GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) has just received its sixth KHDA report, and has been rated Very Good for the third 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.
GEMS Wellington Academy DSO has been rated Very 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 tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full report has been issued.
The Story so Far
GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis is a GEMS Education school. the first of several new schools opened by GEMS in the past 7 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 over 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.
Some 90+ nationalities are represented within the student body, with the largest single demographic noted as students from Arab countries. In total, 3% of the student population is Emirati, but just over 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 324 teachers in total and all are said to have appropriate teaching qualifications. In addition, there are a further 166 teaching assistants. The staff:student ratio of 1:13 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, although there has been some drop back in Sixth Form based on the current report. Students' learning skills also very good in general, and outstanding in the Sixth Form.
Wellington Academy DSO follows the National Curriculum for England from Foundation Stage to Year 11. Students in Key Stage 4 will follow GCSE Examination Courses and students in the Sixth Form will prepare for IB Diploma and the IB Career-related Certificate. 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 claim has recently gained considerable substance with the school saying it will also offer A' Levels as of September 2019. WSO is the first school in the UAE to offer both the IB and the A' level. Only Sunmarke School has announced similar intentions.
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.
The school 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.
Wellington DSO 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 DSO, 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. According 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 academics?
Until recently, 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.
This academic year, 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.
Wellington DSO published the 2017 GCSE/IGCSE results 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 Academy claims that these results are significantly above international averages but does not offer any comparative results.
There is still less information in regard to the IB Results with no mention of individual student achievement or details of higher level results.
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).
The Academy mentions that 100% of all university applicants attended their chosen university, but again there is no information on University destinations.
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 DSO 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 2017-18
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, but there has been some slippage in relation to Students' Achievement based on the details of the current report, which will potentially impact the school's aspirations to reach the KHDA's highest award.
This is a school driven by strong leadership with the inspection team noting that "The new principal and other senior leaders provide very strong leadership. The school has the capacity to continue improving. Leadership is distributed very well but the impact of middle leadership is not consistently strong. The day-to-day today management of the school, governance and links with parents and the local community are key strengths of leadership."
It would seem that with the change of personnel at the top, some teething problems have occurred further down the management chain. However, clearly, these changes have not impacted the strong relationships between the school, parents and the community. Even with over 4,000 students, there is a community feel and focus on an inclusive and innovative ethos.
Students' achievement across the school was found to be variable. Inspectors noted that "In the Foundation Stage, children achieve outstanding standards across the curriculum. Primary students’ attainment and progress are very good in English, mathematics and science but not as strong in Arabic and Islamic education. The attainment of secondary and post-16 students varies from very good to weak and progress varies from outstanding in English to acceptable in Arabic."
Whilst it is not unusual for Arabic and Islamic Education to lag behind the English-language based core curriculum, it would seem that there are perhaps wider issues. Whilst English, Mathematics and Science are rated Outstanding in the Foundation Stage, in the Primary section, the measures for both Attainment and Progress across all three subjects are rated Very Good. In fact, progress in both English and Science has dropped from Outstanding. In the Secondary section, English, Mathematics and Science are rated Very Good across the board, with the exception of progress in English, which has moved up to Outstanding. In the Sixth Form, Mathematics was rated less highly (at Good) than the other two core subjects, although English saw a reduction from Outstanding to Very Good.
Arabic and Islamic Studies largely maintained the status quo, predominantly rated Acceptable, but again there was slippage with attainment in Arabic as a first language in the Secondary school to Weak, and in post-16 progress to Acceptable. Any downgrading, particularly in the Arabic core subjects, is not likely to help the Academy achieve its Outstanding rating, no matter how well it may perform overall.
Teaching and Assessment, whilst rated Outstanding in the Foundation Stage, were rated Very Good in the other sections of the Academy. This was the same rating as a year ago. Inspectors noted that whilst "Most teachers have strong subject knowledge and an understanding of how students learn [and] the large majority of lessons are planned carefully, internal assessment data in primary, secondary and post-16 phases can lack reliability. [In addition], teachers make insufficient use of data to match teaching to students’ learning needs." 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.
Despite the evident need for improvement in these areas, in many other aspects, GEMS Wellington Academy does perform very well. Its ratings for Students' personal and social development and their Innovation skills are Outstanding across the school. The report notes that "Students' personal and social development remains a strength across the school. Students have positive attitudes to work, behave well and build supportive relationships with each other and with staff. Students’ understanding and awareness of their own, UAE and other cultures is very strong. They respect Islamic values. Students show initiative in establishing a range of projects that benefit both the school and wider community."
Similarly, Curriculum design and implementation, and its adaptation to meet the needs of individual students was also rated Outstanding. Inspectors found that "All students benefit from an extremely broad range of enrichment activities. The outstanding curriculum provides smooth transitions between key stages and subjects. Teachers adapt the curriculum very well to meet students’ needs."
The protection, care, guidance and support of students were found to be Outstanding also. "A caring and supportive atmosphere pervades the school. Teachers skilfully identify and meet the learning needs of almost all students who have special education needs and disabilities (SEND) and many of those who have gifts and talents." Indeed, Wellington DSO is one of the few schools in Dubai whose rating for the provision and outcomes for students with SEND is rated Outstanding.
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 were downgraded to Very Good. This is certain to have been a disappointment to the leadership team. Issues mentioned earlier in relation to the effectiveness of Middle management and some question-marks over the accuracy of assessment information appear to have driven the downgrading. No doubt, the Leadership team will be making strenuous efforts to address these concerns.
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. We would expect that the new leadership to be well-established and able to have significant influence over the outcome of the next inspection in 2018-19.
What do Parents Say?
95% of the 605 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 almost all aspects of the school. They feel their children are safe and happy at school. Staff place a strong emphasis upon students' well-being. They think that the school is well led, and that teaching is generally effective [though] less so in Arabic."
Which School Advisor has received good feedback from parents in the Which School Advisor School Survey, although only six out of 10 parents with children at the school would currently recommend the school. There is stronger satisfaction over academic performance.
Admission to Wellington Academy, DSO 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.
Fees for Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis fall in the middle with other premium GEMS Education schools, ranging from AED 36,540 to AED 82,511 per annum in year 13.
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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.