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...
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. There will inevitably be some disappointment, and almost certainly some pressure on WEK, therefore, to improve its Good rating without too much delay.
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, Neil Matthews, says that WEK is a "fully inclusive community whose focus is very much on student progress, not simply results. Each child's achievements will be different, but they can all make outstanding progress and acquire the skills they need for higher education and the world of work. This approach makes us comfortable in having a broader and more inclusive intake than many Dubai schools."
A second core focus of the school is the key attributes - Risk Takers, Independent inquirers, Team workers, Critical thinkers and Reflective learners - that it aims to develop among its students, and which are at the heart of the 'WEK Learner Profile'.
Whilst WEK may not be offering the IB curriculum in line with WIS and DSO, it acknowledges that it has certainly borrowed from this - noting that "although we are a British Curriculum School, we also recognise the strengths of a variety of global curriculums, including the International Baccalaureate Programme (IBO)."
WEK currently caters for children from FS1 to year 13, with the A Level year having opened 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 most recent KHDA inspection (2018/19), the school had just under 1,000 students from ages 4 to 17 (FS to Year 12). Close to 130 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 and the school has a reasonably large cohort of 72 Emirati students.
Teachers (97 in total with a further 36 teaching assistants) are predominantly recruited from the UK. 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 15% in the last academic year, and an even lower 7% in the prior year, after numbers as high as 30% in the first two years, suggests that teachers are happy with their employment - the UAE average turnover in international schools is 20-25%.
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. 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 past 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. 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.
What about the curriculum?
GEMS Wellington Al Khail offers the National Curriculum for England from FS1 to Year 13.
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.
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 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.
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 inclusion?
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 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|
|No. of exam entries||Not provided||
|% of exam entries graded A*/9||12||24|
|% of exam entries graded A*-A /9-8||26||45 (UK average 21%)|
|% of exam entries graded A*-B /9-7||47||67|
|% of exam entries graded A*-C /9-4||95||93 (UK average 69%)|
|% of students achieving 5 A*-C/ 9-4 including English and Maths||Not provided||88|
|Overall student pass rate A*-C||Not provided||Not provided|
|Number of students excluded from the statistics||Not provided||Not provided|
|Highest number of grades by an individual student||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.
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. It will be interesting to see the first set of International and UK-based A Level results due in August following exams in June 2020.
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 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".
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".
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 does not tell the full story. The vast majority of measures were rated Very Good, in reality, across most of the six key performance standards.
In terms of Student Achievement, it is evident that the strengths of the school lie currently in the Foundation Stage, where both attainment and progress in English, Mathematics and Science were found to be Very Good, and in the Secondary section, where all measures for Maths and Science were upgraded to Very Good, though English remained Good. Primary and post-16 ratings across the three subjects were rated Good.
Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language were found to be Good in terms of progress, but Acceptable in terms of attainment with the exception of the Primary section where it was rated Good. Arabic as a second language was deemed to be Acceptable across the school for both measures.
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. Since so much of education is now focused on the need for independent learning, these are key indicators for any school. Students' learning skills were largely rated Very Good with the exception of the Primary section where they remained Good.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are clearly a strength of the school. With the exception of personal development in the FS and post-16 - rated Outstanding - all measures were Very Good.
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, Secondary and post-16, whilst Curriculum Adaptation (to meet the needs of individual students), was also rated Very Good in all but post-16. It is evident that some students have not been as stretched in terms of their learning due to the objectives being set for them that were not necessarily in line with curriculum expectations. This is a key area to which the school will need to give full attention.
However, 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.
Leadership and Management were a mix of Good and Very Good (the Effectiveness of Leadership, Parents and the Community, and Management, Staffing, Facilities and Resources). Governance, although remaining rated at Good, now includes both student and community representatives offering a wide range of skills.
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.
Unfortunately, parental feedback about GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail is very limited. Only 75 families responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, although those that did were largely positive about the school and their comments were supported by parents with whom the inspection team met during their visit. Parents were very satisfied with channels of communication, although they found face-to-face communication more effective than written, and were very positive about how the school listens and responds to their views. This had improved significantly during the previous year.
Some 169 students participated in the Well-being Survey. Most confirmed that they felt safe in school and respected their teachers' and others' differences. A large majority felt that the school would help them gain the skills they need to be successful.
On the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, feedback has been limited though broadly positive, with a small majority of parents (57%) agreeing that they would recommend the school to other parents, although a significant minority (29%) were not sure. Over 90% believed 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. As is so often the case, there was the usual niggle about school fees, with 14% each being of the opinion that they did - or did not - represent value for money. The remaining 72% partially agreed that they did.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please complete our Survey here.
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 - whilst perhaps not meeting that target date - is still achievable a little further down the improvement road.
Both GEMS Wellington International School and GEMS Jumeirah College - rated Outstanding for 10 of the 11 inspections, also had a Good rating in their inspection histories. There is no question that the demands of the KHDA's DSIB inspection teams have become greater with each passing year, and a step up to the next rating harder to achieve. However, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail seems to be coming every closer with each inspection...we look forward to seeing what 2019-20's inspection brings.
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. Clearly GEMS are keen to encourage families to join the Primary and Lower Secondary schools.
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