GEMS Westminster School (WSS) is an all-through British curriculum school offering IGCSEs, AS-Levels, and A-Levels. Owned and managed by the country's largest education provider, GEMS Education, WSS was established with the expectation that it would emulate its sister school of the same name in Dubai.
Located in the Muweilah School District, GEMS Westminster School Sharjah (WSS) opened its gates on October 2nd 2012. Principal Valerie Thompson (formerly head of GEMS' Al Khaleej National School) has been with the school since its opening, a clear sign of her enthusiasm and on-going commitment.
WSS was set up to emulate the very successful Dubai school of the same name, and to create an environment where children could work hard, achieve, and make friends. The school’s clearly-stated vision is:
Excellence Through Team Work Success for All.
Staffing at the school appears to be a mix of strongly experienced UK leaders and predominantly Indian teachers, together with a range of other nationalities. This is reflective of the student nationality mix, where no one nationality dominates among the 70 countries represented; this enables the school to offer a British curriculum at a relatively affordable fee level.
With a staff–student ratio of 1:16, students are fortunate that there is likely to be considerably more individual attention than might normally be the case in a moderately priced school.
The school says that benefits for students attending the school include: the internationally recognised National Curriculum for England; child-centred programmes; value-based education; an extensive extra-curricular programme, to develop personality and character; dedicated staff; and a friendly, happy atmosphere.
Digital Literacy is a core part of the curriculum, giving students ‘the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate, and create information using a range of digital technologies’. Students have wide-spread access to ICT from KG to Grade 12.
WSS follows the internationally recognised National Curriculum for England, and prepares students to take IGCSEs, AS-Levels, and A-Level exams. The school is a full Pre-KG to Grade 12 school (based on the Sharjah K to 12 system), so the equivalent of FS1 to Year 13.
The school expects that by the time students leave, they will have several years’ experience of academic, sporting, dramatic, artistic, musical, and personal growth to look back on. WSS offers a wide array of options for students to expand their knowledge, with the core curriculum being enhanced by broad offerings in technology, sports, and in the visual and performing arts.
WSS has a unique “dual pathway” for all its IGCSE candidates. Students are given an option to work towards their IGCSE examinations in either the usual two years or an extended three years, based on their performance, aptitude, and career choices. All students commence the programme in Grade 9, but students who study their IGCSE courses over three years would complete the course in Grade 11, and then continue to do their AS subjects in Grade 12.
WSS strongly believes that this flexibility gives students the necessary time to develop their academic abilities to meet the requirements of the exams, and allows all students to perform well – irrespective of their starting points.
WSS offers a relatively broad range of IGCSE subjects, including: English; Mathematics; Physics; Chemistry; Biology; Accounting; Economics; Business Studies; Combined Sciences; Information Technology; Geography; Art & Design; Arabic (both as a Native Language or as a Second Language); Travel & Tourism; and Food & Nutrition.
For the AS/A-Levels, in common with many lower-priced schools educating a largely Asian population, the options are considerably more limited. These include English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Business Studies, Accounting, and Information & Communication Technology. In line with the aspirations of many students and their families, there is a strong focus on Science and Commerce streams (as is found in most Indian curriculum schools).
WSS has a specialist SEN (Special Educational Needs) department, which is run by the SEN Coordinator. This department offers specialist guidance counsellors, as well as a team of Learning Support Assistants who work with individual students.
A specialist programme, called The Bloomers Club, is provided for Gifted and Talented students; students work as an observation team, observing learning in lessons and working to improve it. There are also Gifted and Talented representatives for each section of the school, who work with the GEMS Gifted and Talented Network to continue to improve the selection and support of Gifted and Talented students.
WSS is one of the rare schools in Sharjah that publishes its exam results, so that those outside of the school can get an idea of its academic achievement (although the most recent results available are from 2019).
The school’s website currently offers the IGCSE results from three sets of exams (2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19), and scores appear to be on the rise. The 2016-17 exams saw around 25% of students achieve A* to A overall, which then rose to 35% in the 2017-18 exams, and rose again above 40% in 2018-19.
A* to B achievements began at 50% in 2016-17, and rose slightly to 55% in the following year. However, there was a significant jump in 2018-19, where almost 70% of students achieved A* to B overall.
And the majority of students always look to have achieved the usual A* to C, accounting for 70% in 2016-17, 75% in 2017-18, and almost 90% in 2018-19.
The 2019 A-Level results are also available, and show generally strong performances: over 70% of students achieved A* to C, over 40% achieved A* to B, and 20% achieved top marks in the A* to A range.
Finally, WSS provides recent results for both the TIMSS and PISA assessments. TIMSS is an international assessment based on the Mathematics and Science curricula of schools around the world, while PISA evaluations are done every three years to evaluate proficiency in Reading, Mathematics, and Science in students aged 15 years old. These results show that WSS students are outperforming the Sharjah schools’ averages by almost double in every area.
In 2020, WSS had 54 students who graduated and received admissions into universities in UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and UAE. The school offers a Career Guidance Cell which organises regular workshops for university applications and guides students in the documentation process. WSS has also previously invited over 40 universities to the campus for a Careers Fair.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis; while there were a few instances of inspections being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, schools did not generally publish the outcomes. With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the intention is that schools will be inspected using the common framework already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However, SPEA has decided to seek a collaborative approach with the schools for this process, and although we understand that initial inspections did take place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, results of these inspections have not been published.
As a result of the pandemic, Sharjah schools have participated in Distance Learning Evaluations, implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), WSS’s implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Inspectors praised the very well-developed promotion of attendance and participation; this resulted in high student numbers in most lessons, ensuring that students had equal access to all distance learning material, maintained their learning momentum, and experienced a wide variety of learning methods.
The report also noted that safeguarding and wellbeing were a high priority for the school, and that “the wellbeing team provides very effective support for both students and teachers”.
Inspectors further concluded that:
“The curriculum is carefully planned and delivered with teachers sharing intended learning outcomes clearly with both parents and students. Teachers use a variety of traditional and online assessment practices, well, and give appropriate relevant feedback to students in both the traditional way and using online methods. Lessons are very engaging with skilled use of MS Teams, Padlet and Nearpod in particular.”
Regarding the school’s short and long-term planning, inspectors reported that it was clear, reviewed regularly, and able to adjust to changing circumstances. Inspectors reserved special praise for the school’s leadership team, remarking that it strongly supported staff development, communicated clearly with stakeholders, and managed resources well to ensure core curriculum content was being delivered effectively.
While WSS was rated Developed in every area of the evaluation, they did offer some simple steps for further improvement. Inspectors suggested that the school ensure a balance between screen time, other learning activities, and breaks for students across all phases, as well as provide focused, regular updates to all parents about their children’s learning.
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings – you will find it here.
Facilities at the school are good, but somewhat average for a GEMS school – although perhaps better than fair at the price point. They include: an indoor four court sports hall; outdoor football pitch; cricket nets; four outdoor multi-games courts (two at ground level and two on the roof); an outdoor basketball court; a multi-purpose sports hall; music, art, science, and various other laboratory facilities; ICT and electronics labs; a library; indoor and outdoor play areas; and specialist classrooms for primary and secondary schools.
Feedback for WSS seems to be largely positive.
The majority of reviewers stated that their children felt a sense of belonging at WSS, and that their children enjoyed going to school. Reviewers were similarly satisfied with the feedback they received from the school, and felt that WSS had improved their child’s confidence. Reviews particularly singled out the school’s ability to help students develop presentation skills for public performance and speaking in all situations.
Feedback was also positive in regards to fees: very few reviewers (only 6%) felt that the fees they were paying did not represent good value for money.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com did see more mixed reviews when it came to the academic performance of the school, but the results suggest that these responses may be reflective of individual parent opinions, rather than an impartial reflection of the school’s ability. For example, while 31% of reviewers were unsatisfied with the level of academic performance at WSS, 44% were satisfied; similarly, 40% of parents felt that they needed to give their child additional tutoring to supplement school learning, while 60% felt they did not. And while 31% of responders were not confident in the school’s ability to meet their child’s specific learning needs, 50% were. The repetition we see of this fairly even split between satisfied and unsatisfied perhaps suggests that this is a matter of parent expectations, rather than the school’s academic offerings.
Ultimately, 63% of responders would recommend WSS to another parent, and only 25% would not; it is up to individual readers as to whether they believe this split is satisfactory.
It is also important to remember that it can be difficult to accurately judge a school from only a small sample of survey responses – the popular opinion of parents may vary from what has been recorded here.
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at WSS, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our survey.
WSS’s school fees are at the highly affordable level for a GEMS school, starting at AED 12,600 from Pre-KG and moving up to AED 24,200 for Grade 12. School fees are paid in three instalments, and are due by latest on the first day of each term.
There is a new admissions fee of AED 500, which is non-refundable but deductible against the Term 1 fees. The school website also offers a number of ways to save on annual tuition fees.
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