GEMS Winchester School, is an affordable UK curriculum school located in Oud Metha, Dubai which took over the premises previously occupied by a GEMS Indian curriculum school. GEMS Winchester School should not be confused with The Winchester School in Jebel Ali which is highly rated as a Very Good school.
The story so far...
It's a rare thing for a GEMS UK curriculum school to be ranked anything other than Good or Outstanding, but that dubious distinction goes to GEMS Winchester School (WSD), an FS2 to Year 12 school located in Oud Metha, Dubai.
The original reasons for an Acceptable rating was almost certainly largely be due to its 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 3,869 in 2018-19 - 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.
The KHDA inspection rating is one of the things resistant to change. Unfortunately, the school was rated Acceptable in its last inspection - the absolute minimum requirement of the regulator - for the seventh 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 last year'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."
What about the curriculum?
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.
However, in common with all but the most academically successful GEMS schools, WSD does not publish 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.
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.
What about the facilities?
The GEMS Winchester School Dubai took over the buildings and facilities of an Indian curriculum GEMS school when it opened. It is in a busy commercial area of the city, and inevitably does not have the external space or facilities of an out of town school. However, the building has been modernised to some extent and offers the following facilities: Classrooms equipped with modern facilities and connected with high-speed internet, a Multi-purpose hall, an Auditorium, Arts and Crafts rooms, a Music room, a Library (with an extensive collection of literature for all ages), a Primary and Secondary Medical centre, a Canteen (serving nutritious foods and drinks), and the School store (selling textbooks, workbooks and stationery). However, the KHDA notes that there are "accommodation issues that are currently limiting students' learning experiences." The school is overcrowded according to the inspection team.
Outside recreation and sports facilities include covered turf and multipurpose courts, Sports fields, covered outdoor recreation areas, an Air-conditioned play-area (for Foundation Stage students) and Soft board outdoor play areas.
What the inspectors say
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 issue 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 - you will find it 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.
Parents who responded to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey were largely positive about their children's enjoyment of school and sense of belonging. Almost all were satisfied to some degree with the quality of education being provided, though almost a quarter had considered moving their child to a different school at some point. Most were satisfied with communication and the school's disciplinary policy. 75% of respondents would definitely recommend the school to other parents, though 12% would not. Over 60% of parents thought that the fees represented value for money, although an emphatic 8% disagreed, and the remainder were partially in agreement.
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.
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.
What about fees?
Fees for GEMS Winchester School Dubai are 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 12 for tuition. Fees for Year 13 are expected to be the same as Year 12.
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