GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail is a UK curriculum, GEMS Education 'Premium Plus' school (which means top of the range for facilities and fees), located together with GEMS International School and GEMS New Millenium School on a large site at the edge of the Dubai Hills development and close to Mohammed bin Rashid City.
The story so far...
Opened in September 2013, the location of GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail (WEK) is not, on first thought, an ideal choice, being directly across the Al Khail Road from the Al Qouz Industrial area, but in reality, it is very convenient for the New Dubai areas (Meadows, Greens etc.), housing located on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road (Arabian Ranches, Dubai Sports City) and even Business Bay, Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim, given easy access from junction 2 (Meydan Street) and junction 4 (Umm Suqeim Street). As one of the planned school zones within Dubai Hills and close to Mohammed bin Rashid City, families relocating to the area over time will have established schools on the doorstep.
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail was the fourth school to join the GEMS Wellington brand, following GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai (WIS), GEMS Wellington Primary School (WPS) and GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO). It was clearly the intention of GEMS Education that the Al Khail school should emulate the success of the other schools; Wellington Primary and Wellington Academy DSO are both rated Very Good by the KHDA, whilst Wellington International is rated Outstanding.
WEK's achievement of an improved Very Good rating in the KHDA's 2019-20 DSIB inspection round suggests that it is well on the way to parity at a minimum. Add to this its achievement of an Outstanding rating from the accreditation agency, British Schools Overseas, and it seems that this is a genuinely Outstanding school with all but local recognition,
The other obviously common thread - aside from the name - is that all four GEMS schools offer the UK National Curriculum. However, where both WIS and DSO offer I/GCSE followed by the IB curriculum for post-16, the decision has been made that WEK will follow highly successful (and over-subscribed) GEMS Jumeirah College in offering A Levels. There is a certain irony to this, since Jumeirah College was originally intended to move to the Al Khail site, but parent opinion swayed GEMS to retain its original Jumeirah location.
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail states that its Vision is of "An inclusive learning community in which we enable all students to Aspire, Create and Excel in order to become the future leaders in their field by equipping them with the skills, attributes and attitudes to become successful and happy lifelong learners."
In his introduction to the school, Principal, Campbell Douglas, says that the core goal of WEK is "is a simple one – to be the best international British curriculum school in the UAE, where students Aspire, Create, and Excel." Central to achieving this goal are four key tenets - the creation of an environment where all community members feel happy and safe. The Academy is a fully inclusive community built on mutually respectful relationships. It is a community that students are proud of and want to belong to.
Secondly, WEK offers a broad and balanced, but rigorous curriculum that allows for the personalisation of learning and ensures that every learner experiences success, no matter what their pathway. Thirdly, underpinning excellent teaching and learning are outstanding teachers and an evidence-informed approach to implementing best practice that ensures unsurpassed learning experiences. Finally, the school incorporates a broad extra-curricular offering that allows students the ability to find their true passion in life.
"At the Academy, this extensive offering is underpinned by an understanding that all community members have an obligation to the betterment of our world through participation in service and sustainability projects."
WEK currently caters for children from FS1 to year 13, with the A Level year having opened in September 2019 and the first cohort of graduates having left the school in June 2020.
The school currently has just under 1,000 students from ages 4 to 18 (FS to Year 13). Student numbers are split reasonably equally between Primary and Secondary, though numbers are smaller towards the top of the school. There are generally three classes per year group, though this is slightly larger from years 4 to 7 (where there are four classes per year group).
Close to 125 students (12%) have been identified as Students of Determination (SEND) in need of additional support. Of the 86 nationalities represented at the school, the largest demographic is Arab and the school has a reasonably large cohort of 74 Emirati students.
Teachers, 98 in total, are predominantly recruited from the UK. They are supported by a further 58 teaching assistants - an increase of 20 in the current academic year . The staff are all experienced in teaching the National curriculum for England and Wales. The teacher:student ratio of 1:10 is on the low side, ensuring that sufficient individual attention should be available for students. Staff turnover, at 8% in the current academic year, 15% in the last academic year, and an even lower 7% in the prior year, suggests that teachers are happy with their employment - the UAE average turnover in international schools is 20-22%.
Class sizes have recently been reduced to a maximum of 20 children in each FS class, 22 in Years 1 and 2 (both FS and Key Stage One classes also include a teaching assistant in addition to the teacher) and then 24 for all other year groups. This compares with classes of up to 27 in the higher grades previously. Based on the 1:10 teacher/student ratio, it seems that classes, in reality, are considerably smaller in real terms, which can only be good news and is confirmed by the fact that Secondary classes are much smaller - averaging 15 students per class.
How much of this improvement is due to the change in demographics in Dubai which has seen demand for Premium schools reduced (WEK's student base fell by over 170 in the 2018-19 academic year), and how much as a deliberate decision to reduce what were rather higher than usual numbers in a Premium school, is hard to say.
What about the curriculum?
GEMS Wellington Al Khail offers the National Curriculum for England from FS1 to Year 13. It has recently adopted the High Performance Learning approach of Professor Deborah Eyre - one of only a handful of schools in the UAE that follows the HPL framework - which was initially implemented by highly-rated GEMS Jumeirah College and its neighbour (and feeder) GEMS Jumeirah Primary School.
Professor Eyre is an expert in and an advocate of the latest neurological and psychological research which shows most children are capable of reaching the high levels of performance previously associated only with the gifted and talented. She stresses that IQ and potential isn't fixed - evidence shows it can be grown, and the key is developing the right learning attitudes and attributes.
Parents are encouraged to support their children in achieving High Performance Learning by Encouraging resilience, Encouraging planning and monitoring, Encouraging open-mindedness, Encouraging practice, Encouraging curiosity, and Encouraging critical or logical thinking. Further details can be found here.
Children in the Foundation Stage follow the highly-regarded Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. The EYFS curriculum focuses on seven key areas of development based on learning through play directed by highly skilled staff. These areas include Personal, social and emotional development, Communication and language, Physical development, Literacy, Mathematics, Knowledge and understanding of the world (Science, Design Technology, ICT, Environment, History, Geography) and Creative development (Music, art, dance).
In Key Stage 1-3 (Years 1 to 9) the curriculum is based on the National Curriculum with adaptations to contextualise learning within the school's international setting. Subjects taught in Years 1 to 6 include English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Design and Technology, History, Geography,Art and Design, Music, Physical Education (PE), Arabic Language, Islamic Studies, French as a Modern Foreign Language, and Personal, Social and Health education (PSHE). ICT is integrated into learning with all students from Year 3 upwards using iPads, where appropriate, to support their learning. All staff are trained in the use of a range of apps to enhance their teaching.
The school's focus on innovation is reflected in the school’s Future Talks series, Global Futures Curriculum and Academic Honours Programme.
Key Stage 3 provision (from Years 7 to 9) is designed to develop character in students by ensuring that the school's provision, both curricular and extra-curricular, fully engages them in their learning. The curriculum provides uninterrupted continuation from the Key Stage Two Programme and a very clear progression pathway to the Key Stage Four courses, including GCSEs and IGCSEs.. Subjects include English, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Arabic, Islamic Studies, Social Studies, Geography, History, French, Spanish, Drama, Music, Physical Education, Art, Design Technology, and Computing.
At Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11) a wide range of 20 GCSE and IGCSE courses are delivered of which the following are compulsory - English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Social Studies, Physical Education (non-examined), Islamic Studies (for Muslim students only). Most students will select four further subjects from a list of available options which is not dissimilar to those offered at Jumeirah College, and includes Geography, Business Studies, Psychology, History, French, Spanish, Media Studies, Physical Education, Art, Drama, Music, Design Technology - either Product Design or Textiles, Economics, Photography, and Film Studies.
Importantly, as further evidence of WEK's commitment to inclusion, students who commence their GCSE studies with a low level of English may opt for Directed Study. This is a non-examined subject but provides students with additional time and support for their other GCSE courses and English language development. Directed Study is also offered as an option to late-starters, joining the Academy during Term 1 of Year 10 and who have transferred from a different curriculum. These students are thus provided with an opportunity to make a manageable transition to Key Stage Four at WEK.
And in further recognition of its diverse population, GEMS Wellington Al Khail has introduced an innovative approach to recent changes to the UK-based A Level system - designed by the UK Ministry of Education to "toughen up" standards - by adopting a two path approach.
High achieving students at GCSE and IGCSE will follow the UK A Level pathway, where subjects are now predominantly examined at the end of the full two year study period (the Linear Approach), whilst students who may find this option perhaps too challenging, will be directed towards the International A Level route. A total of 24 subject options are available.
Whilst recognised by universities globally, though perhaps not as highly regarded, International A Levels will continue to involve more assessed units (so less examinations), and will permit students to sit both AS and A Level examinations, with each year's studies being treated discretely. AS Level studies will remain a qualification on their own, whilst at the same time, "counting towards" the overall A Level grade.
The single largest benefit for students following the International A Level route is that they will be able to resit AS examinations to improve their overall final A Level grade - something that is no longer permitted with the linear UK A Level approach.
WEK has also, in the 2020-21 academic year, introduced a range of BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) qualifications to support an inclusive, equally diverse education for all learners post-16.
BTECs are alternative vocational courses that prepare students for work and provide relevant industry options in addition to the academic knowledge that universities seek. They carry the same UCAS tariff for acceptance into English universities as A Levels and the IB Diploma Programme (BTEC is often used as the qualification to support the IB Career-related Programme). WEK has introduced BTEC subjects including Technology, Biomedical Science, Business Entrepreneurship, Sport, and Performing Arts. It is one of the only schools in the UAE to offer BTECs in Biomedical Science and Business Entrepreneurship.
In addition to in-school creative and sports activities, GEMS Wellington Al Khail also offers a wide range of extra curricular activities which are run three days per week by staff. Over 100 are offered, encompassing the arts, sports, cooking, future learning, including art and design, photography, robotics, jewellery making, Arabic language club, book club, Islamic club, music, drama, dance, cookery, Scholars Cup and ICT. Educational activities include Mayhem Maths, handwriting, power reading, phonics boost activities and English Intervention. A range of action/sports activities include football, cricket, basketball, netball, swimming, rugby, rock climbing and Tri Kids.
Alongside the teacher-led ECAs, the school also provides Paid External Activities (ASAs) which are led by professional instructors hired by external providers that work under the GEMS regulation and standards. These included Hamilton Aquatics, Chess, Nutty Scientists, Premier Genie Robotics, Basketball, Gymnastics, Taekwondo and Go Ju Kai.
The ECA provision was noted by the KHDA inspection team during their 2017-18 visit - "An extensive range of extra-curricular and enrichment opportunities within and outside school, involves all groups of students and is significantly enhancing academic and personal development".
Newly launched in 2019-20, the WEK Swimming Centre of Excellence has continued to operate even during the pandemic, with elite swimmers benefiting from a tailor-made training programme led by an ex-Olympic team swimming coach, expert nutrition and fitness advice, a flexible curriculum and full support from teachers and staff.
What about inclusion?
GEMS Wellington Al Khail is also committed to placing specific focus on supporting children who are either academically-gifted or those who have additional learning needs through ‘The Bridge’ Learning Centre to cater to a range of Students of Determination Overall the staff aim to ensure that children will achieve a minimum of three steps each year at the relevant UK curriculum level, as opposed to the two steps targeted in the UK. This is ambitious.
This was one of the first schools within the GEMS group that is clearly offering support to students who do not currently meet the relevant academic standard for their age group.
There are three levels of support – Wave 1, where children receive in class support (at no additional cost), Wave 2, for students who are 9 months to 2 years behind their peers (where there will be learning support outside the classroom at an additional fee) and Wave 3, where students requiring significant additional support through a Shadow teacher for this one-to-one focus (with an additional fee to fund the cost of the teacher).
What about academic results?
The school's first cohort of GCSE and IGCSE students completed their examinations in June 2018 and the school published its results - although not in the degree of detail that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would like to have seen. For the June 2019 results, WEK again provided some key information.
|No. of students in GCSE level cohort:||39||34|
|% of cohort entered for GCSE exams||Not provided||Not provided||Not provided|
|No. of exam entries||Not provided||Not provided||
|% of exam entries graded A*/9||13||12||24|
|% of exam entries graded A*-A /9-8||48||26||45 (UK average 21%)|
|% of exam entries graded A*-B /9-7||70||47||67|
|% of exam entries graded A*-C /9-4||97||95||93 (UK average 69%)|
|% of students achieving 5 A*-C/ 9-4 including English and Maths||Not provided||Not provided||88|
|Overall student pass rate A*-C||Not provided||Not provided||Not provided|
|Number of students excluded from the statistics||Not provided||Not provided||Not provided|
|Highest number of grades by an individual student||Not provided||Not provided||Not provided|
In addition to the information provided above, the school also advised that in 2018, 100% of students achieved GCSEs in English Language and Triple Science, with 85% of students achieving this in Maths also - this data was not provided for 2019. The usual overall measure of performance in the UK is the percentage of students achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A*- C (9-4) including English and Maths.
The school did not reveal the number of students who entered the exams, nor the number of exams that were involved. Clearly with such small cohorts of students, it is very early days to make judgments about the school's achievements. However, given that these results are significantly better than UK standards, there is no doubt that WEK's early I/GCSE students have set good standards for their followers to aspire to exceed.
We had looked forward with interest to seeing the first set of International and UK-based A Level results due in August following exams in June 2020. However, with all exams cancelled, WEK's students received assessed grades. These will be based on teachers' assessments of students' capabilities with proof of attainment. Clearly this is not an ideal situation, but one that all schools globally were affected by, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
WEK revealed that its students (again no numbers were revealed) achieved a 100% pass rate (A*-E), with 49% of all A level entries graded at an A*-A and 19% of entries at A*. 38% of students achieved at least 1A* in their 3 A level subjects. In addition, 97% of entries achieved a grade C and above and 77% of entries achieved a grade B and above.
With such positive results, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would really encourage the school to provide full details including the numbers of students and the examinations that they entered, in order to obtain a more complete picture.
We are also very encouraged to see the Academy is not only releasing its results, but placing these in context in relation to value-added achievement, noting that overall A Level results reflected "a score of 1.16 (Grade 1) in our Alps A Level Provider Quality Indicator scale, together with a Grade 1 in our quality of teaching and learning. This means that the progress of our students made from the quality of teaching across the curriculum, regardless of subject choice is in the top 5% or better of schools globally".
What about Facilities?
As would be expected with any GEMS premium school, the facilities are excellent. The 2017-18 KHDA inspection report states that "the resources provided are generous and deployed appropriately to support all aspects of students' learning both within lessons and in extra-curricular activities".
The school facilities include an auditorium and theatre, full cafeteria, recording and video studio, a dance studio, a drama studio, a film studio and radio room, food tech, science and tech labs, mac labs,specialist rooms for music, art, languages, textiles and product design, libraries and study zones and an Achievement Centre (specialising in the support of children with additional learning needs and those who are gifted and talented).
Sports and outdoor facilities include a three level gymnasium with roof top tennis courts, two 25 meter pools and a toddler pool, full football and rugby pitches, basketball and tennis courts, and indoor and outdoor covered play areas.
What the inspectors say
In 2017-18, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail underwent joint inspections by the KHDA and by the British Schools Overseas Inspection teams. The Academy was awarded a Good rating by both, retaining this KHDA rating from the two previous inspections.
For the 2018-19 KHDA inspection, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail again received a Good rating. However, as is so often the case, this overall rating did not tell the full story. The vast majority of measures were rated Very Good, in reality, across most of the six key performance standards. No wonder then that in the foreshortened 2019-20 DSIB inspection round, WEK received the Very Good rating that it came so close to a year ago.
It is clear that the school has made significant progress in the past year. In terms of Student Achievement, every rating for English, Maths and Science is now Very Good - with the sole exception of attainment across all three subjects in Sixth Form - which were rated Good.
For the core Arabic-based subjects, Primary students achieve Good progress and attainment in first language Arabic and in Islamic Studies, whilst Secondary students make Good progress but only Acceptable attainment. In Sixth Form, ratings are acceptable across the board. Second language Arabic is less successful - again rated Acceptable across the school. This will clearly be an area of further focus for improvement.
For the remaining five key performances areas - those of Students' Personal and Social Development, and Innovation Skills, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of Students, and Leadership and Management - almost all of the 41 measures are rated Very Good.
The exceptions are for Students' Personal Development, Care and Support, and Parents and the Community - all rated Outstanding. Inspectors were particularly impressed by students' attitudes to work and "their exemplary behaviour" which they described as strengths of their personal development.
The only lower rating is for post-16 curriculum design and implementation which was rated Good. The report notes that "The curriculum does not cater well enough for the range of students' abilities and interests in the post-16 phase. Plans to extend the range of subject options at post-16 are in place but not implemented."
Inspectors also commented on the strong relationships between parents, the community and the school noting that "The school is highly successful in engaging parents as partners in their children's learning. Parents value many aspects of the school, especially the two-way communication systems and the inclusive culture promoted across all aspects of school life. They are confident that their views are taken seriously by leaders and, where appropriate, promptly acted upon. The very positive partnerships that exist with local and national organisations have a positive impact on students’ academic achievement and personal development."
Overall, the inspection team found that the strengths of WEK are:
It is evident that there are many positive initiatives taking place at GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail. The school has set its own agenda, stating that its ambition is to provide "consistently outstanding education by 2021".
The inspectors' key recommendations focused on three key areas; the school should:
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to see the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
And whilst the KHDA's DSIB inspection team may have rated the school Very Good overall, the BSO inspectors went one further, awarding the school its highest 'Outstanding' rating.
Their report notes that "GEMS Wellington Academy, Al Khail is an outstanding school and provides an outstanding quality of education for pupils from three to 18 years."
Their overall judgement noted:
If you would like to read the full BSO inspection report, it can be found here.
Parental feedback about GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is very limited. Whilst in 2018-19 only 75 families responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, in 2019-20, this number reduced to only 19. Those that did respond were largely positive about the school and their comments were supported by parents with whom the inspection team met during their visit. Almost all parents were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. They were confident that the school listens to, and acts on, their views.
Almost all parents confirmed that the school has procedures in place to keep their children safe and to learn the skills that they need to be successful learners. Parents are very happy with the information they receive from the school and how well this supports them in helping their children to progress in their learning. A majority of parents who responded to the survey indicate that they are involved in activities in school at least once per month.
Some 180 students participated in the Well-being Survey. The percentage of students responding with a positive view regarding their well-being and the quality of their learning had increased. The most significant increases related to their positive relationships with teachers, how fairly they treat them, and their belief that there are adults in school who will listen to any concerns. The large majority of students agree that they feel safe in school and express confidence in their own ability..
On the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, feedback has been very limited though broadly positive, with 60% of parents agreeing that they would recommend the school to other parents, although a significant minority (20%) were not sure and 20% would not. Indeed, 60% of respondents had considered moving their child to another school.
Over 80% believed that their children enjoy going to the school. 80% of parents believed that the quality of education being provided was on a par with or higher than their home country. As is so often the case, there was the usual niggle about school fees, with 20% being of the opinion that they did represent value for money, whilst 30% did not. The remaining 50% partially agreed that they did.
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GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is a school that is evidently wholly and positively engaged on its journey to delivering an innovative and diverse range of curriculum options to meet the aspirations of ALL of its students. It is also clearly well along the road to improvement.
Resources and staffing are being heavily invested in at the school. If the leadership team and staff can continue to deliver the improvements that the inspectors have already identified, the school's ambition to be consistently Outstanding by 2021 - whilst perhaps not quite meeting that target date in the context of the KHDA at least - is still achievable a little further down the improvement road.
What about Fees?
Fees are, as noted, premium. Currently, KHDA approved fees for FS1 start at AED 52,000 and by Year 11 reach AED 85,000. For the 2019-20 academic year, GEMS has decided to reduce fees quite significantly across the school - from AED 52,000 to AED 43,941 in FS1, from AED 65,000 to AED 55,346 from FS2 to Year 6, from AED 85,000 to AED 76,312 in Years 7-9. Fees from Year 10 to 13 have not been reduced and are AED 85,870 for Years 10 and 11 and AED 86,760 in Years 12 and 13. These fees remain valid for 2020-21.
Clearly GEMS are keen to encourage families to join the Primary and Lower Secondary schools.
GEMS Wellington Academy 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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