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GEMS World Academy Dubai Review

GEMS World Academy, Dubai is a private Pre K-12 international school located in Al Barsha, Dubai. The school was first established in September 2007 by GEMS Education, although its first year of operation on its permanent site was in 2008. It is a pure International Baccalaureate curriculum-based school.
Parents' Rating
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3.0 out of 5 based on 69 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
Availability 2021/22
Annual fee average
AED 90,500
Annual fees
AED 65,747 - 114,128
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2008
School year
Aug to Jun
Teacher turnover help
14%
Principal
Dr Saima Rana
Owner
GEMS Education
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
India

Nearby nurseries

1.5km • Bespoke Curriculum curriculum
2.4km • EYFS curriculum
2.8km • EYFS curriculum
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GEMS World Academy Dubai
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
Availability 2021/22
Annual fee average
AED 90,500
Annual fees
AED 65,747 - 114,128
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2008
School year
Aug to Jun
Teacher turnover help
14%
Principal
Dr Saima Rana
Owner
GEMS Education
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
India
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GEMS World Academy, Dubai is a private Pre K-12 international school located in Al Barsha, Dubai. The school was first established in September 2007 by GEMS Education, although its first year of operation on its permanent site was in 2008. It is a pure International Baccalaureate curriculum-based school.

The story so far...

When GEMS World Academy (GWA) opened in 2007, it was designed to be THE premier school within the GEMS Group. It was the first to offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum within the Group and to achieve World School Status (and only the second school within the emirate to be authorised by the IBO at that time).  The design of the school, its location in an area that was decidedly under-developed, and the provision of some facilities that were certainly ground-breaking, but potentially superfluous (notably the planetarium), meant that many observers believed that it was too "individual" (and too costly), to be a real success.

Almost fifteen years on, GEMS World Academy, reflective of its name, is a very diverse, international community with approximately 1,400 students, and made up of more than 85 nationalities, making it one of the most demographically diverse and truly international schools in the emirate.  

In June 2020, GEMS announced the appointment of a new Principal to guide GWA's progress further.

According to GEMS, Dr Saima Rana has extensive experience in international education, having devoted her career to improving the educational standards of inner-city schools. She left her position as Principal of Westminster Academy in London, to join GEMS Education ahead of the 2020-21 academic year. Dr Rana has a strong background in school improvement, combining traditional school improvement techniques with a commitment to collaboration between the local community and businesses in order to accelerate regeneration and standards. She has worked as a senior educational consultant for Cambridge Education Islington and as a leading schools improvement consultant with focus on teaching and learning, raising standards, ICT, assessment for learning, curriculum, change management and building schools for the future.

It seems that the appointment of Dr. Rana has created a considerable difference in view about her impact on the school.

Significant numbers of staff - including key members of Senior management - are understood to have left the school over the course of the 2020-21 academic year.  In itself, this is not surprising, with staff turnover often a result of the arrival of new leader.  However, feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, as part of our School Survey, suggests that it is not solely an issue of disgruntled staff.

Recent comments from parents in 2021-22 have included:

Sept 2021 - "Outstanding provision for students. Leaders and teachers care strongly and passionately for all their students. A community feel." (Teacher comment)
Sept 2021 - 4 weeks, still no improvements (and now no blame can be laid on Corona anymore)... I chose that school because the happy feeling when visiting. Unfortunately everything has changed with the start of school year 2020/2021."
Sep 2021 - "Caring, inclusive feel...children are happy and feel GWA is their 2nd home." (Parent comment)
Sep 2021 - "I have been a parent since the school opened and two sons graduated from here. The youngest one is very happy and doing well overall. I’m very happy with the leadership and staff."
Aug 2021 - "The school has been growing and improving until last academic year with the appointment of Dr Saima Rana as new CEO. She has destroyed the morale of the school and the majority of staff have left along with the most able and academic students which is worrying. 

Read more about current feedback from parents under the Buzz.

GEMS World Academy Dubai, has capacity of approximately 2,050 students and at the time of the last published KHDA inspection in 2019 had around 1,550 students - a significant reduction of approximately 400 students compared with 2016-17. This number has fallen again as a result of the pandemic, with the current student number at 1,400.  The impact of demographic changes in Dubai is very noticeable here.  

Students from approximately 85 different nationalities attend the school with the largest nationality groups being those from India (10%), with British, Dutch, Emirati and American nationals (all approximately 6% each) creating substantial minorities. There are almost 100 Emirati students at the school.  The school is mixed-gender through all grades, with a balance of boys and girls across the school.

The diversity and internationality of the student base  - says the school - facilitates international mindedness, a core aspect of the International Baccalaureate curriculum offered by GWA.

The 132 teachers are recruited primarily from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, but also other European, South American and Asian countries. There are currently 41 nationalities, with most staff having varied international experience and 80% holding at least a graduate degree (the minimum requirement) with the balance having a postgraduate degree in Education or postgraduate diploma in Education. The school also employs one Teaching Assistant for every teacher in Primary. Their primary focus is to support learning in the classroom.

Teacher turnover in the 2015-16 academic year was unusually high - running at 35%. , a figure that reduced to 21% in 2016-17 and had reduced still further to 14% both in 2017-18 and 2018-19, well below the Dubai average of 20-22%. The school has informed WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that staff turnover is currently running at 25-30% annually.  Staff turnover is always an area of concern, and the improvement in staff retention (lessening the challenge of bringing on a substantial number of new staff each year) is always a positive sign.  

GWA says that it has a pool of wisdom and expertise in all relevant fields that extend beyond job requirements. "By providing a collaborative environment for our staff, we make sure their experience transforms into valuable teaching environments for our children." The school says that it allocated 15-20% of its annual budget to professional development.  It also offers a Staff Sanctuary for staff well-being.

Students at GWA are organised across two to three classes per section in Early Years, and four to five classes in each grade of PYP, MYP and DP, depending on the grade. The teacher to student ratio is 1:5 in the Nursery, 1:10, in  Early Years and 1:12 in PYP. Average class sizes are 22-24 students with a maximum class size of 25 from PYP up. 

From September 2019, GWA introduced a Nursery section for children aged 2 by the 31st August cut off date. The curriculum in the Nursery is Reggio-inspired, inquiry and play-based, leading to the IB PYP.

In a positive step towards supporting parents with children of different ages, GWA offers an extended day care for Pre-K and KG1 families, where the normal pick up time is 1.15pm. At no additional cost, children in Pre-K and KG1 may now stay at school for a longer school day from Sunday – Wednesday, finishing school together with the rest of the Elementary school at 2:50pm. This means there is a much easier pick up schedule for families who have older children. 

What about the curriculum?

GEMS World Academy, Dubai is authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) to offer all four IB programmes – the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP). The school has also introduced the IB Career-related Programme which offers a more practically-based course. The school also recently (in the 2018-19 academic year) began to offer IBDP - Courses  - which offers students a "scaled-down" (with a reduced number of subjects) programme.  

As mentioned earlier, GWA was the first GEMS school to deliver all four IB programmes - making it an IB continuum school, and a pioneer in Dubai along with the Innoventures-operated Dubai International Academy.  A second full IB curriculum school - GEMS International School Al Khail - was opened to meet the increasing demand for a curriculum which has become highly regarded globally for its enquiry-based cross-curricular approach (with the subsequent demand for independent thought, research and learning), and the breadth and depth of study at the Diploma level.

GWA says that "it offers a holistic approach with high academic standards across the board, all while offering a fully inclusive learning environment which supports and welcomes SEN, EAL and GT learners." Further details of support for students with additional needs can be found here.

Core subjects in the Early Years (Reggio Emilia-based Nursery section) include Language Arts, Phonics, Mathematics, Unit of Inquiry (Social Studies, Science, Expressive Arts), Music and Movement, Visual Arts, Arabic Studies, PE, Swimming, French, Optional Islamic, Maths, and Literacy Interventions. It is notable that students commence Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Early Years section

In the Primary Years Programme (PYP) students study Language Arts, Mathematics, Arabic A and B, Unit of Inquiry (Social Studies, Science, Expressive Arts), Moral Education, UAE Social Studies, Music, Art, PE, Swimming, French, Spanish, Islamic A and B, Maths, Literacy Interventions, and Strings. The latter is a programme introduced specifically for students from Grades 1 to 5 string instruments (ukelele in Grade 1, violin or cello in Grades 2 to 5) form part of the core curriculum.

Students in the Middle School follow the Middle Years Programme and at the Senior School level have the choice between the three options available, with IBDP students able to choose from over 25 different course offerings.

In keeping with the internationality of the IB programmes and the very wide mix of nationalities at GWA, in the 2018-19 academic year the school introduced its Language Institute, through which it offers 14 mother tongue languages as part of the curriculum for GWA families. This is open to students in Grades 1-8 at no additional cost. Languages include: Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Swedish, Hindi, German, Turkish, Korean, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese. There is no additional charge for the mother tongue classes.

Languages has become an important focus for the school with students in Early Years able to take French lessons in KG1 and KG2 and PYP students can choose between French and Spanish in Grades 1-5.

Additionally, with the ever-increasing focus on Sustainability, GWA offers EIS (Environmentalism, Innovation and Social Impact) as an integrated subject in all grades in an effort to broaden the curriculum and to introduce concepts like entrepreneurship, environmentalism and sustainability to students.

The school also addresses the vital area of Wellbeing through Wellbeing Ambassadors to promote mental wellbeing among the GWA community.

GWA operates a Week Without Walls (WWW) programme, through which students in Grades 6-12 engage in either internationally or locally based community service opportunities. This takes learning beyond the classroom and helps students embrace their potential to make a difference.

The week-long experiences give students a real taste of culture, immersing them in life with a local community, involving them in meaningful project work and inspiring them with a new world of cultural experiences. GWA work closely with Camps International to ensure it offers the right blend of cultural highlights and community project work for its students.

Time is invested to ensure everything is pre-planned, from flights, accommodation and transport, to the bespoke details of the community projects. Students have travelled to remote places to build schools, while others stay in Dubai planting trees or volunteering at a school for students with special needs. Week Without Walls facilitates and encourages the student body to be even more internationally minded and supports students in their pursuit to become even better global citizens.

In common with most GEMS schools, GWA also offers a very wide range of extra-curricular activities including sport, science, language, media, and art activities, among others.  Teacher-led activities are free of charge, whilst those provided by external suppliers attract a fee.

The Enrichment Programme is designed to support learning beyond the classroom for all students.  The purpose of the Enrichment Programme is for students to experience a range of activities and develop skills beyond those in the core curriculum. While the programme varies termly, and according to interest from staff and students, suitable enrichments are designed to expand student learning experiences and cater for all standards and abilities. Enrichment includes many sports to broaden options, plus a range of other pursuits, hobbies and voluntary work.

Over 135 different activities are currently offered over the course of the year.  Various clubs include academic competitions, music, expressive arts, sport, talks and presentations. Recently there have been a number of activities included that cater for mental health and wellbeing.  Enrichment clubs/activities on offer in 2021 include Swimming, Athletics, Football, Netball, Dance, Chess, Coding, Well-being, Space Society, Handwriting, Biology Bootcamp, Drama Club, Orchestra, Choir, Arts, Cooking, Debate, Entrepreneur Workshops, and Lego Construction Club among others.

There is no charge for the vast majority of enrichment activities, though some may involve a fee to cover additional costs, such as specialist materials or external tuition (e.g. Skiing).

Historically, the school has also offered a range of international trips - though the Covid 19 pandemic has obviously curtailed this over the past eighteen months. Previous visits have included Model United Nations – Singapore (GWA’s MUN Ambassador is His Excellency Sir Ban Ki-moon), Camps International –in  Cambodia, Kenya, Nepal, Thailand, and Tanzania, Space Camp in the USA, Drama Workshops in London and Skiing to Italy/France.

What about support for students of Determination, those with English language learner needs and those with Gifts and Talents?

Close to 160 students of determination attend GWA, a school that has always been supportive of students with additional learning needs. Students receiving specialist support include 86 students in Primary, 73 students in Secondary, six Secondary students are following  Alternative Pathway support.  In addition, GWA currently supports and monitors 103 English  as an Additional Language students. Finally, there are a number of students designated as High Potential Learners (students with Gifts and Talents). The number of HPL students fluctuates in any given year.

All teachers at GWA differentiate their instruction in every lesson to meet the needs of various groups of students. In addition, teachers use a range of internal and external assessments to identify the attainment and next steps for each student.

The SEN Department supports students with Special Educational Needs. This is done via a combination of pull-out and push-in support, with the needs of the student dictating the types of support provided. This is also true of the English as an Additional Language team, which works closely with classroom teachers and students to ensure their needs are met and their language targets are achieved.

Students supported by the SEN team are each provided with a bespoke intervention plan, be they High Prior Attainers, students with significant gaps in their learning, students with Special Educational Needs, or students with English as an Additional Language. The intervention plan is responsive to the needs of each student and changes throughout the year as students achieve their specific learning targets.

The provision is divided in line with the KHDA's inclusive education policy into three waves of provision:
Level 1:
Inclusive high-quality teaching in which teachers accommodate individual differences in ability, learning style and behaviour, through effectively differentiated classroom practice. All students on Level 1 have a Learning Support Document (LSD).
Level 2:
Personal support and/or curriculum modification to enable the student to engage with, and participate in, appropriately challenging learning experiences and achieve within age-related expectations. Support teachers and or in-school specialists are likely to support this process by observing lessons and making recommendations as well as providing support through professional coaching and monitoring. This might also include in-class support from either an LS teacher or LS TA. All students on Level 2 have a Learning Support Document (LSD).
Level 3:
Individualised programmes to accelerate progress or enable students to achieve their potential. This provision is ‘additional to’ or ‘different from’ the provision required to meet the needs of most students within the school, and is likely to include the use of specialist approaches, intervention or support services. This may also include support from a 1:1 LSA. All students on Level 3 have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
Some students on Level 3 support may also be on an alternative curriculum pathway such as ASDAN.

GWA is well-resourced to support students with additional needs or Gifts and Talents. The support team includes three Primary Learning Support teachers, two Secondary Learning Support teachers and two whole school Learning Support//alternative pathway teachers.  There are a total of 23 Learning Support Assistants offering 1:1 support and a further five Learning Support/Teaching Assistants who offer a graduated response across the three levels of support provided.

In addition to specialist teaching and support staff, the school also offers specialist facilities to its SEN students, including dedicated Learning Support rooms for teaching pull out sessions across whole school, a Sensory area also used by the Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapist and a dedicated learning area for Alternative Pathway students.

There is no additional fee for standard school Learning Support service for students in Levels 1 to 3. Where a student requires 1:1 support, GWA sources the LSA in collaboration with the parents. Additional fees this for support is currently AED 67,000 per year.

GWA provides English as an Additional Language support free of charge for students who qualify in one of two ways: either they are complete English beginners or their overall WIDA score is less than 5 on a 1-6 scale.

In the Primary school, English beginners receive two layers of support. Pull-out sessions for these students occur daily as possible to focus on English listening, speaking, reading and writing skills with an emphasis on phonics. Push-in support occurs 1-2 times per week to provide English support during English Language blocks as needed.

For students who are not true beginners, but rather have 1 or 2 low-scoring domains in WIDA, up to 3 pull-out sessions per week are provided to focus on the domains (listening, speaking, reading and writing) where they need the most support.

English beginners in the Secondary School receive pull-out support during foreign languages other than English, English Language, and Humanities blocks. For students who need support in 1-2 English domains, pull-out support is offered during foreign languages other than English. As student ability progresses throughout the school year, Secondary English Language Learners will gradually rejoin their English and/or Humanities blocks. If a student receives a WIDA score of 5 and above when tested at the end or beginning of the school year, they would join foreign languages other than English for the upcoming school year.

Both Primary and Secondary students exit the English as an Additional Language programme when their WIDA score is 5 and above. However, they are monitored for 1-2 years via informal check-ins to ensure their continued English success.

What about Academic achievement?

GEMS as a group had become rather backwards in coming forward with the publication of exam results for its individual schools (with rare exceptions).  We, at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, were very encouraged to see that GWA has consistently bucked the trend by publishing some important data in relation to its IB Diploma results for a number of years.

The school again provided details of 2019-20 and 2020-21 results. 

Whilst exam results are not the be-all and end-all of educational achievement - and there are many well-known and high profile figures who did not achieve well at school - they are, none-the-less, an important factor for parents and students when considering their schooling options.  We also feel that results should be recognised and celebrated for all students.

In common with the IB Diploma results for 2020, the 2021 results were also based on Centre Assessed Grades, whereby teachers submitted predicted grades to the IBO, together with assessments undertaken by students as part of their DP studies.  The 2021 results for the school's IB Diploma cohort of 92 students indicated a 100% pass rate. However, there was a significant two point increase in the overall average point score to 38.  The school also revealed that 41% of passes had been awarded 40+ points (compared with 13% in 2019-20 and 12.5% in 2018-19). 

The process of Centre Assessed Grades has led to general evidence of grade inflation - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021  - we would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. 

As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.

2019-20 IB results included an average point score of 36 for the 110 students who were registered for the Diploma programme. These students achieved a 100% pass rate. Three students were the highest scorers, each achieving 43 points (just two shy of the perfect 45), 13% of students scored above 40 points, 61% scored above 35 points, and 89% of students scored above 30 points.  Four students had been at GWA since its opened and scored an average  of 38 points.

For 2019, the average point score was 33.8, up from 33.1 last year. Some 80 candidates sat the exams, and 77 passed, a pass rate above 96%. Ten students achieved 40 points and above, 29 achieved 35+ points and, in total, 60 students achieved over 30 points. These results included 8 students with access arrangements - the majority of whom were enrolled in the Diploma Programme.  GWA informed WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that students' results far exceeded expectations and outperformed external testing predictions.

GWA's 2018 cohort should certainly be proud of their achievement.  Overall, the 93 full IB Diploma Grade 12 students achieved a pass rate is 98.9%, and an average score of 33.1 points.  This was well above the global average for 2018 of 29.78 and among the higher scores for IB schools in the UAE.  The highest achieving student scored 44 points - only one away from the perfect score of 45.  

In addition to their final examinations, students at the GEMS World Academy also participate in a range of benchmark tests including CAT4 assessments in Grades 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, with all new students also completing this test upon joining.

Students in Grades 2-9 sit MAP tests three times per year in four distinct areas: Science, Maths, Language and Reading. TIMMS, PISA and PIRLS assessments are also carried out with various grades as per international testing cycles.

The school can also offer a long list of top universities to which students have been admitted in the past five years with the largest group (approximately 25%) attending university in the UK. Additionally, a large number of students choose to study in the US or Canada. 2020 graduates have gone on to study at Oxford University, Cambridge University, University of New York, and University of Toronto. 2021 graduates will be attending university in a wide range of universities, including London School of Economics, University of British Columbia, Cornell University, University College Utrecht, and Penn State.

Over 95% of students continued onto post-secondary education in the last academic year (2020-21), which is at a similar percentage to the previous year. The remaining 5% begin their post-secondary journey completing mandatory military service or internship opportunities initially before entering university.

GEMS World Academy employs two highly qualified, full-time College and Career Counsellors who offer a bespoke and personalized careers, advice and guidance programme, supporting students with university preparation, choice and applications, beginning in Grade 9 and continuing until graduation. Students are fully supported in researching universities, exploring a variety of programmes of study, identifying and applying for scholarships, and equipping them with the tools necessary to enter the world’s most prestigious institutions.

What about the facilities?

GWA has been further developed substantially since its original design and opening. The original main building is still the hub of the school with common facilities including the concert standard theatre, a library set over two floors, which has outside access to a peace garden and terraces for students to use in cooler weather, and a large cafeteria available to students and staff.  Payment is made via a card system. There is also a very popular Parent Cafe.

Specialist facilities include a Food Technology Room, Design Technology rooms with 3D printers and laser cutters, Design and Technology workshops, the Planetarium, the Quantum Leap Center offering Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence programmes, a pottery kiln, a Peace Garden on rooftop, a Dance studio and an Olympic-size swimming pool.  The library has over 30,000 books, whilst the 650-seat auditorium has been used for many prestigious external events as well as Theatre and Musical Performances.

The KG section is separated from the rest of the building in a wing to the front of the building, and has its own private internal corridor to enable the youngest children to be taken to their designated play area and outdoor courtyard,without crossing with older students. 

Regular classrooms are set to the front of the building for the Elementary School, as are some of the shared facilities, including the Planetarium (with 3D capabilities and full dome),. This is used by all students and staff for all subjects, not only astronomy, but visually to appreciate ancient temples and dive with whales exploring life under water among other things.

Although many questions were asked about its value at the time the school opened, the planetarium has become a unique asset that complements traditional studies and produces a high resolution 360 degree view of the night sky with over 300,000 stars within its database. 

To the rear of the building are the sport facilities and also a floor devoted to the Music Centre. In addition to classrooms and practice rooms, this also includes a green screen room, fully equipped music recording studio, an Apple Lab and an extensive range of performance rooms and instruments.

The school is very rich in sports facilities: a 50m Olympic sized covered swimming pool along with a junior pool, tennis and basketball courts, a very large outdoor soccer pitch and full-size Rugby-ready astro turf pitch, a skateboarding park, fully equipped gymnasium with fitness center, junior gym, and indoor rock climbing wall, are among those available.

A second building aimed largely for the use of High School students includes a wide range of specialist Science and Design-Technology facilities on the ground floor and more traditional classrooms and a recently introduced Study Lounge for Senior IB Diploma students on the floors above.

What the inspectors say

Despite its facilities (and fees!), GWA seemed to be one of a number of schools in Dubai that made the grade to Good and seemed to lack the ability or ambition to make the move up to a Very Good rating.  For eight years, it achieved the Good rating consistently - the minimum expected by the KHDA - and to be fair, as the regulators' expectations increased year on year, GWA certainly stayed on track.

Finally, in the 2017-18 academic year, GWA managed the elusive step up from Good to Very Good.  It was very clear from the KHDA report that the key reason for this achievement was the improvement in Students' Achievement, which showed that every aspect of Attainment and Progress for the core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science were rated at least Very Good (with 9 measures in the MYP and DP programmes having improved to this level).  All 3 core subjects were rated Outstanding in KG and for English in the Primary Years phase.  

In the 2018-19 academic year, GWA retained the Very Good rating. The school was also inspected and accredited by the International  Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), Council for International Schools (CIS) and NEASC (the New England Association of Schools and Colleges) as part of a triple synchronised visit involving all three accrediting bodies in 2019. 

In line with the KHDA's announcement in September 2019, schools already rated Outstanding or Very Good are no longer inspected fully on an annual basis, instead undergoing a one day visit.  New reports are not issued and unless otherwise advised, schools retain the previous rating.  As a result, GWA retained its Very Good rating for 2019-20 and for 2020-21.

The KHDA inspection team defined the strengths of GWA as:

  • The inclusive nature of the curriculum which meets the needs and aspirations of all students and leads to academic and social success
  • Leaders active involvement in promoting, encouraging and supporting innovation
  • The outstanding provision in KG and children's excellent learning skills which lead to outstanding progress in English, mathematics and science
  • The highly inclusive ethos of the school and effective systems for meeting the needs of a diverse range of students, including students of determination and exceptional learners
  • The focus on the emotional well-being of all students through support and guidance sessions.

In terms of Student Achievement, ratings for the key indicators remained largely the same in this inspection. All ratings for the three core English-based subjects were Outstanding, as was also the case for English in the PYP. Ratings for Mathematics and Science in PYP and across the MYP and DP sections of the school were again rated Very Good.  In the DP section, Mathematics attainment improved from Good last year to Very Good, whilst Science progress was rated Outstanding for the first time.

There was - as is so often the case - more variability in the Arabic core subjects. Islamic Education remained rated Good across the school. However, whilst Arabic in the PYP section (as both a first and additional language) was largely rated Good, it remained Acceptable in MYP and DP.  This is clearly an area where GWA still has work to do.

In terms of the other key performance standards of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills, and Teaching and Assessment, it was almost a case of a school of two halves. Whilst students' Personal development, understanding of Islamic values, and Social responsibility and innovation skills were almost entirely rated Outstanding in the KG and PYP (the exception being a Very Good rating in PYP for the second measure), and was rated Outstanding in these sections for Teaching and Assessment, there was more variability in the MYP and DP sections.

Personal development in MYP had been downgraded to Very Good, and this was also the rating given for the Understanding of Islamic values in the MYP and DP.  There appeared to have been some issues with disruptive students in the MYP section which caused this reevaluation.  Teaching and Assessment were also both rated Very Good in the MYP and DP sections.

When it comes to the other key performance standard of the Curriculum, in terms of its Design and Implementation, it was deemed to be Outstanding across the school.  In regard to adaptation of the curriculum to meet the needs of individuals or groups of students, the rating was Outstanding in KG and Very Good across the remaining sections of the school.

 GWA scored extremely highly in all aspects of the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of its students, and also for the provision and outcomes for Students of Determination - every measure was rated Outstanding. Once again, a GEMS school had shown just how well students with additional learning requirements, or with gifts and talents can be supported in a mainstream environment - this is a real strength across the Group.

The ratings for the five key measures for the category of Leadership and Management remained unchanged. Parents and the Community, and the Management, staffing, facilities and resources were again rated Outstanding, whilst the other three remained Very Good.

The inspection team had many positive comments to make in respect of GWA. In particular, they noted that "Senior leaders vision of an inclusive and aspirational learning environment is shared widely.  They pursue academic excellence and ensure students make good or better progress, whatever their starting points...Parents are closely involved in their children's learning and local partnerships are exploited well..." 

Without question, the strength and ability of the leadership in any school is fundamental to Students' Achievement.  (Hence our concern at the developments in the 2020-21 academic year).

In terms of specific areas of improvement, the KHDA inspection team found that GWA should:

  • Address the behaviour and attitude to learning of a small number of students in some lessons in MYP to ensure that this does not impede learning.
  • Improve the teaching and learning in Arabic lessons by:
    • ensuring students are engaged and make good use of their time
    • using assessment results to plan the learning activities and to inform progress
    • practicing the target learning skills during lessons, particularly speaking skills
    • facilitating more group work to ensure students use the language frequently.

If you would like to read the full KHDA Inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - you will find it here.

The Buzz

In terms of the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, we have received feedback from 68 parents, who have rated the school at 3/5, or a positivity rating of 60% - surprisingly low for a school of this KHDA rating, facilities and academic success. Perhaps most tellingly, only 65% of parents would unreservedly recommend the school to others (compared with a UAE average of 81%). An unusually high 23% would not recommend the school (the UAE average is 9%).  42% of respondents had considered moving their child to another school - again significantly higher than the UAE average of 27% and one percentage point higher than in 2019-20. 

Given that a year ago 71% of parents would have recommended the school to others, the fall by 6% in this regard suggests that that there is a level of uncertainty among parents at GWA at the moment, which was certainly not there when we reviewed it a year ago.

Part of these results may be driven by parents' views of the school's academic performance - 58% were satisfied compared with a UAE average of 74%, but a significant proportion of parents were partially satisfied (32%), whilst 10% were dissatisfied. This factor also appears to have driven a higher proportion of parents to resort to external tuition (44% against a UAE average of 29%).

It also seems that communication to parents and disciplinary policy are areas about which parents have some concerns. Only just over half of parents were satisfied whilst 21% and 27% respectively with dissatisfied. 

Many love the curriculum (however you need to do the research on IB to see if it fits with the needs of your child). Teaching is widely praised – as are the school’s facilities. The school is expensive, however parents we spoke to did not generally raise this as an issue. When asked the question: Do fees offer Good Value for money, half of respondents partially agreed that they did, with 26% totally disagreed, and the remaining 28% felt that they did.

If you are a parent, teacher or student at GEMS World Academy, please provide your experience to other potential members of your community by completing our Survey.

The KHDA pre-inspection survey in 2018-19 received responses from just over 200 parents. They reflected overwhelmingly positive views of the school as a whole, especially with respect to communication of their children's progress. However, only a little over two-thirds felt that their children have a close relationship with an adult at school and approximately one-third felt that bullying was an issue. 

These latter concerns were reflected in comments made by some 460 students who took part in the KHDA's Well-being census in 2017-18. Only 53% felt that they had a strong relationship with an adult in school and of those who responded, approximately 50% expressed concern about social isolation or verbal bullying.   This is obviously an area of concern that the school will no doubt address and a reflection of the issues seemingly identified in the MYP section.

Our View

For a number of years, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com have wondered how it was possible that a school which was originally set up as GEMS' flagship, with wonderful facilities and an excellent curriculum, could never seem quite to manage the level of achievement that would ordinarily be expected under such circumstances.

Over the past three years, it seemed that GWA had many of the pieces in place to realise its potential.  We hope that as the leadership and management settles at the school, far more positive feedback will become the norm.

During our recent visit to GWA, we asked the school to tell us what makes it so special.

We were told: "GEMS World Academy ensures all students have an inspiring, personalized, rich and deep educational experience whilst preparing them for an equally thriving and wonderful adulthood.
We offer a bespoke curriculum, ensuring all four dimensions of a person - their minds, hearts, spirits and bodies are educated to the highest standards. Our curriculum is broad and deep, and in its formal and informal offering students learn to become responsible, creative, hard-working, business-like, playful and inquisitive young Global citizens.
The building has been refreshed and offers modern and inspiring state-of-the-art facilities and resources that accommodates an ever-extending curriculum offering a variety of subjects such as dance, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Drama and food technology.
Our standards of learning are very high; last year’s results were the best ever and the quality and range of the provision, its caring ethos, its participatory and welcoming community all recommend this as a great school".

What about the Fees?

The standard of facilities at GWA need to be paid for, of course. This is a school clearly targeted at parents who want everything for their children, and can afford to pay. Fees for 2020-21 range from AED 40,000 for the Nursery section, AED 65,747 per year for pre-kindergarten and KG1 students and AED 82,247 for KG2 to Grade 4 inclusive, rising to AED 114,128 per year for grade 11 and 12 students. This makes it, with Repton and North London Collegiate School Dubai among the most expensive schools that we have reviewed.

If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information

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