GEMS Our Own English High School is the largest school in the emirate and serves over 10,400 predominantly Indian girls aged 5-19 (KG to Grade 12). The CBSE based school currently has a rating of Very Good by Dubai's education regulator, the KHDA, a level of education it has maintained for the last four years.
The Story so Far?
Located in the Al Warqa'a area, close to the border with Sharjah and on the outskirts of Dubai, GEMS Our Own English High School was established in 1968 by K S Varkey and his wife Mariama Varkey and is the oldest school within the GEMS Group.
The last four years have seen GEMS Our Own English High School prosper and grow academically under the guidance of Principal Mr. Thomas Mathew Koickal, who joined the school in April 2014.
GEMS Our Own English High School employs 471 teachers and a further 50 teaching assistants, which may sound like an incredibly large number, but still only gives the school a student to teacher ratio of 22:1. Teacher turnover at 15% is on the low side compared with most international schools, although Indian schools generally do turnover staff at a lower rate. Post Grade 4 this is an all girls school, which may be one reason why it is also a high performing one.
This is, simply, one of the largest schools in the UAE, with a population of over 10,400 students - the size of a small town.
Given its size, the 21 nationalities represented is rather unimpressive - we are used to seeing over twice that for schools one tenth of the size. That said, the Indian curriculum is not a global one, unlike GCSEs, A Levels or the IB. Students coming from Indian families unsurprisingly therefore represent the majority of students.
The school also has some 80 students of determination, who are supported in terms of their additional learning needs.
What about the curriculum?
The school follows the CBSE curriculum and students sit CBSE examinations in Grades 10 and 12 every March.
According to the school's website, "As well as promoting academic achievement, our dynamic, child-centric, skills-based curriculum has been designed to ensure the all-round development of every student...Of course, it’s about more than just academic learning – our pupils are also encouraged to develop positive attitudes, healthy habits, and the strong moral and ethical values they need to become reliable, responsible, and valuable world citizens".
Given the frequent concerns expressed about the pressure placed on Indian curriculum students academically, it is encouraging to see that this is recognised by the school, in terms of its goals.
The Kindergarten Programme focuses on creating a secure, stimulating, and nurturing learning environment, in which students can develop through structured play activities, practical art and craft, games, interaction, and imaginative play. Intellectual growth is also encouraged through sharing stories and discussion, writing, number games, observation, and scientific experiences. Throughout the Kindergarten stage, parents are kept closely involved and assessment is conducted throughout the year.
Once students reach Primary school (from Grades 1 to 4), they are encouraged to apply, and test what they know, whilst treating each other with respect and developing the beginnings of social etiquette. Core subjects include English, Mathematics, EVS, UAE Social Studies, Arabic, Islamic Studies/Moral Science, Computer Science, and Hindi, Malayalam, Urdu or French. Other non-core subjects include Physical Education, Art/Craft, Music and Dance, and Club Activities.
Students continue with the same subjects through the Middle School section from Grades 5 to 8. Students in the Senior school study core subjects including English, Science, Hindi, Malayalam, Urdu or French, Maths Work Experience, Social Studies, Islamic Studies/Moral Science, and Arabic.
OOEHS is one of the few to offer a Humanities stream in addition to Science and Commerce. There is a wide range of subject options including Psychology, Marketing, Economics, Fashion Studies and Home Science, in addition to the more traditional Computer Science, Informatics Practice, Biology, Chemistry, and Physical Education to name a few.
The school does offer extra curricular activities, details of which may be found here, although some parents and students have commented in the past that these are presently insufficient. It is not clear whether these clubs are part of the school fee, or incur an extra cost.
WSA likes the "Beyond the Curriculum" activities (a theme for GEMs Education schools) which seem to both help shape the human being, as well as prepare students for the next phases of their lives. Activities such as internship preparation, and community service are to be applauded.
What about academic achievement?
GEMS Our Own Indian High School is one of the few schools within the GEMS group to publish their exam results, although not in as much details now as in the past.
For the 2019 CBSE Grade XII results, the school's website shows that 419 students achieved a school average mark of 85.5%. No further breakdown of gradings is provided. The school toppers for Science and Humanities were also the UAE toppers.
Six students secured 100% marks in Psychology, whilst four achieved the perfect score in Marketing, and three students achieved 100% in Maths, Economics and Home Science respectively.
The school no longer provides details of university destinations.
What about the facilities?
The school is located on a large site in the Al Warqa'a area of Dubai, close to the border with Sharjah. It is located in a modern low rise building and offers a wide range of specialist classrooms and additional resources including a SEWA (Social Empowerment through Work and Action) Activity Room, a Central Art Room, two Art Studios, Music Rooms, three Libraries, two Resource Suites, eight ICT Labs, a further eight Science Labs, and a Maths Lab.
Communal facilities include four Prayer Rooms, a Cafeteria, Mobile Canteens, and a Multipurpose Hall with seating capacity for 600 people. The school also has three First Aid Centres, and an Outdoor Kindergarten Play Area. Sports facilities include an Astroturf playing field with a 200 meter synthetic track, three Basketball Courts, a large, open PE space and two large triquads for Primary students.
What the Inspectors Say
The schools has now maintained a Very Good rating for four years in a row, proving very affordable can also be very good. The achievement that GEMS Education has managed, that no other school group in the UAE has, is scale. Other school groups offer premium schools that achieve the higher inspection ratings, but only GEMS so far has managed to make large-scale, moderately priced schools high quality and very profitable.
The latest 2018/2019 KHDA report for GEMS Our Own English High School shows that across the six key performance measures through which the inspection team rates the school, the first measure - that of Students' Achievement, is broadly a mix of Good and Very Good in the KG and Primary sections, and a mix of Very Good and Outstanding in the Secondary and High school sections.
Islamic education - a priority for the inspections along with Arabic - is rated Good across the school - a rare achievement, whilst Arabic is rated Acceptable.
The core subjects of English, Maths and Science, together with students' learning skills are largely rated Good in KG (though Maths is rated Very Good), whilst in Primary English is rated Very Good, together with progress in Mathematics, and Maths attainment, together with Science, is rated Good. In common with other key performance measures across OOEHS, core subjects in the Secondary school section are rated Very Good or Outstanding. This is true of Maths and attainment in Science, rated Very Good, whilst English and progress in Science are rated Outstanding. The High school section achieves Outstanding across all measures with the exception of Maths attainment, which is rated Very Good.
In the key performance standard of Students' Personal and Social Developments and their Innovation skills, ratings are almost entirely Outstanding across the school, with the exception of KG. This key performance standard is evidently a particular strength of the school.
Inspectors commented that "Mutual respect and care are evident in all areas. Students' attitudes to learning and their behaviour are Outstanding. Their understanding of Islamic Values and social responsibilities towards others and the environment are consistently excellent in most phases and Very Good in Kindergarten (KG)".
In the two core (and inter-related) Performance standards of Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum Design and Adaptation, the Secondary and High school sections again out-perform the KG and Primary sections. But whilst the Curriculum measures are largely Very Good (and Outstanding in the High school section), Teaching and Assessment is rated Good in KG and Primary, Very Good in Secondary and Outstanding in the High school section.
The Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students is also a strength of the school.
Inspectors commented that "the safety, protection and happiness of students is at the heart of the school's provision. Support and care for all students, including students of determination...is now Very Good in all phases. In the Secondary phase, students are provided with excellent support in making choices for their future".
Leadership is also a strength of the school, rated as Very Good by the KHDA. The relationship with parents and the community is Outstanding.
The inspection team defined the strengths of GEMS Our Own English High School as:
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team identified that:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strong recommend that you do, you can find it here.
What Parents Think.
In the KHDA pre-inspection survey for OOEHS, a remarkable 4,896 parents responded, with 96% confirming that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. They were particularly positive about their children's relationships, learning at home and school and their children's well-being. They were less positive about their children having a close relationship [with] or getting along with teachers, and with their children having lots of fun.
In parent feedback about GEMS Our Own English High School to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, the school also receives largely positive results, with a majority of respondents recording that they were "satisfied" to questions on academic performance, and feedback from the school. Curiously, despite their overall satisfaction with the school, 39% of parents have thought about moving their child from the school, and despite its Very Good rating and lower fee level, 43% of parents were only partially convinced that fees represent good value for money, with 21% feeling distinctly dissatisfied.
The school provides special needs provision through its SEN Department. Parents are generally very positive about their interaction with the SEN team - the KHDA also thinks it is effective and has rated the provision for students of Determination Good.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Our Own English High School, please share your thoughts and experience with others by completing our survey here.
The KHDA also carried out a Wellness Survey of all Dubai schools in 2017. Some 2,324 students from OOEHS participated in this, and were found to have a similar or higher level of well-being compared with other girls in Dubai schools, with the exception of Grade 9 which was marginally below the average.
The highest levels of well-being were expressed in respect of safety in school, friendship with fellow students and respect for others. Engagement in learning and worries and anxieties about school work were the least positive responses from students. Despite the obvious effort by OOEHS to ensure the well-being and happiness of students, there seems no escape from the stress that examinations and parental expectations cause.
What are the Fees?
It is no longer necessary to pay an AED 500 registration fee. This has now been replaced by an 'Offer Confirmation Fee' in the same amount and which is charged together with an AED1,000 non-refundable deposit paid at the time of acceptance of a place which can be offset against school fees. There is also an annual fee of AED 30 for individual ID and the school diary. Tuition fees range from AED 7,237 in KG to AED 14,684 in Grades 11 and 12 for students in the Humanities and Commerce streams, and AED 15,313 for those following the Science stream. Fees are paid monthly, over 10 months.
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