Just past its first decade, GEMS Wellington Primary School (WPS) is a well liked and established primary school based in the Satwa area, taking pupils from 3 to 11 years of age (FS1 to Year 6). The school is rated Very Good by the Dubai regulator, the KHDA, and Outstanding across all measures in its British Schools Overseas report.
The Story so Far
GEMS Wellington Primary School opened in 2007 and follows the National Curriculum of England and Wales. Although officially located on the edge of Satwa, the school lies directly behind the tower blocks of Sheikh Zayed Road, across from the quickly growing development of City Walk, and a stone's throw from Jumeirah. For families living in these and nearby areas, there is no doubt that the school is in a convenient location, and the only UK curriculum school in this area.
The school's vision is "At Gems Wellington Primary School we will provide a safe learning community with high expectations for all our learners in every aspect of their school life. We are a reflective and evaluative school which will prepare learners for an ever evolving world. Our genuine commitment to our core values, and partnership with parents, will provide a world-class, active learning environment, inspiring learners to develop intellectually, academically, socially, emotionally and physically."
Although offering education from FS1 to Year 6 only, this is a large school, with around 1,100 students coming from 70 nationalities. No one country of origin dominates, but the largest single demographic is Indian.
The school says:
"In many ways, GEMS Wellington Primary School reflects the country we live in. We are fully committed to the UAE National Agenda and our inclusive, enriching and welcoming community school is privileged to educate Emirati students and students from all over the world. The Wellington Primary School ethos, culture and passion for learning is infectious."
The student body is currently looked after by 69 teachers - the majority of whom are British, and by a further 46 teaching assistants and 11 learning support assistants. All teachers have appropriate teaching qualifications, giving the school a teacher to student ratio of 1:12. This is around the average for a school of this category and price-point. Teacher turnover, at 20-25%, is just over the average for Dubai, although the school would no doubt wish to see this at a lower level. Approximately 5% of students are Emirati and just under 10% are Students of Determination with SEND requirements.
There is no doubt that the focus of the Senior Management team at WPS is on achieving the KHDA's Outstanding rating - WPS is currently rated Very Good, one step away from the top rating. This is reflected in a number of new initiatives which are designed to be transformative, rather than transitional and to show commitment to the school and Primary Education, and to the children and families associated with WPS. WPS describes its ethos as a 'we care for each other' approach to all aspects of our excellent school provision'. There is a strong sense of a community, where everyone knows and is considerate of each other.
Catherine McKeever, Principal of WPS, who had been with GEMS Education for six years and at WPS for two, announced her decision to retire in mid-2020. She is replaced by Sarah O'Regan, who joined GEMS Education in 2011 as Assistant Principal of GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis (WSO), before taking up the role of Primary Principal of the same school in 2015.
At WSO, Sarah led the primary school through nine KHDA inspections and two BSO inspections that resulted in an Outstanding rating. She oversaw the school’s Executive Leadership Team, ensuring progress was made towards agreed strategic priorities. Ms. O'Regan designed and implemented an integrated enrichment programme to enhance opportunities for competence development, while at the same time driving the Academy’s digital vision and culture of innovation. Prior to joining GEMS, Sarah served as Senior Leader at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Essex, UK, where she led the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One as well as acting as SEN and EAL lead.
Ms. O'Regan is supported in her leadership role by a Senior team responsible for the day to day operations, most of whom have been at WPS for over 5 years. This is a significant sign of commitment and stability in an international school environment, where staff turnover generally exceeds 20% annually.
What about the curriculum?
WPS follows the Early Years Foundation Stage in FS1 and FS2, and the English National Curriculum from Years 1 to 6. Foundation stage children are now accommodated within the main school building, and as part of the changes to the organisation of the school since the arrival of Principal, Ms. McKeever, there are no longer Foundation Stage assessments for the youngest joiners. Instead, potential 3 and 4 year old joiners take part in Stay and Play sessions with activities such as Teddy Bear Picnics where staff are able to informally observe the children interacting with each other. The goal is to "make children want to be part of the community".
The school has been expanded and additional facilities added since its opening which allow a greater focus on ICT and Innovation. There is a strong focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics)in order to embed innovation within the curriculum and to build cross-curricular links to ensure the development of 21st Century learning skills. Unusually for a Primary School, WPS has fully fitted out Science and Innovation laboratories so that students obtain practical experience from Science experiments to Robotics.
In addition, the school is in the process of embedding performing arts within the curriculum - increasingly seen as a means to enable students to develop their imaginations, presentation and teamwork skills, and confidence. WPS students are working with ArtsEd on a performance of Shrek currently.
The school links specific social initiatives to the Moral Education and Social Studies curriculum such as 'Jewels of Kindness and Respect' where students are recognised for showing Kindness, Empathy, Compassion and Respect to other members of the school community.
Reading is also a particular area of focus within WPS. The school has especially sourced books that are set within the local (Middle East) context, so that students are reading stories to which they can directly relate. The aim to is to ensure that children are Learning to Read, before they begin to focus on Reading to Learn. To this end, the school library has recently been transformed with the addition of 2,500 new books in the current academic year, bringing the total to 13,000.
Historically, an ongoing concern for parents was the lack of, or direct access to, a Secondary school. This has now been addressed by GEMS and has made a significant difference to both parents and students, who no longer have to worry about where their future for Year 7 and belong lies.
Students now have access to a range of other GEMS UK curriculum schools for their transition to Secondary without the requirement for assessment, with GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis and GEMS Wellington International School all providing places. Jumeirah College (JC), which is geographically the closest already guarantees places to students from Jumeirah Primary School and is not a guaranteed option.
Arrangements are in place for a range of transition activities and days, allowing parents to feel secure that their children will be confident in their move to Secondary School. Teachers also play an active role in guiding parents and students in terms of which school is likely to be the best fit.
School trips - described by parents as value for money - are trips with a purpose. This is particularly true of those that take place within Dubai, which involve not only the more traditional museum visits, but also activities to support charity and people less fortunate, recycling activities and outdoor activity camps. There is also an international ski trip to Switzerland for Year 4-6 students.
In addition to the academic programme, WPS also offers a wide range of extracurricular activities. Children from Years 1 – 6 (6 – 11 years old) can take part in up to two teacher- led school activities per week and as many paid for ones as they wish, with activities run after 2:30 pm. There are 80 free, teacher-led ECAs, and other external, paid-for activities. Options include Music, Choir, Literacy Story Time, Cricket, Board Games, Arabic Writing, Swimming, Football, Basketball, ICT, Aerobics, Dancing, Tennis Arts & Craft, Drama, Project Work, Tajweed "and many more".
Students and parents have particularly welcomed the addition of a number of development squads for activities such as Football, Netball, Cricket, Cross Country and Swimming. This means that students, who do not necessarily make the first team at the start of the academic year, have the opportunity to progress sufficiently to "move up", rather than being consigned to the second squad for the rest of the year. Parents and staff are also encouraged to participate in joint activities such as football and circuits.
What about support for students with additional learning needs?
As a group, GEMS has always had a strong commitment to support for Students of Determination, English Language Learners and Gifted and Talented students. WPS is very much a school that has been on board in this context since its opening.
In addition to the SEN team, the school also has access to staff who support children with Speech and Language and Occupational Therapy requirements. The SEN team is also involved in outreach activities to other schools and centres and is developing these links to meet the needs of students at WPS, but also to offer assistance to students at other facilities. All SEN provision is included in the school fees apart from a learning support assistant; there are currently 13 LSAs in the school.
The school provides extra language provision for students whose first language is not English, and there is a fee of AED 150 per lesson.
The recent addition of a Guidance Counsellor to support students' emotional needs and well-being has been welcomed by parents, students and staff.
What about the Facilities?
Previously a private girls' school, GEMS has extensively renovated and expanded WPS, adding class rooms, specialist teaching rooms and labs, an additional teaching wing on one side, a large extension to the rear which houses Years 5 and 6 above a double storey atrium used for performances, and enlarged outdoor play and sports areas. Internally, the school has been "opened up", with a Parent Cafe and a vast extension to what was originally the basement, but now includes a Dance Studio, Music room, Music Practice rooms and the library. There is also a STEM Room and Discovery lab.
Indeed, facilities at the school are very good - of the standard that GEMS has for its premium range of schools. Spacious classrooms are light and well resourced including ICT resources, which are readily available and well integrated within each classroom. In addition to ICT resources dispersed throughout the school, two ICT suites, featuring workstations for students, multi-media projectors and smart boards, as well as 60 iPads, a Green Screen and Mac Books are also provided.
The library features reading corners, study areas, spaces for groups of students and PC workstations, which are readily available for children to access information on-line or from CDs and DVDs. Four music rooms house instruments, including percussion, orchestral instruments, keyboards and a variety of others. Two Art rooms are the centre of all creative enterprise in the school. The main Art room is a large well-equipped work area where students work with clay, thermo cole, and other materials. Science labs are also available for students' use.
Outdoor and sports facilities include the original very large multi-purpose hall, two Swimming Pools (heated), and Astro Turf playing areas. The KHDA inspection teams have found both the facilities and the school environment to be in excellent condition, well-maintained, safe and clean.
What the Inspectors Say
The 2018-19 KHDA Report places GEMS Wellington Primary at Very Good, the fourth year in a row that the school has received this distinction after 8 years at Good. The inspection took place in November 2018, under the leadership of the school's then new Principal.
Inspectors identified the strengths of GEMS Wellington Primary School as:
Inspectors noted that "students' attainment is at least good in almost all subjects". This belies that fact that attainment in English, Mathematics and Science is rated Very Good almost across the board. The exception is for attainment in English in the Foundation Stage, where "attainment in phonics, reading and writing in FS is not as well-developed."
Primary Science attainment was also upgraded to Very Good. For the core Arabic subjects, attainment is now Good across five of the six performance measures, with only Arabic as a first language attainment found to be Acceptable. The rating for students' learning skills in the Foundation Stage is Outstanding, whilst it remains Very Good in Primary.
In terms of Students personal and social development and their innovation skills, the Inspection team found that "behaviour is exemplary and attendance rates are high. In the primary phase, students' understanding of the culture and heritage of the UAE is outstanding. This is not as well developed in the FS. Students' understanding of environmental issues is a strength of the school." Personal Development was found to be Outstanding across the school.
Teaching and Assessment - at the core of any school - were found to be Very Good, both in terms of their effectiveness and assessment processes. However, whilst Science teachers were found to be effective facilitators of learning, and this strength of teaching was also evident in other subjects, overall there was some inconsistency.
In addition, the other key area of Curriculum design and implementation, and its adaptation to support individual students, was found to be "imaginative and has now developed so that it now motivates students in all subjects. This is an improvement in Arabic as both for first and additional language speakers, as previously students did not always find lessons interesting." Perhaps unsurprisingly, the curriculum was rated Outstanding across the school, whilst its adaptation was rated Very Good.
The protection, care, guidance and support for students were also rated highly by the inspectors. Each measure was found to be Outstanding. In particular, comments from the Inspection team noted that "health and safety procedures are designed and implemented to ensure that students are safe at all times. Barriers to effective learning for students of determination are swiftly identified and support planned. Students in Year 6 are well guided towards their next stage of education".
The inspection ratings for Leadership and management remained unchanged at Very Good in terms of the effectiveness of the Senior team, their evaluation of the school's strengths and weaknesses and improvement planning, and Governance. The relationships between the school, parents and the local community, together with the management, staffing, facilities and resources of the school, were both rated Outstanding.
With a change of Principal, the inspectors noted that "Inclusion is at the centre of the school's vision. The newly structured leadership team has had a strong impact on raising attainment in several subject areas. Self-evaluation processes are firmly in place but have not been wholly successful in ensuring consistently outstanding teaching".
In order to make that step up, the KHDA has highlighted the main areas for improvement. GEMS Wellington Primary School needs to:
The Inspection team has given very clear direction in terms of the actions required in order to raise standards to the next level. Realistically, the improvement in teaching will be the one to have the maximum impact on all students across all subjects and will inevitably be the main focus for the management team at GEMS Wellington Primary School. In Outstanding schools, it is the core performance standards of Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum that invariably have the most impact of Student Achievement.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise that you do so - you will find it here.
What do parents say?
The school itself is extremely proud of its relationship with parents - and notes its Outstanding rating in this regard in its KHDA report. In the KHDA's own pre-inspection survey of parents, of the 301 responses, 97% said that they were satisfied with the quality of education at the school. Parents who responded to the survey had very positive views. Almost all are satisfied with the quality of education and believe that teachers provide their children with skills needed to be successful learners. Most parents are happy with methods of communication and confirm that their views are listened to and acted upon.
In the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com School Survey, GEMS Wellington Primary comes highly recommended by parents. There is almost uniform satisfaction over academic attainment, but slightly lower satisfaction with the level of feedback to parents and with school discipline. 100% of respondents would recommend the school to other parents, despite the fact that over 20% do not feel that the fees represent value for money.
In our meetings with parents in November 2019, whose children ranged from Years 2, 4, 5 and 6, they commented particularly on the 'very comfortable and warm environment' that they found at the school. There is an active Parents' Association and they found the WPS staff welcoming and approachable. Parents very much appreciated the Open Door policy, strong communications and the clear improvements in quality of staffing and facilities that they have noted since Ms. McKeever's arrival.
In common with all our visits to schools, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com requested WPS to invite parents and teachers to complete our School Survey prior to our visit. Unfortunately it was not possible for the school to arrange this.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Wellington Primary School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our School Survey.
What about Fees?
Fees at GEMS Wellington Primary are at the higher end of the spectrum, beginning at AED 43,388 for Foundation Stage 1, rising immediately to AED 54,691 from FS2 to Year 6.
There is an application fee of AED 500, a registration fee of 10% of the annual fees on offer of a place, and a re-registration fee for existing students of 10% to guarantee a place for the following academic year.
Fees are paid termly.
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