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 10 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 under the 4000 students it had pre-Covid, and teaches to Year 13. It is still 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.
Comments from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are largely positive, though some concerns were raised about the size of the school, class sizes (28) and fee levels.
The following from June 2021 sum up many of the comments received:
"The school is great in enhancing students’ confidence and self esteem. Remote learning was amazing notwithstanding the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic. Children’s happiness and well being is the school’s top priority and this we have experienced through the past 3 years. Communication between teachers and parents is strong and teachers are very supportive."
"When we first went in to GEMS WSO, we immediately knew this was the right place for our child. The management have turned a very large school into a community with small, well-cared for houses - this gives it a small school feel and every child is known. Foundation and Primary have been wonderful. The core curriculum and extra curricula activities are engaging and memorable, with wonderful extras like outdoor learning. When the school went online, the children were really well cared for emotionally and their academic studies didn't get negatively affected too much. The teachers produced engaging lessons on zoom and offline. The teachers are amazing, loving, kind and very good at what they do. GEMS WSO has a superb support team from TAs to administration."
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 announced similar intentions.
GEMS Wellington Academy DSO now offers what is known as a ‘Fifth Strand’ - a combination of A Level, BTEC and International Baccalaureate courses. This highly practical and customised approach provides students with a specialised programme of study that is widely recognised by employers and universities globally. BTEC students take core units that provide a broad foundation and understanding about the sector, and then choose from a range of optional units enabling them to focus on particular interests.
For the 2021-22 academic year, WSO has announced the launch of a new Reggio Emilia nursery on the Silicon Oasis site.
Some 110+ 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.
In April 2021, GEMS announced that the former Principal of GEMS Wellington Primary School (WPS), Sarah O'Regan, would assume the position of Principal of GEMS Wellington Academy DSO - a considerable step up for Ms. O'Regan who has been with GEMS Education for 10 years, but assumed the principalship of the now closed WPS only a year ago.
Introducing herself to the WSO community, Ms. O'Regan notes that "As a founding member of GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis (WSO), I have had the honour of leading WSO through nine KHDA inspections [the school is currently rated Very Good by the Dubai regulator] and two British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspections, which both led to an ‘Outstanding’ rating".
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, 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 .
2020 and 2021 results for i/GCSE and IB are based on assessed results due to the cancellation of examinations as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic.
In July 2021, WSO announced its IB Diploma results. With a student cohort of 88, and an pass rate of 97.7%, the average points score was 33.8. This compares to the UAE overall average score of 35.89 and a global average score of 32.99. The school did not break down the awards across the various point scales of 30+, 35+ and 40+. Although, the 2021 average is above that 2020, when the average was 32, and that of 2019, when it was 30, it should be borne in mind that Centre Assessed Grades (awarded by the teachers of the school), played a stronger role in the 2021 results.
There is general evidence of grade inflation - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students took the IB examinations - we would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021.
WSO announced that for 2020 i/GCSE results:
For 2020 IB results:
No results for GCSE or IB were posted on the school's website for 2019, but based on Facebook posts, we know that:
The i/GCSE results for 2018 were:
We feel that it is a real shame 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.
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:
WSO published the 2017 GCSE/iGCSE results which were as follows:
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 IB results from 2017:
More detailed information, particularly about the size of the cohort year on year, would make it easier to put students' achievements into context.
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 2019-20
In line with the KHDA's announcement in September 2019, as a school rated either Very Good or Outstanding, WSO will no longer be required to submit to a full annual inspection by the DSIB inspection team. Instead it will participate in a one day review visit, for which no new report will be issued unless there is a change in overall rating. Thus the 2018-19 report remains the most recent one.
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.
In addition to the KHDA inspection process, WSO has also twice been inspected by the BSO (British Schools' Overseas) teams who apply the same process and evaluation as the UK Government's OFSTED regulator. Inspections took place in 2013 and 2016, and on both occasions, DSO was rated Outstanding.
In 2019, WSO also applied for accreditation and membership of COBIS - the Council of British International Schools. COBIS does not directly mirror the inspection process of the KHDA, but seeks to ensure that members reflect the ethos, standards, facilities and resources which make the education provided fundamentally British at heart.
A copy of the inspection report can be found here.
Highlights, however, include the following summary:
"Leadership of the Academy is strong and experienced, such that a period of sustained stability is now possible. The Academy is in its ninth year of operation, and its building programme is complete. It is virtually at capacity in terms of student numbers in a challenging market place and the academic provision has been enhanced by the addition of BTEC and A Levels, running alongside the IBDP and the IBCP, so that retention in Years 12 and 13 is now improving and numbers are very healthy indeed.
Results at (I)GCSE and Post-16 are a fair reflection of the academic profiles of the students. The number going into Higher Education is buoyant and can be attributed not just to subject teachers, but also to the work of the Academy’s HE and Careers advisors. The Academy’s approach to Inclusion is admirable, and during the visit there were opportunities to witness small group and one-to-one work with those who benefit from such assistance. The results are humbling."
We would urge interested families to read the full report.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received responses from a significant 150 parents to our Which School Advisor School Survey with an overall rating of 4.1/5 - a positivity rating of 82%. There is much positive feedback about children's enjoyment of the school and sense of belonging to it. There is strong satisfaction over academic performance with around two thirds wholly satisfied and a further 29% partially satisfied. However, despite this, 40% of respondents believe that their child requires additional external tuition.
Communication and the school's disciplinary policies are highly regarded as are the options for children to participate in Performing Arts and Sports and the inclusive approach of the school. 88% of respondents would definitely recommend the school to other parents though a further 8% were not sure and 8% would not. If there is disagreement between parents, it relates to the value for money of school fees. Just under a third (31%) agreed that they did present good value for money, a further 59% partially agreed, whilst 10% disagreed with this statement.
Whether this has driven some 35% of parents to consider moving their child to a different school is not clear, however, direct parent feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com suggests that the significant increase in fees from Year 6 to Year 7 is a concern for parents. Almost all comments included the view that fees are too high.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey 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."
We think that there is a lot to admire at GEMS Wellington Academy DSO! So much of what is happening at the school is innovative and very much designed to meet the needs of a diverse range of students in what is a very large school. We particularly like the approach to blended learning taken by WSO long before Covid 19 and Distance Learning was on anyone's tongue.
We also like the move to offering a three way route to post-18 education with A Levels now being added to IB and BTEC. And we very much welcome the clearly holistic approach that enables students to indulge their passions in Sports and Performing Arts as well as the academic elements of their education. All this in a school that is viewed as highly supportive and inclusive by both the KHDA and COBIS.
What about the Fees?
Fees for Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis fall in the middle with other premium GEMS Education schools, ranging from AED 37,296 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.
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.
GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis 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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