The Gulf International Academy is a relatively-long established US curriculum school located in the Muwaiji school district of Al Ain.
The Gulf International Private Academy (GIPA) was established in 2001, offering a US curriculum accredited by Cognia (formerly AdvancED, one of the US Schools and Colleges Associations which ensure that schools both within the US and overseas offer a recognised US curriculum). GPIA is a UNESCO member school. The school markets itself as an English-medium, highly academic, non-selective, co-educational organisation.
GPIA offers schooling from KG1 to Grade 12 with a qualified multinational teaching staff (some 98 teachers and 14 teaching assistants) who come from a wide range countries including Australia, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United States. Staff undergo an ongoing process of professional development through in-service training, seminars, workshops, and participation in school committees and/or learning communities to ensure that they have access to educational/academic growth for themselves and their students.
A teacher:student ratio of 1:18 in KG and 1:12 through the remainder of the school suggests that teaching assistants are largely used in KG and lower Elementary classes. A ratio of 1:12 for the remainder of the school implies relatively low class sizes which should ensure adequate attention to individual student needs.
Despite this evident investment in staff, turnover was 30% at the time of the last ADEK inspection at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. High staff turnover is seldom a positive sign in a school (the UAE average is 22-24% in international schools), unless it comes as a result of a deliberate strategy to improve staffing. Replacing one in three staff annually inevitably leads to instability.
The approximately 1,270 students come from over 40 different countries, with Emiratis (31%), Jordanians (17%) and Egyptians (14%) making up the largest nationality groupings. According the school, this multicultural setting helps students develop a better understanding of world cultures.
According to the school's introduction, "one of the key attributes to GIPA is that it is a learning community dedicated to inspiring each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world."
Nasser Maktoum Al Shereifi, Chairman of the Board informs visitors to the school website "We take a lot of pride in this establishment, because we believe that our investment in GIPA is a sacred one; an investment driven by our sense of responsibility towards our culture and community. We have made a commitment to our parents who have entrusted us with their children to spare no effort to develop our students’ social tools and life skills that will ultimately assist them in dealing with everyday life."
GIPA 's Vision is "To empower students to believe, achieve, and succeed inside the classroom and beyond", whilst its Mission is "Empowering students with the joy of learning through a challenging, intellectually-stimulating, and technologically advance learning environment."
As mentioned in our introduction, GIPA operates a US curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Although the school states that the curriculum is aligned with the Common Core Curriculum Standards of the USA, it does not mention the specific State curriculum it follows - which can be relevant to colleges and universities since some State curricula are deemed to be more academic than others. The school has also adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) from Grades KG – 8. The framework of NGSS is followed in the Elementary and Middle school to ensure that students are connecting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and are provided with internationally bench-marked science education.
GIPA says that it prepares students for college, career, and life. A lot of importance is placed on co-curricular activities and hands-on experiences in addition to theoretical learning to ensure a balanced development of students. The curriculum is designed to offer every student exposure to a full range of subjects including English language arts and reading, math, science, health, information technology, French, social studies, physical education, arts and music, in addition to Arabic language for native and non-native speakers and Islamic studies so that young learners have access to all areas of knowledge and they can begin to develop their passions. In the High school, options expand further still to include more subjects including business studies, sciences and design technology.
The school has a very definite and strong Language Policy; GIPA adopts an “English Only Policy” i.e. English is used as the medium of communication between students and staff at all times. Staff are strictly cautioned to avoid the use of Arabic to interact with students in all subject classes - except Arabic/Islamic Studies/ Social Studies in Arabic - or even in the playground or hallways.
In common with schools offering the US curriculum, GIPA has a strong focus on co-curricular/extra-curricular activities.
These are organised with a focus on specific aspects of school and later life and include Career Readiness, Events, Clubs (both within and outside school), and Student Council.
The schools believes that every student deserves career success, and the opportunity to develop personal, workplace and technical skills. Career Readiness is provided in the school through in-school meetings with education consultants and universities who come to meet high school students at the campus, and outside visits to different colleges and educational exhibitions.
The schools also organises Events to celebrate National, Islamic, and International Days, Inter-schools competitions, sports day and Graduations.
Various Clubs are organised in-school, such as reading, art and scouts which are conducted on the school campus. In addition, After School Clubs include Quran Recitation, Arts and Crafts Club, Book Club, Chess Club, Drama Club (Arabic and English), Environment Club, French Club, and Music Club. Sports sessions include Basketball, Karate, Soccer, and swimming. Students are also encouraged to participate in sports outside the school including swimming, squash and tennis.
The school also operates a Students' Council which is an organisation for students run by students. Through it, students can propose and contribute to changes to the school that they feel need to be made. They are encouraged to express themselves in a world run by adults and are offered a way to exercise some power over certain aspects of school life.
GIPA follows a continuous assessment model where there is a strong focus on formative, performance-based assessment such as projects, essays, presentations, speeches, research papers, models, and similar activities. In addition, the school uses a number of standardized assessments including SAT, TOEFL, YLE, IELTS, and MAP tests to evaluate students’ performance in relation to the international norms.
In common with many US curriculum schools in the UAE, GIPA does not publish standardised test results or grade point averages - something that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would encourage. However, the school does advise that 100% of students achieve university access and that 97% of US nationality students take college prep courses.
In order to graduate High School, students need to have received a GIPA HS Diploma and must also pass three sets of examinations:
In addition, students are required to gain equivalency if planning on attending university in certain Middle Eastern and Asian countries; this is a process carried out via ADEK.
According to GIPA, over 400 students have graduated from the Academy and registered in diverse universities all over the world.
GIPA acknowledges that all students can learn and that the responsibility for educating students to their fullest potential lies in the hands of GIPA staff starting with the general educator in the classroom and extending through to the more recently founded SEN department.
Students identified as having special education are provided with support to enable them to access the curriculum and receive a quality education. They participate as appropriate in available educational opportunities as well as progress and achieve an age-appropriate accredited education. The aim of the SEN team is to prepare students to become active members of their community and to develop and maintain physical, mental and emotional well-being.
The SEN coordinator writes individualized education plans (IEPs) for identified students in collaboration with the class teachers. These IEPs are shared with parents and identified students as appropriate. Progress is monitored, recorded and reported to administration and to stakeholders.
GIPA also aims to identify gifted and talented students whose abilities result in their exceptional performance. The educational needs of such students require specific consideration within mainstream educational programmes as their achievements or perceived potential often place them significantly ahead of the majority of their peers as far as intellectual ability, social maturity and leadership, mechanical/technical/ technological ingenuity, or visual and performing arts are concerned. GIPA works on generating Gifted Individualized Educational Plans (GIEPs) for such students to meet their individual needs.
GIPA consists of two separate buildings (one newer, one older), which have been allocated to boys and foundation for one, and for girls and KG for the other.
Campus 1 is the original campus that was established in 2001 and accommodated students from KG1 to Grade 12 until the 2011-2012 academic year. It is now used exclusively for the Foundation (Lower Elementary) section and boys from Grades 4-12.
The facilities at this campus include Basketball courts, a large soccer field and multipurpose outside area, Grades 1-3 playground, IT labs, Science Labs, Prayer room and spacious classrooms where students are seated in groups to ensure student interaction. Every classroom is equipped with a data projector.
Campus 2 opened across the street from the original school in September 2012. This campus caters exclusively for female students of grades 4-12 girls and the Kindergarten section. The campus includes a large multipurpose hall including indoor basketball court, Chemistry Lab, Physics Lab, Computer Lab, Art Room, Music Room, Library, and prayer room.
The latest ADEK inspection report does, however, note that "The school’s facilities and resources support the delivery of the curriculum. Leaders have begun to redesign teaching spaces to promote independent learning. Crowded learning spaces in grades 1 to 3 are limiting teachers’ ability to deliver active learning opportunities."
Following its ADEK inspection in September 2018, GIPA was again rated Good by the inspection team.
In its summary, the ADEK inspection team noted that "The Gulf International Private Academy is an inclusive school providing education to students from around 40 nationalities, including students with special educational needs (SEN). Almost all students arrive in school with no English and around 20% enter school at various stages each year. Teacher turnover is high at 30% and this presents challenges to senior leaders in maintaining the quality of teaching. The school assesses and reports all students’ achievement against international standards regardless of their needs or abilities, and this affects some comparisons made with other schools nationally.
The overall performance of the school is good because most students’ achievement is above curriculum standards in the majority of key subjects. The broad curriculum and good quality of teaching are maintained by strong leadership focused on data analysis and staff development. Students benefit from a caring and supportive learning environment, but do not experience enough independence and challenge in their learning."
The inspection team identified the strengths of the school as:
Perhaps, rather tellingly, the fact that the school has again achieved an overall good rating, with no change in the ratings across any of the sixth key performance standards, indicates that although the school continues to offer a Good standard of education by ADEK's standards, it is not yet making sufficient improvement in the key areas for development that have been identified.
Surprisingly for a school that has a significant Emirati student contingent, and significant other numbers of Arabic speakers, GIPA appears to have the same challenges as many schools with a much strong native English or Indian-speaking student and staff body. Without question, the quality of teaching for Arabic and Islamic Studies, and the apparent turnover of staff related to this, has held Student Achievement back in this core subject area.
The report notes that "Student attainment and progress, and the quality of teaching in Arabic and Islamic education remains broadly similar to the previous inspection. During a period of a very high teacher turnover in these subjects, senior leaders have sustained acceptable levels of achievement by working with teachers to develop their skills to bring them in line with the school’s expectations." Evidently senior staff are doing what they can to support staff and the quality of teaching, but this has not been sufficient to enable the standards to be raised.
Further the report noted that "Students do not regularly take initiative or develop their own ideas. Their skills of enquiry, creativity and innovation are therefore not well developed."
On a positive note, inspectors found that the quality of teaching had been maintained at a good level. Delegated leadership and collaborative planning supported new teachers to plan and deliver effective lessons. Curriculum-linked criteria were used effectively to help teachers to plan and deliver lessons that enabled students to make good progress overall. The school’s focus on identifying teachers’ development needs and providing personalised training had supported new teachers to develop their skills.
In addition, senior leaders had developed assessment resources linked to curriculum standards. Internal assessment approaches provided an increasingly accurate picture of students’ attainment against curriculum standards. Students’ achievement is now tracked. Staff did not yet plan effectively to address weaknesses and provide opportunities for increased challenge identified by this tracking. Teachers had recently begun to issue students with curriculum outcomes and involve them in tracking their own progress but this is at an early stage.
Teachers had also continued to develop learning activities in lessons which engaged students; however, these were not yet sufficiently open-ended or challenging to enable students to develop skills in critical thinking and independent learning.
Overall, the school has made good progress by sustaining good standards in a period of high teacher turnover. In the eighteen months since the last inspection and at the beginning of an academic year, the systems and processes that senior leaders had put in place are supporting continued improvement effectively.
The inspection team found that the key areas for improvement were the need to:
Raise achievement in Islamic education and Arabic language by:
Develop students’ skills as independent and curious learners by:
Improve teachers’ use of assessment when planning and conducting lessons by:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to get a full understanding of the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
GIPA's parents were included by ADEK in a Parent Survey conducted at the time of the last inspection and significant number (259) participated in the survey. The survey asks parents to rate the school's performance against a list of key criteria out of a score of 5. These include Parent's Overall Impression, Academic Achievement, Quality of Learning, Parental Engagement, School Safety, School Health, School Code of Conduct and School Leadership.
Overall, parents gave the school a rating of 3.95 - a rating that was higher than that of over 40% of schools that had also been awarded a Good rating by ADEK's inspectors.
The full report can be viewed here. It includes the school's strengths and challenges as seen from the parents' perspective and is well worth reading.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com also encourages Parents, Students and Teachers to share their experiences with other potential members of their community by completing our surveys here.
The Gulf International Academy is a school where much is going right. It clearly merits its overall Good rating from ADEK, and whilst there are evident challenges - notably in terms of Arabic and Islamic Studies - and with key areas of Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum, parents seem largely satisfied with the education their children are receiving, and their academic options beyond the school.
It is to be hoped that the school can achieve more significant improvement in these key areas and join the small number of affordable schools that have achieved a Very Good rating.
Fees are very much at the affordable range with KG fees at AED 11,800 (plus AED 590 for books, AED 3,000 bus, AED 300 uniform) rising in Grade 12 to AED 25,500 plus AED 4,000 for books, AED 3,000 for bus and AED 500 uniform).
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