Very Good rated GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi carries the name of its sister school in Dubai, but that – at least externally – is where the similarities end.
The story so far...
Taken over by GEMS eight years ago, this city centre based school on Abu Dhabi Island is very much more traditional in appearance and feel than its Dubai namesake. GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi is one of the smallest GEMS and Abu Dhabi schools, currently offering the IB curriculum from KG1 to Grade 5 (ages 4 to 10), to just under 550 students from 67 different nationalities. The largest nationality group is Indian (around 13%), followed by American (10%), Emirati (8%) and Pakistani (7%). This really is a truly international school with no predominant nationality group.
Some 90% of the 42 members of the teaching staff at the school are from a range of English Speaking countries including the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and are all International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme trained. Teachers are supported by a further 26 teaching assistants. Teacher turnover is currently running at 15% - below average for the UAE. The teacher:student ratio is 1:11 - indicative of a well resourced and staffed school with the capacity to deliver individual attention to its pupils.
Until recently, there were no plans (or opportunity) to expand on the current site, but children graduating from GWA AD have had automatic entry to GEMS American Academy, although as this school is located in the Raha area, this may not be without difficulty for some parents. With recent new school additions on Al Reem and Saadiyat islands (although no IB curriculum schools are among those openings), the challenge for GEMS may well be to keep the students within the group.
Clearly GEMS had been thinking along similar lines to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team! In September 2021, the group announced plans for the relocation of the school to a purpose-built new campus located on Al Reem Island, a 5km drive from its present site. The move is to be completed in time for the start of the 2022-23 academic year.
The phase one development will occupy a total of 28,890 sqm with a built-up area of 15,275 sqm, allowing the school to meet increasing demand by initially raising its capacity to 1,128 students. This will eventually rise to 1,866 students.
As a first step to enlargement, GWA Abu Dhabi will open Grade 6 from September 2022, with further grades added year by year up to Grade 12. By introducing the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP), GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi will eventually offer the full IB continuum of international education, becoming an IB World School and one of only two IB through schools in the emirate - the other is the long established Raha International School which has also expanded is and is now operating across two sites.
The new campus will include activity rooms, science and ‘discovery’ rooms, digital learning studios, music rooms and practice studios, a well-stocked library, an indoor play area as well as an outdoor rooftop play area, a spacious canteen and dining area, a book and uniform store, prayer rooms, and a parent café and lounge.
In terms of sports facilities, provision includes a six-court multi-purpose hall, complete with full AV equipment and a permanent stage, an indoor sports hall, a rooftop multi-use games area, an expansive football pitch, a 25m six-lane swimming pool and a learner pool.
Commenting on the announcement of the relocation, Catherine Erpen, Principal/CEO, GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, said:
“At GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, our diverse students develop strong academic, social and emotional skills and characteristics. Our school is a place of belonging where students are engaged, are collaborative and take ownership of their learning. Our excellent teachers demonstrate passion, creativity and commitment. I am delighted that we will be expanding our provision so that more students and families can benefit from being a part of our exceptional learning community.”
According to the school, all staff, students and parents have been informed of the upcoming move, which has received strong support from the school community. In advance of the relocation in September 2022, the school will organise a range of workshops and information sessions to provide parents and children with an overview of the various facilities they can expect, as well as arranging tours of the new campus as soon as these are possible.
At the time of the last inspection in 2018, when GWA AD again achieved a Very Good rating, the split between children attending KG, and those students spanning grades 1 to 5 was 47:53%. This is clearly a very "bottom heavy" school, with a significant focus on the Early Years. The school says it is selective, and admissions tests are given for Grade 1 onwards.
What about the curriculum?
The school follows the International Baccalaureate Primary Years curriculum. With an average of 4 classes per grade and class sizes on average 23, with a maximum of 25 students, the school feels homely and does not overwhelm in the way that many larger more modern schools do.
Pupils entering at KG are said to make excellent progress at the school, both academically, and in terms of personal development. Teaching overall is said to be Very good and can be seen in the school's Latest measurement of academic progress (MAP) report, as found on its web site. By Grade 3 the school outperforms its US based peers across Language, Reading and Maths.
The school has a strong focus on English Language Learner and SEN support with 2 members of staff working in each field. The school follows an immersive approach to ELL in KG with additional support being offered only if required from grade 1. GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi is praised for its "successful" focus on English language acquisition in the Primary Years Programme (PYP); the positive, caring and nurturing relationships throughout the school community and the school's highly effective systems for identifying and supporting special educational needs (SEN) and English as an additional language (EAL) students.
What about facilities?
The school is set back from a busy road and is striking with its white walls and blocks of brightly coloured shading around the exterior. It is a two storey building, set around a large central quadrangle which acts as an outdoor playground and multi-sports centre.
While not a new school GEMS Education has also done an exceedingly good job with the space that it has. Classrooms are set on two sides of the quadrangle, with the Indoor Sports Hall and central shared block (including Library, IT and specialist teaching rooms on the first floor) at one end and the administration block and further sports areas at the other end. There is a quiet corner play area that surrounds the KG classrooms and gives them a smaller space away from the main playground area. All classrooms are light, bright and well decorated with students’ work and well equipped for the task at hand.
Specialist Music, Art and Arabic rooms with appropriate staff are also incorporated within the teaching blocks. Specialist PE and Music and Movement staff work with children on physical activity. The library, which incorporates books in a range of languages, but with a particular focus on English and Arabic, regularly plays host to local authors who come into the school to share their books with the children. There is also a focus on Digital Citizenship and coding is included within the IT curriculum.
There is a canteen for staff and students and there is a very strong healthy eating policy throughout the school. Birthdays are only celebrated once per month and only healthy snacks and desserts are available in the canteen. Parents are expected to adhere to the school’s policy in this respect in terms of food sent into school.
Although the facilities at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi may not be as impressive as some of the newer schools within the parent group, this does not seem to impact the learning opportunities within the school and if families are seeking a smaller, perhaps more traditional and homely environment for their Elementary age children, this school is definitely one to seek out.
What the inspectors say
The 2018 ADEK inspection found that GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi had continued to make Very good progress across a number of areas. Of the six key performance standards against which the school was assessed, it was rated Very Good in five, and Outstanding in respect of the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of its students.
Inspectors noted that the school has made very good progress in addressing all of the recommendations of the previous inspection. Improvements have been sustained through strong direction from the senior leadership team and high quality continuing professional development for all staff. Teachers were found to have implemented a wide range of approaches to assessment and use assessment information effectively to plan students’ next steps in learning, and to identify what the school needs to do to improve achievement further.
Most teachers showed considerable skill in checking students’understanding and progress in lessons. They use a range of techniques to involve students effectively in assessing their achievement of lesson objectives and personal learning targets.Students who are exceptionally gifted and talented (G&T) are identified and their curriculum is being developed to ensure it builds consistently on their knowledge and skills.
The school has made considerable progress in improving students’ learning in subjects taught in Arabic and achievement in these subjects is now good. Teachers have adopted the highly successful approaches employed in the teaching of English and are continuing to develop their skills.
Key strengths of the school were identified as:
Areas for improvement were deemed to be the requirement to:
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - it can be found here. The school is due for its next inspection during the 2019-20 academic year.
Feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com from our Parent Survey has been almost universally positive, with parents liking the scale of the school, the attention given to their children, and the overall ambiance and warmth of the school. Children enjoy going to school a 'tremendous amount', and the majority of respondents agree that academic performance of the school is fully satisfactory. Communication with parents is clearly as strength and parents would universally recommend the school to other parents.
If you are parent, teacher or older student at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi and would like to share your experience with readers who are interested in the school, please do so by completing our survey here.
Fees currently range from between AED 41,910 per year for KG 1 students, rising to AED 61,360 per year for Grades 1 through to 5 - premium fees, but it is quite evident what you are paying for.
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi 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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