A mixed gender GEMS owned Foundation Stage to Year 6 school following the English National Curriculum, GEMS Royal Dubai School takes children from 3 to 11 years of age and, as of May 2016, is Mirdiff's first and currently only KHDA Outstanding-rated school.
The story so far...
From small beginnings in 2005, when the school grew slowly in its initial years, Mirdiff's increasing popularity as a residential area has ensured GEMS Royal Dubai's development and growing appeal. Having said this, the impact of recent less positive economic developments in Dubai can be seen in current student numbers.
GEMS Royal Dubai School is currently home to just over 1,080 students (down from 1,240 in 2017-18) with 79 teachers (84 a year ago), and 57 teaching assistants, compared with 109 last year - although this is a number that appears to fluctuate widely from year to year. In 2015-16, the school had only 40 teaching assistants. A teacher to student ratio of 1:14 (compared with 1:15 in 2017-18) means that the school has the staffing resources to be able to offer a good level of individual attention.
Teachers are largely recruited from the United Kingdom, and the school currently enjoys a relatively low (and good) teacher turnover of 15% in the last academic year (compared with 18% a year ago and 12% in the year prior). Stability is always a challenge for international schools in Dubai, where staff are generally employed on two year contracts and tend to move on rather more regularly.
According to the school's website, the largest single demographic grouping of student is British, although over 70 nationalities are represented in total, and one in six of the school's pupils is Emirati. The latest KHDA report for 2018-19 suggests, probably in line with the reduction in student numbers, that Emirati students have now overtaken the British as the largest nationality group within RDS. This is a highly inclusive school with approximately 10% of students having been identified as Students of Determination with SEND requirements.
When GEMS Education opened Royal Dubai School in 2005, they were really taking something of a gamble. At that time, Mirdiff was not a particularly popular area with expats, and the school grew slowly, even offering a Secondary section for a brief period, but with take up so slow that the school reverted back to Primary within two years.
It has certainly come a very long way since then! RDS has developed an excellent reputation as an innovative, caring and highly inclusive school offering an outstanding education. It has been rated Outstanding for four years by the KHDA inspection teams.
Principal, Vicky Martin, describes Royal Dubai as "a school where we place children at the heart of all we do; because our pupils deserve the very best...where we value those marvellous moments which nurture individuals to achieve their true potential and build lifelong memories".
As a GEMS school, children in Year 6 are guaranteed a place in Year 7 at a number of other schools within the group including GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, GEMS FirstPoint and GEMS United School without the need for an Entrance Test. However, none of these schools is currently rated as highly as GEMS Royal Dubai. In the past, this does seem to have affected the turnover of students in years 5 and 6 specifically, who appear to have left early in order to secure their Secondary place elsewhere, although this situation does appear to have stabilised more recently.
What about the curriculum?
GEMS Royal Dubai School follows the English National Curriculum delivered, according to the school, as a bespoke learning model 'The RDS Learning Wave', complemented by a Concept Curriculum that ensures a holistic approach, where students develop webs of information rather than memorising straight facts. The teaching team focuses on the whole child, with their intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potential being developed alongside academic knowledge.
RDS aims to equip students with the learning skills and a disposition towards life-long learning so that they can accept and embrace the challenges of an ever-changing world. Students are equipped with a wide range of traditional academic and technological skills and develop a range of critical thinking skills that promote creativity and problem solving, and enable them to take ownership of their learning.
RDS offers the ENC Foundation Stage and Key Stages 1 and 2 curricula, and has departments for Art, English/Literacy, Mathematics/Numeracy, Science, French, Arabic and Islamic Studies (from Year 1 onwards), ICT, Geography, History, Library, Social Studies, Music, and Technology along with Physical Education (PE) and swimming.
The core curriculum is supported by an extensive range of extra curricula activities (including swimming lessons, ballet, karate, music, art, computers, clay modeling, chess, cookery, performing arts and Indian dancing), as well as access to holiday, residential camps, and cultural activities. Paid activities are provided by outside providers through E-sports and Academy Plus with payment made directly to the outside provider.
RDS has recently joined GEMS Jumeirah College, GEMS Jumeirah Primary School and GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis as one of the four schools to participate in a new Performing Arts programme organised with ArtsED, a charity of which Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is Chairman, that has recently set up in Dubai with the aim of encouraging children to participate with professional theatre artists in developing their presentation and performance skills.
RDS has always been highly supportive of students with additional learning needs, although students identified with SEND seem to have declined sharply in recent years. Five years ago, some 27% of GEMS Royal Dubai's pupils were identified as having mild SEND requirements, including learning delay, mild behaviour difficulties, dyslexia and dyscalculia. In 2018-19, it is less than 10%. It is not clear if this is a real decline in numbers (perhaps driven by the KHDA's Inclusive Education policy which has opened doors to SEN support at other schools), higher overall students numbers or a question of definition. Certainly GEMS has always as a group. and at Royal Dubai in particular, had a strong reputation for the support that it offers to Students of Determination.
What about the facilities?
GEMS Royal Dubai occupies a building that is traditional in appearance although only a little over 15 years old. Facilities are by no means "old-fashioned" or traditional. They include classrooms are equipped with interactive boards and students have access to PCs, laptops, iPads and iTouchs. All technological applications used at GEMS Royal Dubai school are shared with parents so that students may continue their learning at home.
In addition, children have access to separate Foundation Stage and Primary libraries, a Multi Purpose Hall, Creative Arts taught in separate suites for Music, Drama and Art, a Mac Suite and ICT Suite, a Foundation Stage Creative Learning Zone and a Science Laboratory. Students from Year 2 can enjoy the catering available in the School Canteen, whilst parents are able to meet and relax in the Community Café. Outdoor facilities include basketball, netball and tennis courts, a sports field for soccer and other ball sports, and two swimming pools; one learner pool (0.5m depth) and a 25m six lane pool (1.5m depth).
What the inspectors say
In the 2018-19 KHDA inspection, which took place in January 2019, GEMS Royal Dubai School was rated Outstanding by the DSIB Inspection team for the fourth time in a row. New Principal, Vicky Martin, who joined the school in October 2018, has evidently been able to maintain the momentum within RDS, given that the inspection took place only three months after her arrival.
Once again, as is so often the case with the highest performing schools, it is the quality of leadership that drives performance.
In this case, inspectors commented that "highly effective leadership is at the heart of this outstanding school. Rigorous self-evaluation provides leaders with an accurate picture of the school's performance. Parents are fully engaged in their children's learning journeys. Governors are rigorous in holding school leaders to account and ensure that the school is exceptionally well resourced".
Three years after the initial Outstanding rating, GEMS Royal Dubai has continued to make or maintain improvements in performance across the key indicators for the most part, and in the Foundation Stage for the majority of non-Arabic core subjects, attainment and progress were deemed to be Outstanding. There has been improvement in Students' Achievement in the Primary section, where English, Mathematics and Science progress are all now rated Outstanding, and where attainment across all three subjects in now Very Good. Learning skills across the school are rated Outstanding.
Interestingly, key measures for Arabic as a first and second language and for Islamic Studies are rated almost universally Good, the sole exception being progress in Arabic as a first language, which remains Acceptable. This is something of achievement, since many Dubai schools struggle to move their Arabic ratings beyond Acceptable, and an important one given the size of the Emirati student contingent at the school.
Almost all of the remaining 23 key performance measures - covering Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, The Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and Leadership and Management - are rated Outstanding. The sole 'missing' Outstanding rating is for Teaching for Effective Learning in the Primary school section which retained its Very Good rating.
Overall, inspectors commented that the strengths of the school are:
The support for students with SEND requirements was again evaluated as Outstanding in this inspection; a significant achievement shared by a limited number of schools in Dubai.
Of course, there are areas in which GEMS Royal Dubai still needs to make improvements. Interestingly, the focus was not entirely on improvements in Arabic. The inspection team identified the need to:
If you would like to read the KHDA inspection report in full - and we strongly recommend that you do, please go here.
Some 155 parents responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey and in general have very positive feelings towards the school; 93% were satisfied with the quality of education provided (an improvement from 91% last year). The KHDA inspection team commented that "Almost all parents are very pleased with the way in which school leaders listen to their views and with the information they receive on their children's progress. Parents recognise that this is an inclusive school and that their children are progressing well".
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey for GEMS Royal Dubai shows that 78% of parents are satisfied with the level of academic performance of the school (well above the 63% UAE average). 83% of respondents also said that they would recommend the school to other parents - 10 points above the UAE average. Their views reflected those mentioned in the KHDA survey feedback. In addition, on the always niggling issue of fees, only 11% felt that they are not receiving value for money - significantly below the UAE average of 18%.
If you are a parent or teacher at GEMS Royal Dubai School, please share your experiences through our Survey to assist other readers who may be considering this school.
GEMS Royal Dubai School offers much of the traditional UK Primary school package in terms of atmosphere, appearance, size, resources and staffing. Its inclusive ethos is particularly strong, and for parents seeking perhaps a smaller school, without the overwhelming numbers (and sizes!) of students that an all-through school tends to involve, RDS may well be a very good - even Outstanding - option. We highly recommend that interested parents research and visit themselves.
What about fees?
Fees at RDS are mid to top end of the range - but not out of the ordinary for a British curriculum school from a top tier private education provider. They start at AED 38,331 for FS1 and rise to AED 48,331 per annum for FS2 to Year 6. Fees are inclusive of books and other resources, but do not include additional Learning Support or "specialty programmes". There is a non-refundable registration fee of AED 500, and a deposit payment (off-set against the first term's fees) will be required on offer of a place.
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