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 eleven of the past twelve 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 offers A Levels to Years 12 and 13 students.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received numerous responses from parents to our Survey in terms of their thoughts on Wellington International School. Whilst there are occasional comments about class sizes and fees, and the inevitable concerns about individual teachers, overall, the vast majority of responses have been overwhelmingly positive. The following comment summarises many:
"The teachers are kind, considerate and professional. They go above and beyond with their dedication and knowledge towards all the children. The management are also outstanding and lead their team to strive for the best possible care and attention towards the children in our school community. Excellent job throughout. It’s obvious why they have been outstanding for as long as they have!"
GEMS Wellington International School (WIS) educates children from 3 years (FS1) to 18 years of age (Year 13). The 2,700 plus students come from over 90 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'.
Further 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 210 full-time teachers. Teachers are predominantly British and all have relevant teaching qualifications. Of these teachers, 14% were new to the school in 2020, and 20 percent were new in 2019. 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 90 teaching assistants. The student to teacher ratio is currently at approximately 13:1, with classroom sizes of around 22 students. 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. No new inspection reports for schools rated Outstanding or Very Good have been issued since the 2018-19 academic year - for details, skip to here. However, the school has retained its Outstanding rating this time.
In a clear effort to ensure that WIS remains at the top of its game in terms of the education that it offers, in January 2023, the school announced that it had pursued and achieved the COBIS Patron's Accreditation.
The Council of British International Schools is among the most highly regarded accreditation organisations. WIS believed that the accreditation process would enable it to validate its own self-evaluation and offer an external perspective of the school's strategic direction and priorities.
Following both virtual and physical visits by COBIS representatives, WIS has become one of only 37 schools globally - and the only one in the UAE - to hold the accreditation, the school achieved 20 commendations across the ten framework standards and was awarded the highly coveted Beacon School Status.
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 Academic achievement?
GEMS schools used to publicly post their academic achievements (a big tick as far as WSA is concerned) on their web sites. In 2021, we were delighted to see that GEMS has engaged in providing results for almost all schools. WIS is among the GEMS schools that publish their results in considerable detail.
With IB Diploma results for 2021 again being based on Centre Assessed Grades and the submission of assessments which have been marked by IB examiners, WIS fared similarly to 2020. This year, all 100 students in the Diploma cohort were awarded the Diploma with an average score of 37.7 (which will be rounded to 38). 32% of students achieved 40+ points - the level needed for entry to the world's elite universities.
There is general evidence of grade inflation in the 2021 results - 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 last took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 32.26 in 2019 and 34.41 in 2020 to 35.89 in 2021.
We would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.
I/GCSE results in 2021 were again impressive. A cohort of 156 students were entered for 1,564 examinations. Of these entries, 36% achieved a Grade 9, 52% were awarded A* (Grades 9-8), whilst 70% were awarded A*-A (Grades 9-7) and 92% A*-B (Grades 9-6). 98% of entries were awarded the pass rate of A*-C (Grades 9-4).
For GCSE results in 2020, although the school did not reveal its results based on exam entries, it appears to have done particularly well with 69% of students achieving A* to A grades (compared to 65% in 2019) and 98%, 5 A*-C grades, compared with 92% a year earlier. Students achieving 5 A*-C including English and Maths have improved to 95% compared to 90% in the previous academic year. Clearly, something is going very right from an academic perspective at WIS.
The average score that WIS students achieved for the IB Diploma in 2020 was 38 points. 95 students participated in the examinations and a total of 93 passed. In 2020, five students achieved 45 points, making them 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.
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. The Auditorium can host up to 472 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 3G 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.
In January 2020, WIS was inspected by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau team for the KHDA for the twelfth time. For the eleventh year in a row, the school was rated Outstanding. In line with the KHDA's policy announced in September 2019 for Outstanding and Very Good schools, whereby a one day review process took place, no new inspection report was issued. The following comments are therefore from the 2018-19 report.
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, initially 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. However, in 2021, the school sent the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey out to its parent body, and its results improved markedly. At the time of writing the school posted a score of 4.2 for its overall Parent Rating, or a satisfaction rating of 84%, a broad measure that looks at everything from satisfaction with academic attainment to school communications...
Parents were in particular satisfied with the level of academic performance (62% fully satisfied and a further 25% partially so), with 78% feeling that there was no need for further tuition outside school. 42% believed that the standard of education was better than in their home country. The school was felt to be strong (and competitive) in relation to Sports, Sports inclusiveness, Performing Arts and Presentation skills. Respondents were less satisfied than the UAE average in relation to feedback from WIS and the disciplinary policy and its implementation.
Although this is a school that seems to be winning around its parent body - a 4.2 is a relatively strong result - despite the areas of positive feedback, only 61% of respondents would unreservedly recommend the school to others (whilst a significant 25% would not). 45% of respondents had considered moving their child to another school, (compared with a UAE average of 29%), and whilst 38% of parents fully agreed and a further 27% partially agreed that fees represented value for money, a resounding 35% disagreed.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at WIS, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
There is no question that GEMS Wellington International School is among the most highly regarded UK curriculum schools in the city - both by the regulators, many parents and by observers. It is evident from feedback received by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that there is a very vocal parent community that is especially positive about WIS. On the other hand, there also appear to be a number who are less enamoured with the school. Interestingly, immediately after parents were invited to complete the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey in 2021, the school's rating rose to 4.5. That is has since dropped back within a matter of weeks to 4.2 suggests that some less happy parents clearly wanted their voices to be heard too.
We would always 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.
What about the Fees?
The 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 application fee of AED 525 which is due at the time of application. When an offer of a place in the school is made, an admission fee of 10% of the annual tuition fee is required to secure the place. This admission fee is non-refundable and adjustable against the first term's fees.
GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai 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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