GEMS Wellington International School (WIS), is a mixed-gender UK curriculum school offering the IB Diploma programme in Sixth Form. It is operated by GEMS Education and has been ranked Outstanding for ten of the past eleven years since inspections began, one of a select few to have achieved that level of consistency.
The story so far...
GEMS Wellington International School was the first large out of town (or at least out of traditional Jumeirah) development by GEMS and is located in the newer southern area of the city, almost directly opposite Mall of the Emirates and close to the Marina and Emirates Hills developments. WIS has served as the model for several other schools bearing the Wellington name, including GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis which mirrors the UK curriculum/post-16 IB framework and GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, which will offer A Levels from September 2019. GEMS Wellington Primary School also follows the UK curriculum to Year 6 only.
GEMS Wellington International School (WIS) educates children from 3 years (FS1) to 18 years of age (Year 13). The 2,690 plus students - a small increase compared with a year ago - come from over 80 nationalities with the largest grouping from India, with some 82 (around 3%) being Emirati and 360 students being identified as Students of Determination, with SEND requirements.
The school's Mission is 'Success for all as lifelong learners', whilst its Vision is to 'recognise the uniqueness of each child through a programme of learning opportunities that promote challenge and personalised learning at all levels'.
WIS promises that "your child will experience an enabling, inclusive environment which will inspire them to achieve and succeed. We encourage creative and critical thinking within the context of meaningful real-life learning experiences. We endeavour to equip our children with the skills, attitudes and attributes required to become respectful, proactive citizens in an international community - respectful of themselves, each other and the world around them".
Students are taught by 214 full-time teachers. Teachers are predominantly British and all have relevant teaching qualifications. Of these teachers, 26% were new to the school in 2018-19, and 22 percent were new in 2017. Dubai international schools' average staff turnover annually is around 20-22%, and most schools aim to minimise the turnover due to the disruption of having to bring on large numbers of new teachers at the start of the academic year. Teachers at WIS are supported by 96 teaching assistants. The student to teacher ratio is currently at approximately 13:1, with classroom sizes between 25 and 27. This has remained fairly constant at the school.
Current Principal, Mrs. Maryssa O'Connor, was recruited from within in 2018 when she took over her current position. She certainly appears to have been a steady pair of hands, ensuring that WIS obtained its Outstanding rating again during its inspection in January 2019. For details, skip to here.
What about the curriculum?
WIS follows the English National Curriculum from Foundation Stage to I/GCSE in Years 10 and 11. In Sixth Form, (Years 12 and 13) students have the options of the full IB Diploma Programme (where students take six subjects and complete, in addition, an Extended Essay, CAS - Community, Action and Service - and Theory of Knowledge), the IB Courses Programme (a bespoke approach to the IB, where students usually select a maximum of 4 subjects subjects of their choice rather than all of the requirements of the Diploma Programme), or the IB Career-related Programme (linked to BTEC qualifications where students study a Level 3 BTEC programme along with two IB subjects). All are acceptable for university entry, although the demands of particular universities and subjects will determine which option is the most appropriate.
This combination is designed to ensure that students have a wide range of academic and practical examination subjects at sixteen, together with a range of options for pre-university, technical education or work entry post school. This is becoming an increasingly popular route for schools that wish to meet the needs and aspirations of all groups of students and do not wish to focus purely on academic outcomes, but to offer alternative vocational pathways. Whilst the IB Diploma Programme is increasing regarded as the "Gold Standard" for post-16 qualifications at top-rated universities globally, the other options, because of the IB Learner Profile and the level of depth and breadth of study required, are also highly regarded.
Students are expected to be "Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk Takers, Balanced, Reflective". These characteristics are designed to encourage innovation and life-long learning.
What about the facilities?
WIS is located just off the Sheikh Zayed Road across from Al Barsha 1 and Mall of the Emirates. The school stands on a large 8 acre site and has extensive outdoor space and sports facilities as well as a substantial building set over four floors. Resources and facilities at WIS are - as you would expect for a “premium” GEMS school – impressive.
Classrooms are fitted with the latest interactive whiteboards and make use of full Internet connectivity. WIS offers a state of the art IT infrastructure including three fixed computer suites each with interactive whiteboards, projectors, industry standard software and full wireless internet connectivity. The schools also has a series of laptop and iPad trolleys that are used to support learning in the classroom. With these resources, students are able to participate in image/video/sound editing, game creation, green screen, POD casting and multimedia presentations.
Other facilities include a complete Knowledge Centre Library, a Dance studio, Drama studio and three Art studios. There is also a Television studio onsite, a first in UAE schools when WIS opened. The Auditorium can host up to 470 people for stage productions, assemblies and presentations. Another unique feature of WIS is the observatory, where students can find out about astronomy (offered as a GCSE) or develop their skills before participating in the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award expeditions into the desert, including star gazing at night.
You can find out more about facilities and our impressions by reading our visit Experience.
A Cafe on the Lower Ground Floor provides a variety of healthy refreshments for all in a multipurpose space that is used as a parent, teacher and student lounge, promoting informal discussion groups.
Sporting facilities at WIS include extensive floodlit astro turf playing fields, health and fitness studio, a large multi-purpose sports hall and a Primary Sports Hall, cricket nets, tennis, basketball, netball and volleyball courts, a 25m indoor swimming pool, outdoor pool, and a play area for Foundation Stage and Year One children. The dance studio, with two fully mirrored walls, also doubles as a gymnasium for floor work.
Recent additions have included a Sixth Form study area and common room.
What about Academic achievement?
GEMS schools used to publicly post their academic achievements (a big tick as far as WSA is concerned) on their Websites. However, GEMS Education as a group no longer does this - a shame and very much a step backwards as far as we are concerned. However, there appears to be a different policy at individual school level and we, at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, are very pleased to see this. WIS is among the small number of GEMS schools that do publish their results in considerable detail.
For GCSE results in 2018, the school did particularly well with 60% of students achieving A* to A grades (compared to 50% in 2017) and 95%, 5 A*-C grades, compared with 93% a year earlier. Students achieving 5 A*-C including English and Maths have improved to 88% compared to 85% in the previous academic year. Clearly, something is going very right from an academic perspective at WIS.
WIS only issues results for the IB Diploma Programme, although it offers two further programmes. The average score that WIS students achieved for the IB Diploma in 2018 was 34 points. 70 students participated in the examinations and a total of 67 (96%) passed. This compared with a slightly lower global average of 29.78 (down from 29.9 in 2017) and a UAE average of 31.41.
In 2019, WIS provided more detailed information, informing us that 93 of the 95 students entered for the Diploma programme succeeded in passing (98%), and again achieved an average point score of 34 - well above the global average. 83% of students achieved 30 points or more (compared with 81% in 2018), 40% achieved 35+ points (compared with 51% last year), and 11% achieved 40+ points, compared with 16% in 2018. In terms of individual students achieving these results, the numbers are very similar, although the cohort grew by well over 30%.
The top scoring student at WIS in 2018 scored 44 points - one away from the perfect score of 45. In 2019, one student achieved 45 points, making him or her one of only a small contingent (approximately 1%) globally to achieve this each year.
Many schools do not like the focus parents give to academic results, because doing so fails to recognise the value add a school provides to individual students - the difference between their likely level of academic achievement on entry, compared with their actual achievement. Clearly a selective school, taking on more academic students, should ultimately post better academic results. GEMS Wellington International School is not selective, but an inclusive, mixed ability school and in common with similar schools such as JESS Arabian Ranches, is confirming that a non-selective approach does not prevent these schools and their students from performing very well indeed - adding significant value to student achievements.
In January 2019, WIS was inspected by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau team for the KHDA for the eleventh time. For the tenth year in a row, the school was rated Outstanding.
Inspectors in their summary noted that "Students' excellent learning skills contribute significantly to their achievement. Children thrive in the Foundation Stage and make rapid progress. Older students achieve extremely well in most subjects, as is evident in their impressive achievement in English, mathematics and science in the National Curriculum assessments, GCSE and the International Baccalaureate".
They also comment that students behave extremely well. They are enthusiastic and work hard. The standard of teaching is singled out as "of high quality and frequently exemplary" in FS, Secondary and Sixth Form. There is more variability in Primary, notably in regard to attainment and progress in mathematics and science - which are, however, still rated Very Good. This is reflected also in the rating for Teaching and Assessment which achieved the same Very Good rating.
However, in a school where almost every other measure is Outstanding, as is so often the case in Dubai's international schools, Arabic both as a first and second language, and Islamic Education fell short with a mix of Good and Acceptable. WIS will no doubt be disappointed with this outcome, and a continued focus will aim to raise the standard by the next inspection round.
As is always the case, strong leadership and governance, together with parental commitment, are at the heart of student success. The Inspectors stated that "Leaders and Governors have a relentless commitment to inclusion and to ensuring that all students do as well as they possibly can. They play a significant role in creating an environment where students and staff are inspired to think creatively within a harmonious, purposeful and challenging environment".
Evidence of this commitment to success for every student is that the provision and outcomes for Students with Special Educational Needs is also rated Outstanding - one of a small number of schools to achieve this rating. Students are supported by a SEND team of teachers and teaching assistants. More information on this may be found in our Q and A with the school. (Note: GEMS has ramped up its SEN provision across its schools in recent years with WIS having been one of the pioneers with its Achievement Centre. Parents should note, however, the individual attention students receive may come at an additional cost).
The KHDA report lauds the strengths of WIS as a school where:
Of course, there are improvements to be made, and they are as expected. WIS should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - please go here.
With this quality of KHDA Inspection report, in combination with its academic results, it is hardly surprising that WIS remains one of the most popular (and certainly in Foundation, Primary and lower Secondary over-subscribed) schools in the city.
A relatively small number of parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey, but those who did expressed themselves satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. The inspection team noted in its summary that "parents are effusive in their praise for the care of their children provided by all staff, including leaders and academic and support staff. They value the way their children are known as individuals and that staff have their best interests at heart".
Interestingly, the parents who completed the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey were less impressed, although the number of respondents was low for a school of WIS' size. Chief complaints seem to be in relation to fees, where over half felt that fees did not represent Good value for money given the quality of the school offering and 66% said they had considered moving their child to another school. However, whilst only 41% were satisfied with the academic performance of the school (compared with a UAE average of 63%), a further 45% were partially satisfied. Whilst 37% of parents said they would recommend the school (compared with a UAE average of 73%), 44% said they would not. Whether these results are from a particularly disaffected group of parents, we cannot say.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at WIS, please share your experience by completing our survey here.
However, we would certainly recommend any parents considering WIS for their child/ren, to visit the school for themselves and determine if it is the right school for them.
Fees at WIS are inevitably at the Premium end: Tuition starts at AED 43,931 for FS1, rising quickly to AED 55,346 from FS2 to Year 6, and AED 76,312 in Year 7 rising to AED 85,870 in Years 10 and 11. Fees for Year 12 and 13 students are AED 95,597 per annum.
There is a non-refundable registration fee of AED 500 is due at the time of application. When an offer of a place in the school is made, an admission fee of AED 10,000 is required to secure the place. This admission fee is non-refundable and adjustable against the first term's fees.
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