and home, the results were slightly less positive than for Dubai schools as a whole.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a reasonable number of responses. The majority of responses in terms of students' sense of belonging and enjoyment of school were in line with UAE averages, as were satisfaction levels with academic performance, feedback from the school and its disciplinary policy. Interestingly, despite the fact that only just over 50% of parents were satisfied with the quality of education, none considered it necessary to organise outside tuition for their children.
Almost 7 in 10 parents (68%) would recommend MTS to others, although 16% were not sure and a further 16% emphatically would not. Whilst 62% of parents had not considered moving their child to another school, 38% had considered doing so. Fees were also something of an issue, with 43% agreeing that they represented value for money, 35% partially agreeing with this statement, but almost a quarter (22%) disagreeing (5% over the UAE average).
At the moment, it seems that a substantial proportion of parents are not yet entirely convinced that GEMS Metropole is meeting their aspirations for their children. If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Metropole, please share your experiences with potential members of your school community by completing our survey here.
At the time of its opening, GEMS Metropole was ahead of the field in terms of its aim to provide a mid-range education in a school with mid-range plus facilities and a staff predominantly from the UK. Whilst it has delivered all three of these aims, what is not yet in place is the high quality of education that was inherent within that package.
Only GEMS Winchester School in Oud Metha has had such a difficult start in terms of balancing the scale of the school with student numbers, demand and quality of education. Newer, more affordable schools, such as GEMS Founders, seem to have learned from its sister schools.
It does seem that MTS is on the right track - and with a lack of other schools in the same price bracket with a similar quality of facilities in this geographic area, it has the advantage. We hope that the improvements that have been made under the new leadership will bear fruit quickly - especially given that the school's first A Level cohort will complete their education at MTS this academic year.
What about the fees?
Fees are at the mid-range plus level: for FS1, AED 33,792, for FS2 AED 36,864, AED 39,936 from Year 1 to Year 6, and AED 45,056 from Years 7 to 13. This flat rate structure across Primary and Secondary is unusual and especially reasonable compared with many schools in the city.
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