GEMS Winchester School, is an affordable UK curriculum school previously located in Oud Metha, prior to its relocation to Dubailand in September 2020. GEMS Winchester School should not be confused with The Winchester School in Jebel Ali which is highly rated as a Very Good school.
It's a rare thing for a GEMS UK curriculum school to be ranked anything other than Good or Outstanding, but finding its feet to move beyond an Acceptable rating has been something of a challenge for GEMS Winchester School (WSD).
In August 2020, Principal Matt Lecuyer announced that the school would relocate to the premises occupied by the due-for-closure GEMS Heritage School, taking over part of the facilities in September 2020, before making full use of the facility from April 2021.
It is hoped that this change of location - and more particularly - change of facilities will go a long way to addressing one of the concerns raised by the KHDA inspection teams.
Among the recommendations made by the KHDA inspection team in their 2019-20 report was the need to “Improve the school’s resourcing and accommodations further in order to enhance students’ learning outcomes.” Clearly the relocation is designed to achieve this end. Announcing the relocation, Mr. Lecuyer focused on the benefits of the relocation to a campus which offers much larger classrooms, Science labs, Music and Drama facilities as well as extensive outside sports facilities.
Feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com from parents has been mixed. Recent comments have included "Strength: the school curriculum Weakness: nationality of the teachers" and this latter concern was also supported by an additional comment to a similar effect - "The strengths are the size of the school and the curriculum and the weaknesses are some teachers". There is recognition among some parents that at the fee level of WSD, finding suitable teachers is likely to be a challenge.
More positive feedback from a new parent includes: "School provides discipline for kids and strong discipline for vehicles movement including school transportation. Kg level students are really involved with learning activities provided and my child's English speaking ability and vocabulary well improved in just 2 months of Sept and October. School involves kids in different celebration event activities which makes my kid feel happy and not always inside of normal routine."
Student feedback is rather more positive, but raises some very interesting perspectives on how the change of location is likely to affect the school going forward - a wise head on young shoulders apparently.
"Its strength is the relationship between the teachers and students. Teachers are very helpful and comforting.... They do there best to help us not only in our school work but also in our mental health.... They are like friends when [they] need to be... I personally have great relationships with all my teachers. A weakness could be that before in our old campus we were very limited to the activities we could do, the school's students had potential but there was just not enough space. Now that we have moved to our new campus I would say that the location is a particular big weakness, due to not having any public transportation and being in a very far place. The accessibility was one of the main reasons many parents chose our school (in the old campus), but now the location can be one of WSD's main weaknesses."
If the concerns raised by both parents and students are indicative of the views of the many, it would seem that the change of location and resources alone will not resolve the issues that had been previously raised by the KHDA in this context.
The original reasons for an Acceptable rating were almost certainly largely be due to the school's rapid expansion: GEMS Winchester School opened in 2011 with around 500 students. By 2014, that figure had jumped to a rather incredible 3,605 with 210 teachers and a teacher:student ratio of 1:17.
Since 2014, both the number of students - now around 4,000 - and teachers - 220 with 34 teaching assistants - have continued to grow. In common with more moderately priced schools, the senior management at GEMS Winchester Dubai is a mixture of British trained and experienced staff leading in the key positions, supported by predominantly Indian staff. The largest student nationality group is Indian, although the school does also have a small cohort of Emirati students - 54 in total. There are also around 70 students of Determination within the school - a relatively low number for a school of this size.
Staff at the school seem relatively happy - a staff turnover of 14% is well below the UAE average of 20-22%, though on the high side for a school that largely employs Indian teachers. With a teacher:student ratio of 1:18 - another increase - and not a particularly helpful one, the one positive that can be drawn from the situation at GEMS Winchester School is that it is still evidently popular with parents and students, largely, we suspect for practical reasons of location and cost. However, with the change of location, it remains to be seen whether this aspect of the school will retain its appeal.
The KHDA inspection rating is one of the things that has been resistant to change. Unfortunately, the school was rated Acceptable in its last inspection - the absolute minimum requirement of the regulator - for the eighth year in a row.
This should be something of a concern to GEMS Winchester School Dubai. Not only are there other affordable schools within the GEMS group that are performing better according to the Regulator (GEMS Founders Al Barsha being a case in point), but 2019's proactive attempt by the KHDA to encourage parents with children studying in Weak and Acceptable to schools to seek alternatives, means that the pressure is mounting.
GEMS Winchester School's vision is "to ensure that we travel on a special journey towards becoming an outstanding school in all aspects with the GEMS core values being central to what we do." Thus far, it has been something of a slow journey. The school's mission is "We strive to develop in students the quest for knowledge, proficiency in written and oral communication skills and the capability to think independently. We nurture in students an open mind capable of analytical thinking, commitment and hard work and guide them to become confident, self-assured and caring citizens of tomorrow. We encourage all students to realise their true potential."
The school follows the National Curriculum for England and Wales but in an international context, where the UAE Ministry of Education syllabus is incorporated into the curriculum structure.
In addition to the development of specific skills and competencies, the curriculum emphasises enquiry, creativity, analytical evaluation and other skills needed to meet the challenges of the future.
The school states that it offers a "value-based British education and is one of the few reasonably priced private schools in Dubai to offer world-class standards of education."
Students in the Foundation Stage of school develop their motor skills, foundation-level numeracy and literacy skills, and self-esteem through play-based learning activities in a safe and exciting environment. Students are introduced to English, Mathematics and Science through activities that include the teaching of: Shapes, Colours, Letters, Numbers and Seasons.
Key Stage 1 students (Year 1) continue to discover their skills and competencies, and at this stage, they are introduced to subjects that will lay the foundation for learning as they go into higher year levels. Core Subjects include English, Mathematics, Science and other subjects such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Humanities (History and Geography), UAE Social Studies, Arabic (for Arabic speakers), Arabic (for non-Arabic speakers), and Islamic Studies (for Muslim students) or Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCEE) (for non-Muslim students), Music, and Physical Education (PE).
Students in Key Stage 2 (Year 2 to Year 6) start to rationalise and think independently. The curriculum sets challenging targets and its implementation encourages each student to pursue individual targets and goals. Core Subjects remain as an extension of Key Stage 1 with the addition of French from Year 4 to Year 6.
By Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9 and the start of Secondary School), students are ready for creative and accelerated learning. They become aware of the need to set daily goals and have long-term objectives. Students continue to study the core subjects from the Primary school.
At Key Stage 4, (Years 10 and 11) students choose their subjects based on their future university requirements for their career path. Core Subjects include English, Islamic Education /PSHCEE, Mathematics, Physical Education (P.E), Moral Education (Year 10) and a range of other subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Double Science, Geography, Economics, Business Studies, Accounting, Art, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Computer Science, Travel & Tourism, Developmental Studies, English Literature, French, Additional English, Media Studies, Sociology, Performing Arts, Global Perspectives, Arabic (for Arabic speakers), Arabic (for non-Arabic speakers) and Physical Education (P.E). It has to be said the WSD offers one of the widest ranges of IGCSE options in a moderately priced school that we have seen.
After regulatory delays that prevented the school from opening Year 9 in the envisaged year, and further delays in approval to open Sixth Form, GEMS Winchester School Dubai had its first cohort of IGCSE students to be able to move on to Sixth Form (Year 12) which opened in September 2019. Details of course options are not provided on the school's website.
WSD offers a reasonably wide range of inexpensive or fee-free after school activities as part of its co-curricular programme. These include Charity events, Subject-based weeks, Visiting speakers, Plays, Pageants, Debating competitions, Spelling bees, Elocution competitions, Poetry and story recitation competitions, World Maths Day, Assemblies, Book sales, Field trips, Overseas trips and Sports Activities.
The school says that it supports all-round student development, with both individual and team-based sports activities which teach students how to work to reach a common goal, dedication, how to lead and camaraderie. Co-curricular and extra-curricular sports activities include Sports days, Athletics, Basketball, Football, Volleyball, Throw ball, and Cricket.
In common with all but the most academically successful GEMS schools, WSD has historically not published its examination results - something that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com feel all schools should do. Whilst not the be-all and end-all of education, public examinations are still an important factor in choice of a school, and we believe parents and prospective students are entitled to know how successful the school is in this context.
It seems, though, with the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, and particularly for 2021, when students again were unable to take their A Level and I/GCSE exams for the second year, that GEMS decided to share its successes for and of its students as widely as possible - something we applaud and also hope will become the norm going forward.
The school's first cohort of A Level students consisted of 17 students who were entered for a total of 49 examinations. A small number of entries (2% - one exam subject) were awarded the top A* grade, whilst 14.3% of entries achieved an A*-A grade and 38.8% of entries were awarded A*-B. The school did not detail A*-C or A*-E passes.
At IGCSE for which there is greater experience and a much larger student cohort, 174 students were entered for 1,289 examinations. Of these, 12.6% were awarded an A* grade, 31% were awarded A*-A, 67.1% A*-B and 85.3% A*-C. The overall pass rate was 85.3%.
With no previously published results available, it is difficult to comment on the strength of these results, but A Level results for schools across the UAE can be found here, whilst those for IGCSE results can be found here.
The original site of GEMS Winchester School Dubai was in the buildings and facilities of a older, long-established Indian curriculum GEMS school when it opened in Oud Metha. The facilities of the new campus at Dubailand are a world away from those of the original campus - but are also located some distance away from Oud Metha.
The intention was that the new school campus would be constructed and would open in three phases. At the present time, there are some 128 completed classrooms, three science labs, three ICT labs, two music rooms and a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) lab. The school also has a Renaissance Centre which is a room with a huge curving corridor with outside seating for small groups of students to work on robotics, nanotechnology and coding.
There are four outdoor courtyards with different themes, an indoor gym, an outdoor sensory garden and a massive play area. There are range of impressive sporting facilities, including a cricket pitch, 20 cricket nets, indoor and outdoor, four tennis courts, a massive multipurpose sports hall and two outdoor football fields.
The second phase will see the main reception and construction of some additional classes and more labs.
The GEMS Winchester School Dubai is overwhelmingly rated Acceptable across the main inter-related key performance standards of Student Achievement, Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum. Improvements have been made in progress in Islamic Education in the Secondary section, and progress in FS and Secondary English progress - all now rated Good. However, Arabic attainment as both a first and second language is rated Weak in the Secondary school.
Teaching for effective learning and assessment remain Acceptable across the school, as does Curriculum design and implementation in the Foundation Stage, and curriculum adaptation in the Primary and Secondary sections, though this measure has improved to Good in the Foundation Stage. These weaknesses are at the heart of the lack of overall rating improvement at WSD.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are almost entirely rated Good, and the Understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures is rated Very Good in the Primary section. The only other ratings to achieve this level are those for Health and Safety. Even Care and Support in the Primary and Secondary sections has been downgraded to Acceptable from Good previously.
Unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of leadership, governance and the Management, staffing, facilities and resources of the school are rated Acceptable, although Parents and the Community and School self-evaluation and improvement planning are rated Good. However, it seems that the despite the leadership of the school being more than aware of current standards and the improvements required, achievement of these improvements is proving to be a long, slow and painful process.
The KHDA inspection team defined the strengths of GEMS Winchester School Dubai as;
In terms of areas for improvement, the inspection team recommended that WSD should:
The issue of quality of teaching and support for teachers has been an on-going challenge at the school from its earliest days. The 2012-13 KHDA report included a recommendation to "improve teachers’ spoken and written English so they can communicate effectively with their students". For a UK curriculum school, that's an unusual comment to say the least. This recommendation is not made in more recent reports; however almost as worrying is the comment that some teachers "have a poor concept of educational concepts".
In the 2015-2016 report, the KHDA notes that the school needs to drive the agenda for overall school improvement and for governors and leaders to review staff recruitment, remuneration and retention issues by governors and leaders.
That there are still weaknesses in teachers' pedagogical skills and confidence - described as 'inconsistent' - and that assessment processes are not applied consistently are evidence that improvement in these fundamental areas have still not been addressed. According to the inspectors, "The provision of focused professional development for for staff continues to be a challenge that the school faces."
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
The 30+ parents who have responded to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey are largely positive about their children's enjoyment of school and sense of belonging. Overall, they rated GEMS Winchester School 3.1/5 - or a positivity rating of 62%.
Those parents who responded to our survey seemed for the most part to be somewhat satisfied with the provision of the school, but in many instances, although not wholly negative, there is a sense of a lack of really positive opinions also and of parents being in two minds.
Almost all parents were satisfied either fully or in part with the quality of education being provided, although one in four parents believed it necessary to arrange additional tuition for their child and had considered moving their child to a different school at some point. Most were at least partially satisfied with communication and the school's disciplinary policy. Despite their reservations, two thirds of respondents would definitely recommend the school to other parents, though almost one in five would not.
Parents were equally split on whether they thought that the fees represented value for money, with 46% saying the agreed, a further 46% saying they partially agreed and an emphatic 6% disagreed with our statement.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS Winchester School Dubai, and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey here.
Some 580 parents responded to the KHDA pre-inspection report and 93% of them professed themselves satisfied with the quality of education their children receive. They feel staff listen and take account of their views, and appreciate the staff's genuine care for their children.
On the face of it, GEMS Winchester School Dubai could reasonably be considered at the forefront of access to a UK curriculum school at an affordable price in Dubai. However, marrying the key elements of quality teaching, assessment and curriculum at an affordable price is something that WSD has not entirely achieved.
In fact, it faces much the same challenges and improvement requirements now that it did five years ago. It is difficult to see how the school can take a large step towards improvement - which it clearly needs - when most progress appears to be incremental at best. It may well be that for this reason, the KHDA has approved significant fee increases at the school from September 2021 - working out at around a 50% increase compared with the original. At that level, WSD is going to have to start delivering the quality of education it promised.
Fees for GEMS Winchester School Dubai had been very much at the low end for a GEMS Education school, ranging from AED 11,494 in FS2 to AED 24,845 per annum in Year 13 for tuition.
With the change of location and facilities, new entrants to the school will find themselves paying significantly higher amounts, with 2021-22 fees ranging from AED 18,300 to AED 34,500.
GEMS Winchester 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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