GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) has just received its seventh KHDA report, and has been rated Very Good for the fourth year in a row. Whilst the initial step up to Very Good came early in the school's career - on its fourth inspection - moving up to the highest KHDA rating of Outstanding is proving a little more difficult. None-the-less, many aspects of Wellington Academy DSO are highly rated by both the regulator and parents alike.
The Story so Far
GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis (WSO) is a GEMS Education school. the first of several new schools opened by GEMS in the past 8 years alongside GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, GEMS Firstpoint and GEMS International School which followed. GEMS Wellington Academy DSO opened in September 2011 with approximately 1,000 students, and more than doubled in size after that first year to 2,930 students, taking students from ages three to 17. It currently has just under 4,000 students and teaches to Year 13. It is one of the largest UK/IB curriculum schools in Dubai and has introduced some innovative access routes to a range of subjects for students in its Sixth Form.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, given its record for innovative curriculum and delivery options, WSO is one of two schools that announced their intention, in 2018, to introduce A Levels in addition to the IB Diploma and Career-related Programmes, and BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) qualifications which it has offered for several years. Sunmarke School has announced similar intentions.
Some 90+ nationalities are represented within the student body, with the largest single demographic noted as students from Arab countries. In total, 4% of the student population is Emirati, and just under 10% of students have been identified with some form of Special Educational Need or Disability (SEND). Provision for Students of Determination is said to be excellent and SEND students feel very well supported.
There are 329 teachers in total (the majority from the UK) and all are said to have appropriate teaching qualifications. In addition, there are a further 164 teaching assistants. Staff turnover at 16% is well below the average of 20-22% at international schools in the UAE, but still requires nearly 1 in 6 staff to be replaced - a significant number, given the overall number of teachers employed by the school.
The staff:student ratio of 1:12 is around what would be expected in a premium school and should ensure adequate individual attention. Most outcomes for students in the Foundation Stage, Primary or Secondary school are either Very Good or Outstanding, with the Sixth Form have regained its Outstanding and Very Good ratings for English and Maths respectively, following a drop back in 2017-18. Students' learning skills also very good in general, and outstanding in Foundation Stage and the Sixth Form.
What about the curriculum?
Wellington Academy DSO follows the National Curriculum for England from Foundation Stage to Year 11. Students in Key Stage 4 follow IGCSE and GCSE Examination Courses and students in the Sixth Form prepare for either the IB Diploma or the IB Career-related Programmes or alternatively the UK-based BTEC and now, as of the 2019-20 academic year, A Levels. The Academy says that it offers the widest range Post-16 pathways within the GCC, delivered through a combination of traditional face to face classes and blended learning options, combining the best of academic and digitally-enhanced learning. The addition of A Levels means that students will have four different pathways to choose post-16.
In the school's introduction, its states that "Innovation is central to our approach to education. We pride ourselves on offering a fully blended approach to learning and gaining the right balance between social interaction and use of technology which deepens and extends learning. At WSO, our key objective is to equip students for the 21st Century and enable them develop a skill-set to succeed in an uncertain future. We provide an education that meets our students’ future needs, and not those of the past, and to make their learning experiences both inspiring and relevant. We use technology to move beyond the classroom, develop new e-skills, and promote a range of collaborative technologies.."
Wellington DSO offers the IBCP (International Baccalaureate Career-Related Programme) option for Media, Business or ICT students, who combine it with two IB subjects and a set of core professional skills. The Core programme includes introduction to a second language, an ethical study related to their chosen career pathway, and service-led learning.
All IB courses are delivered through the Blended Learning approach – which, the school says, mirrors how most universities also now deliver their courses. Students on blended courses, whilst learning on-line in virtual environments, also have an Academic Tutor to guide and support them on a daily basis. The blended courses are taught by experienced IB teachers and examiners through a mixture of synchronous (live) and asynchronous sessions (meaning students do not need to be in the digital class at a particular time) with all materials and resources available on the learning platform. Students interact with classmates in real time and have questions answered directly by their Digital teacher. The key advantage of this arrangement is that the Academy can offer a wide range of subject options, without having to directly source staff based at the school.
A Level students at WSO study four subjects, three at A-level and one at AS-level (sitting an AS-level exam at the end of Year 12). In addition to this, students complete the EPQ (Extended Project) Qualification and participate in some service-learning to enrich their CVs and university applications. The EPQ is similar to the IBDP extended essay which is part of the IB Core programme.
The BTEC qualification is, as the name suggests, a qualification focused largely on Business and Technology. They are designed for students interested in a particular sector or industry but who are not yet sure what specific job they are interested in.
A BTEC National qualification can lead to employment, continuing study, or professional development programmes. They are flexible qualification, and can be taken alongside A levels. BTECs are divided into units, which cover specific areas of knowledge, skills, and understanding required by the particular sector or industry. BTEC students take core units, which provide a broad foundation and understanding about the sector, and then choose from a range of optional units which enable the student to focus on particular interests.
In addition to the academic focus of the school, WSO claims to offer over 90 Extra Curricular Activities where students can participate with both recreational and competitive objectives, including; Rugby, Basketball, Athletics, Science, Maths, Book Club, Choir, Strategy Games, Arabic, Debating, Cricket, Ball Skills and Band. Fixtures are played in a number of sports between other schools in Dubai. The school currently has inter-school squads in Football, Rugby, Netball, Swimming and Athletics.
WSO has gained a strong reputation for its Sports Academy, which aims to identify the UAE’s most able athletes, and welcomes student athletes from around the world to study and professionally train at WSO, as well as having the opportunity to receive sports scholarships (mainly in the US). The Academy was awarded runner-up in "Best Sports Schools in the UAE" (Teen Sports & Fitness Awards, 2016). In addition, Wellington DSO sports squads are said to excel in identifying and developing talent and include a number of students who perform at both national and international level.
Performing Arts provision offers extended opportunities through the curriculum and Enrichment Programme. The Elite Performing Arts Academy aims to recognise and nurture exceptional talent from the earliest stages. The GEMS Music Academy is also based at the school, offering tuition for students from across the GEMS network. The Academy regularly offers musical theatre performances to concert recitals, musical instrument lessons, dance shows and plays.
Time will tell, but perhaps most significantly of all in this regard, WSO was the first GEMS Education school to announce a partnership with the UK's ArtsEd, a 100 year old London-based charity for the Performing Arts, currently under the leadership of Sir Andrew Lloyd-Weber. According to GEMS, ArtsEd supports WSO’s "already enriched" Performing Arts curriculum through the delivery of “specific programmes” and “additional opportunities” that will enrich the curriculum accessed by all students.
What about the academic achievement?
Until recently, most GEMS schools had stopped publishing their individual exam results - something we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com strongly regretted, since we feel that schools should be open about the results they are delivering.
In the past three academic years, there seems to have been something of a change of heart - and one which we very much welcome. The results are somewhat lacking in comparative data, and there is no information about the number of students who took the examinations, but there is a positive first step towards enabling parents and potential students to see the Academy's overall results .
WSO published the 2017 GCSE/IGCSE results which were as follows:
35% of student entries obtained were A*/A or 7-9 grades
5% of our students gained straight A*/A or 7-9 grades in all subjects
90% of our students gained 5 A*/C or 4 to 9 pass grades
96% of all students achieved A*-C in English
95% of all students achieved the 4-9 pass grade in Maths
The results for 2018 were:
96% of students gained five or more GCSEs with A*-C grades (9-4 grades)
37% of all entries were A* or A grades (9-7 grades)
9% of our students gained A* or A grades (9-7 grades) in all subjects
It is such a pity that the school has not provided more information and direct comparisons, although on the face of it, the percentage of students achieving all A*- A (9-7) grades, and the percentage of students gaining 5 or more GCSEs at A*-C have improved. The KHDA report for 2018-19 does note that GCSE results for Maths and Science are Outstanding - what a pity that the school has not shared them widely.
There is still less information in regard to the IB Results with no mention of individual student achievement or details of higher level results. The following are the results from 2017:
93% of students passed the IB Diploma
93% of students passed the IB Career Related Programme
The average points score for the Diploma was 30. (This is the world average).
In 2018, there was no breakdown between the IBDP and the IBCP, although based on the average world pass rate provided, these would appear to be for the Diploma:
87% of students passed the IB Diploma; this is 8 percent higher than the international pass rate, which is 79%.
The average point score for the IB Diploma was 30.5, whilst the international average point score is 29.8;
25% of Year 13 students scored more than 35 points.
No results for GCSE or IB have been posted on the school's website for 2019, but based on Facebook posts, we know that:
91% of students passed the IB Diploma; an improvement on last year's rate of 89% (after re-marks; the original was 87%).
The average point score for the IB Diploma was 30 points. The global score was 29.6 which would be rounded up to 30 points.
Almost a quarter (24%) of students achieved 35+ points with the top score of 43 points being achieved by two students in the cohort.
More detailed information, particularly about the size of the cohort year on year, would make it easier to put students' achievements into context. The bald information provided here suggests that performance was lower in 2019 than 2018 in terms of the average point score and the percentage of students achieving 35+ points.
2018 university destinations included the University of Cambridge, University College London (UCL), Kings College London, University of Durham and the University of Manchester in the UK. In the USA, students gained places at New York University (NYU) and UCLA. In Canada, students were successful in gaining places at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto.
No updated information has been provided for 2019.
What about Facilities?
Facilities at Wellington DSO are pretty impressive, as you would probably expect of large purpose built facilities by GEMS. These include:
GEMS in general does not disappoint in terms of the facilities it provides to its students, and it has not wasted the opportunity in the development of the purpose-built school to invest in future proofing its WSO offering. In fact, since opening, the school has already expanded significantly, with a second site opposite the original building, and a separate Foundation Stage building to the rear of it.
What the Inspectors Say 2018-19
Following its achievement, for the fourth time, of a Very Good rating, the latest KHDA inspection report describes the best features of GEMS Wellington Academy DSO as follows:
Overall, this is a school that should be on the cusp of Outstanding, and whilst last year's report showed some slippage in relation to Students' Achievement, the latest report indicates that attainment and progress in English and Maths in the Secondary and post-16 sections have regained their Outstanding and Very Good ratings respectively.
There is without doubt more to be done; notably in the Primary, Secondary and post-16 sections in relation to Maths and Science (all largely rated Very Good), whilst the FS section is rated Outstanding across all three core subjects. Arabic and Islamic Education are largely rated Acceptable with only three of the 16 performance ratings achieving Good. This, again, will need to be a focus for the school, especially in relation to Arabic as a first language and Islamic education, given that the largest proportion of students at WSO is of Arabic extraction.
Where the school is exceptionally strong is in the key performance area of Students' Personal and Social Development and their innovation skills. Every measure is rated Outstanding across the school. The design and implementation of the curriculum, and its adaptation to meet the needs of individual students or groups was also again rated Outstanding across the school.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students also achieves Outstanding ratings across the board, with support for students of Determination also rated Outstanding, one of handful of schools to have achieved this.
Where the school falls down - or rather, needs to improve further - is with regard to Teaching and Assessment. Whilst this is rated Outstanding in the FS section, it is rated 'only' Very Good across the rest of the school. This appears to be driven by weaker performances in some subjects, and no doubt the school will address the areas identified - notably in Maths and Islamic Education which were picked out by the inspection team. Assessment was also found to be inconsistent in Arabic and Islamic Education. The use of both internal and external data to guide teaching and curriculum delivery has been a key focus of the KHDA as part of the UAE National Agenda.
This is a school driven by strong leadership with the inspection team noting that "Leaders at all levels continue to sustain and improve high levels of school performance...Parents are enabled to be active partners in their children's learning."
A year ago, it seemed that with the change of personnel at the top, some teething problems had occurred further down the management chain. These changes have not impacted the strong relationships between the school, parents and the community. Even with almost 4,000 students, there is a community feel and focus on an inclusive and innovative ethos.
In terms of Leadership and Management, whilst 3 of 5 key indicators remained rated at Outstanding, the measures for the Effectiveness of Leadership and School self-evaluation and improvement planning have remained at the lower rating from last year of Very Good. This is certain to have been a disappointment to the leadership team and seems to result from ongoing changes among leaders as a result of the staff changes from a year ago. Improvement planning also requires more measurable outcomes. No doubt, the Leadership team will be making strenuous efforts to address these concerns.
However, the fact that the inspectors comment more than once on the 'significant capacity' of the leadership to improve the school further suggests that the upgrade to Outstanding is not far away.
The key areas for improvement identified by the Inspection team focus on the need to:
As we mentioned earlier, GEMS Wellington Academy DSO should be on the cusp of Outstanding. There is a need to improve academic performance in what is clearly a mixed-ability school and to make better use of the data available to inform this. As is so often the case, a specific focus on improvement for Arabic and Islamic Education will be key to the overall performance and rating of the school.
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - you may find it here.
95% of the 675 parents who responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey stated that they were satisfied with the quality of education at the Academy. In fact, "Almost all the parents who responded to the survey are satisfied with the quality of education and agree their children are learning effectively across all phases. Parents are confident that staff listen to their concerns and believe the school has very effective arrangements of care and welfare. Inclusivity is highly regarded by parents. Students are supported in making the best possible progress."
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received mixed feedback from parents in the Which School Advisor School Survey, with 23% disagreeing that the fees paid represent good value for money and almost four out of 10 parents with children at the school having considered moving their child to another school. However, 77% would currently recommend the school to other parents. There is stronger satisfaction over academic performance with around 90% wholly or partially satisfied with this.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis, please share your experience with other readers by completing our survey here.
Admission to WSO requires students (from Years 5 - 13) to sit an age related placement test "to ensure that he / she is prepared for the high quality education on offer". For all applications, the child's latest school report is used instead of an interview. For applications from overseas, Wellington DSO will contact the child's existing school to courier placement tests. Note: an offer of a place is not solely based on entrance test.
What about the Fees?
Fees for Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis fall in the middle with other premium GEMS Education schools, ranging from AED 37,926 in FS1 to AED 82,511 per annum in year 13. There is a big jump in fees between Primary (FS2 to Year 6) at AED 46,319 and Secondary which starts at AED 73,080 from Year 7 to 9 inclusive.
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Too much emphasis on the school as a business rather than our children's education in my opinion.
I have to say I am quite pleased with the school so far. My kids have only joined this year and perhaps it's early days yet, but from what we have seen the school is intent on fulfilling all the promises offered. The kids and teachers have made them feel welcome enough to at least not miss their old school and that is a big relief!
I can safely say I have faith in their ability to deliver.