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 close to Mohammed bin Rashid City (Meydan) and the Al Khail Road.
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail has been rated Good for the fourth year running in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full reports have been published.
The story so far...
The location of GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail 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 Mohammed bin Rashid City, families relocating to the area over time will have established schools on the doorstep.
The school currently caters for children from FS1 to year 12, with year 13 opening in September 2019. The school's website states that it "celebrates the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, abilities and skills of all its students, which [sic] are drawn from over 80 countries. There is an expectation that all students aim to excel and make significant progress well beyond age-related expectations. Children learn in inclusive and creative learning environments that encourage independence, challenge, curiosity and choice".
As of the last inspection (2017/18), the school had 1,164 students from ages 4 to 16 (FS to Year 11). Some 132 students (11%) have been identified as Students of Determination (SEND) in need of additional support. Of the 80 nationalities represented at the school, the largest demographic is Arab. Teachers (102 in total with a further 36 teaching assistants) are predominantly recruited from the UK. The teacher:student ratio of 1:11 is on the low side, ensuring that sufficient individual attention should be available for students. The staff are all experienced in teaching the National curriculum for England and Wales.
As a relatively new school (it opened in September 2013), GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail initially had something over 600 students from 42 different countries. In September 2014, the school increased the number of FS2 classes to meet demand to a total of 10, though the overall intention as the school has grown is to have 6 classes per year group. There is a maximum of 22 children in each FS1 class, 23 in FS2 and then 27 for all other year groups. It has to be said that these are relatively large class sizes for a Premium school; several other UK curriculum schools with strong reputations aim for between 18 and 22 students, but GEMS seems to be able to succeed academically with these larger class numbers. Based on the 1:11 teacher/student ratio, it seems that classes, in reality, are considerably smaller - the norm for any new school and particularly through the Secondary section.
On WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's last visit, teachers' ages ranged from 24 (so fairly new teachers) to 54 years of age and the school had tried very hard to include staff with significant additional qualifications – including a Marine Biologist who teaches Geography and a Commonwealth Silver Medalist in Primary. Teacher turnover, initially on the high side after the first two years of operations at 30%, has steadied significantly and reduced to 7% for 2017-18. This is generally a good sign of staff satisfaction on the one hand, and a stable environment for students on the other. Comments in the current KHDA report about high staff morale appear to support this view.
What about the curriculum?
After some question as to the eventual Sixth Form offering (to go the IB Diploma route as with the other two GEMS Wellington-branded schools, or to follow Jumeirah College and GEMS Firstpoint down the UK curriculum road), the decision has been made that GEMS Wellington Al Khail will follow the more traditional UK curriculum A Level route. Given the limited number of schools offering A Level in Dubai, this choice would seem logical, following, as it does, perhaps aptly, the highly successful Jumeirah College which was originally planned to be the relocated occupant of the Academy's site. In setting out on the A Level route, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is following one of the most academically successful schools in the city. It will be interesting to see whether the Academy can emulate Jumeirah College's success. The recent establishment of a British Cluster group within GEMS is designed to ensure that best practice is shared across the UAE schools following a UK curriculum.
It would seem, in recognition of its diverse population, that 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. 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 new linear UK A Level approach.
What about academic results?
The school's first cohort of GCSE and IGCSE students completed their examinations in June 2018 and the school has published its results - although not in the degree of detail that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would like to have seen. However, based on the information provided, it seems that the students concerned have good grounds to be proud of their achievements.
|No. of students in GCSE level cohort:||Not provided||None|
|% of cohort entered for GCSE exams||Not provided||n/a|
|No. of exam entries||289||n/a|
|% of exam entries graded A*/9||9||n/a|
|% of exam entries graded A*-A /9-8||26||n/a|
|% of exam entries graded A*-B /9-7||53||n/a|
|% of exam entries graded A*-C /9-4||Not provided||n/a|
|% of students achieving 5 A*-C/ 9-4 including English and Maths||Not provided||n/a|
|Overall student pass rate A*-C||Not provided||n/a|
|Number of students excluded from the statistics||Not provided||n/a|
|Highest number of grades by an individual student||8 grades of 9 (equivalent to an A*), 2 grades of 8 (equivalent to an A)||n/a|
In addition to the information provided above, the school also advised that 100% of students achieved a GCSE in English Language and Triple Science, with 85% of students achieving this in Maths also. 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.
GEMS Wellington Al Khail is also unusual in that it is placing specific focus on supporting children who are either academically-gifted or those who have additional learning needs. 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 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 Science and technology labs, auditorium and theatre, recording and video studio, a 3 level gymnasium with roof top tennis courts, two 25 meter pools and toddler pool, full football and rugby pitches, full cafeteria, indoor and outdoor covered play areas, specialist rooms for music, art, languages, and design, library and study zones and an Achievement Centre (specialising in the support of children with additional learning needs and those who are gifted and talented).
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. These include creative activities 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 most recent 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".
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. The BSO team highlighted that "pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding and behaviour is excellent", noting that "teachers provide exciting lessons and the curriculum is interesting and supplemented by a range of visits" and that "children make very good progress from their starting points".
The KHDA inspection team found that "the strengthened leadership teams are providing a very clear sense of direction and are securing rapid improvements in many aspects of the school. As a result of improved communication, partnerships with parents are stronger. Governors provide strong support and are diligent in holding school leaders to account to improve achievements for all groups of students. The school environment is conducive to good quality learning".
In terms of Student Achievement, it is evident that the strength of the school lies currently in the Foundation Stage, where both attainment and progress in English, Maths and Science were found to be Very Good. Elsewhere in the school, attainment and progress was generally Good across all sections in the three core subjects, though English attainment was rated only Acceptable. Similarly, Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language were found to be Good in terms of progress but Acceptable in terms of attainment. Arabic as a second language was deemed to be Acceptable across the school for both measures. Inspectors commented that "the improvements in progress made by students in some phases are not sufficient to raise attainment in English, mathematics, science, Arabic and Islamic education".
Whilst the strength of student achievement is core to any school's reputation and success, and this must clearly be an area of focus for GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, it is not by any means the sole measure. Inspectors noted that in terms of Students' personal and social development and their Innovation skills "Personal development is very strong throughout the school but is excellent in the Foundation Stage, as the skills of independence are consistently and effectively developed in all areas of learning". Eight of the nine ratings for the three sets of measures for this key achievement area were rated Very Good, with Personal Development in the Foundation stage rated Outstanding. Since so much of education is now focused on the need for independent learning, these are key indicators for any school.
Two further key indicators assessed by the inspection team - both closely related to academic success - are Teaching and Assessment and Curriculum. Both sets of measures across the Foundation Stage were rated Very Good. Teaching and Assessment and Curriculum Design and Implementation were each rated Good in Primary and Secondary, whilst Curriculum Adaptation (to meet the needs of individual students), was also rated Very Good. Inspectors noted that "the school very successfully ensures that the curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of all groups of students. It is very thoughtfully adapted for students with SEND. In addition, modifications to meet the needs of Emirati students are increasingly effective". Inspectors also commented that recent staff training initiatives aimed at "enabl[ing] students to question, collaborate and think deeply, are evident in many lessons. Consequently, a greater number of lessons are very effective". Curriculum provision was found to be effective throughout the school but "it is particularly well implemented in Foundation Stage".
A further clear strength of GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail identified by the Inspectors is the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students. This key indicator was rated Very Good across all measures. The inspection report notes that "the arrangements which ensure the health, well-being and protection of students have been strengthened. Similarly, the procedures for identifying students with special educational needs/disabilities (SEND) are more effective. The provision, particularly for those with complex needs, is very strong. All other aspects of care and support are stronger and as a result are very effective throughout the school".
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 inspection team found that "leaders at all levels work very effectively and provide a strong sense of direction. Consequently, teaching is improving rapidly and is highly effective in a greater number of lessons". Morale throughout the school was described as exceptionally high and as a result of this, leaders and all staff were found to be successful in creating a purposeful learning environment which is conducive to high quality learning and personal development. Parents were found to be very effectively engaged and wholly supportive of the school and their children's learning. Inspectors noted that "teachers benefit from professional development which is matched to their needs and is enabling them to deliver high quality learning experiences for all groups of students".
The inspectors' key recommendations focused on three areas; the school should
Unfortunately, parental feedback about GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is very limited. Only 24 families responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, although those that did were largely positive about the school. On the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, feedback was broadly positive, with a majority of parents agreeing that they would recommend the school to other parents, and over 90% believing that their children enjoy going to the school. 86% of parents believed that the quality of education being provided was on a par with or higher than their home country.
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is a school that is evidently wholly and positively engaged on its journey 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 does not, in our opinion, sound unreasonable.
Fees are, as noted, premium. Currently, FS1 starts at AED 52,000 and by Year 12 reach AED 85,000. Year 13 will open in 2019-20. And for the 2019-20 academic year, GEMS has decided to reduce fees quite significantly across the school - from AED 52,000 to AED 43,050 in FS1, from AED 65,000 to AED 54,224 from FS2 to Year 6, from AED 85,000 to AED 74,764 in years 7-9, and from AED 85,000 to AED 84,129 in Years 10 and 11. Only the fees for years 12 and 13 remain at the original AED 85,000 fee. Clearly GEMS are keen to encourage families to join the Primary and Lower Secondary schools. This is already a Good school and one with definite potential to be ranked highly by the KHDA. Definitely worth consideration.
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