GEMS United School is the newest incarnation of Bradenton Prep Academy, a US curriculum K-12 school (KG1 to Grade 12) located in Sports City, Dubai that currently serves 660 students.The school has 86 full-time teachers, not including the Principal and a senior leadership team. The 2017/2018 KHDA report has the school ranked as Good for the second time since inspections began.
The Story so Far
GEMS United School, established in July 2018, is the latest incarnation of Bradenton Prep Academy, whose management was taken over by GEMS Education in September 2013, with Dan Young (former Superintendent at GEMS Dubai American Academy and GEMS World Academy) becoming principal in September 2016. Following Dan's retirement, the leadership is now in the hands of an experienced US Head of School, Kate Vavpetic, who joined the school in September 2016 as Dan's deputy and planned successor. At that time, GEMS intended to build a new school within Dubai Sports City, which would have permitted significant room for expansion. Those plans now appear to be on hold, with the GEMS United School campus remaining at the original Bradenton site.
The school follows an American curriculum based on the American AERO Common Core Plus Standards. Upon graduation at Grade 12 students received the American High School Diploma. It has recently expanded its range of AP subjects to cater to students wishing to enter college in the US. These now included 13 courses including Biology, Calculus AB, Chemistry, Computer Science Principles, English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Physics 1, Statistics, Studio Art: 2D Design, Studio Art: Drawing, and US History. Although the majority of students are US passport holders, there are students from around 60 nationalities who attend the school.
According to information provided by GEMS United, it is currently a NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Inc.) candidate, and accredited by Accreditation International (Ai) and National Council for Private Schools Accreditation (NCPSA). The school employs 86 teachers - the majority from the US - and 25 teaching assistants. Student numbers have reduced slightly over the past twelve months, resulting in a teacher:student ratio of 1:8 - very low and therefore positive from a student support perspective. Unfortunately, staff turnover, at 34%, is very much on the high side compared with the Dubai average of 20-22%, and suggests that staff are not as settled as might be hoped for.
Classroom sizes range between 25 students per class for kindergarten and a maximum of 27 students per class between grades 1-12. Additional extra-curricular activities include basketball, scuba diving, debate and basketball.
What about Facilities?
Facilities at the school are excellent and the school has a relationship with Dubai Sports City to use its resources. The school's campus itself is a purposely built, modern group of buildings. Each age level, early childhood, elementary, middle school, and high school has its own building. Additional buildings provide venues for art, music, drama, the laboratory sciences and the library. A full-sized gym allows for both physical education and competitive sporting ventures. GEMS has upgraded the sports facilities - particularly the swimming pools - over the last two years.
The large classrooms are equipped with interactive white boards, computer connectivity, built in storage, and movable desks and chairs. The rooms are illuminated with natural light from a full bank of windows.
Read our most recent school visit here!
What the inspectors say
The school was rated consistently as Acceptable (six inspections in a row) however, the school's latest report (2017-2018) has retained the Good overall grade for the second time. GEMS has tried to remodel the school on GEMS Dubai American Academy, the only American curriculum school in Dubai rated “Outstanding” by the KHDA.
GEMS United (under the Bradenton brand), received some very positive remarks from the inspection team in their introduction to the latest report on the inspection that took place in October 2017. In particular, they commented that
"The principal and vice principal [Ms. Vavpetic], with the invaluable support of the governing board, have led the school through a period of significant change. They have set a clear vision and direction for the school. They have recruited staff, provided professional development, introduced new systems and enhanced the facilities and resources. They have established a very effective partnership with parents. This is beginning to have a positive impact on students' achievements in some areas".
This is clearly a very positive assessment of what is happening within the school which had somewhat stagnated in terms of improvement until Mr. Young's arrival. Indeed, the inspectors went on to say that the strengths of the school included;
In general terms, students' achievement is still rated largely Good, though there have been improvements in Science in both Elementary and Middle School, and in Islamic Education which is now rated Good for progress. Arabic, as a native language, is still predominantly rated Weak, though Arabic as a second language is now rated Acceptable overall. Until the school can make significant progress in these subjects, an overall improvement in the school's rating to Very Good (the next step), will be hard to achieve. Furthermore, a drop from Very Good to Good in KG Mathematics will have been an unwelcome outcome. Inspectors found that many children, especially the more able ones, "do not get enough opportunities that challenge them to make better progress".
Whilst the Good rating of the school is largely reflected in academic achievement, based on the inspection report, where the school outperforms this rating is in relation to Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills. Personal development is now rated Very Good in KG and Outstanding in the other three sections. Inspectors found that "In all the phases, students have very positive attitudes and show high level of responsibility towards each other. They understand the importance of having a bully-free campus. They are self-reliant when speaking in class and carry themselves with poise and confidence. This is especially strong in the upper three phases of the school. They are self-disciplined and work together to resolve differences. They are respectful and considerate of others while engaged in classroom activities and group work. They enjoy friendly and respectful relationships with members of staff".
Teaching and Assessment - core to the achievement of students - was found to be Very Good in the KG and Good across the other sections of the school. Inspectors noted that "Most teachers are secure in their subject knowledge and effectively engage students in their learning. In the best lessons, they promote a positive learning environment and use assessment information to provide appropriate challenge for students of all abilities". Whilst the curriculum design was found to be Good across the school, inconsistencies in the abilities of some teachers to adapt it to meet the needs of individual students led to a downgrade of the rating in KG from Very Good to Good, although this was reversed in Middle and High School where the rating improved from Acceptable previously to Good.
The protection, guidance, care and support of students was rated Outstanding in relation to Health and Safety and Child Protection, and generally Good for Care and Support. Inspectors found that relationships between teachers and students "are warm and based on mutual respect and trust. KG children are very well supported". The latter measure also considered support for children with SEND, finding that "The school is inclusive, and the systems for identifying students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are thorough. Gifted and talented students are also identified. The quality of support for students is variable in lessons but is very effective when provided by specialist staff". In addition, school counsellors were found to effectively support students’ personal and social development. "Students are guided in submitting college applications and in making life choices. They receive increasing support throughout their high school years".
In terms of the leadership and management of the school, inspectors found a number of key indicators which had shown improvement. In particular, the relationship with parents and the community was found to have improved to Very Good, with the report noting that "The school is very successful in engaging parents in the life of the school. Communication systems are very effective. Progress reports are detailed, comprehensive and personalized. Links with a range of local, national and international communities enhance students’ learning experiences and their understanding of citizenship".
Similarly, the management, staffing, facilities and resources were also found to have improved with the inspectors commenting that "The number of staff is more than adequate for the number of students on roll. The enhanced premises and facilities are exceptionally well-maintained. Resources are plentiful and of a high quality".
No doubt, GEMS will have been pleased to see their contribution in terms of Governance having also received a thumbs up from the inspection team having improved from Acceptable to Good, although they clearly signalled that there is more to do. "The board has taken decisive action to recruit effective leaders and teachers and has invested heavily in professional development, facilities and resources. They are aware that there is still more to be done especially with regard to the quality of teaching and students' achievements".
In terms of the specific areas of improvement that GEMS United now needs to address, the inspection report summarises these as follows:
Whilst there is clearly much to be done, and the speed of improvement in terms of Students' Achievement may not be as fast as parents and the school might like to see, the key is clearly that GEMS United is making strides on the improvement path. Whether the change of name will have any significant impact, remains to be seen, but in embracing the GEMS brand, parents now have a firmer understanding of ownership, governance and, hopefully, the availability of resources needed to support the school.
Parent and student opinion, as expressed in the KHDA pre-inspection survey, was apparently generally positive, although there were some concerns related to the provision and teaching of Arabic. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has not received sufficient parent feedback from our survey to be able to provide further opinion. If you are a parent at the school, please do complete our survey here. However, based on our meeting with parents during our school Experience visit in 2016, parents were overwhelmingly happy with the changes taking place at the school and with the education it was providing.
What do the Inspectors Say 2016/2017
Overall, the latest inspection shows improved student attainment and progress in the KG in the core subjects of English and Mathematics. Teaching and assessment has also improved across the board. As the report notes, "Teachers' knowledge of their students' assessment information enables them to understand their students' different learning needs and styles. They adapt their approaches well to ensure students make good or better progress."
Leadership at Bradenton Preparatory Academy is open and positively affects the teaching community at the school. As the report notes, "Communication channels are numerous and two-way. Relationships are positive and effective, enhanced by the common language and experience of the Professional Learning Community model; teachers work and plan together, ensuring consistency and clearly-defined targets. Consequently, teachers are growing in confidence and morale is positive."
The school needs to improve its Arabic department with Arabic and Islamic Studies being rated either Weak or Acceptable. The recommendation for Arabic from the KHDA is a fourfold:
Parents, teachers and students are predominantly supportive of the school's progress, and believe a good standard of education is provided. Parents, in general, believe their children are making good progress.
Fees for GEMS United School Sports City start at AED 33,588 for KG1 rising steeply to AED 53,177 for KG2 and AED 70,077 for Grades 1 to 6. Middle and High School fees range from AED 75,767 in Grade 7 to AED 79,258 for Grade 12.
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I believe classes are too big even for KG and the teachers have no time to do anything besides herd kids and that the teachers don't have good interaction with the parents.
I had two children here. I don't know if the teachers are overwhelmed by the number of kids in their classes but this is, in my opinion, American education at its worst.
- Comment edited, WSA