UK curriculum based The Winchester School, located in Jebel Ali, is home to just over 3,800 boys and girls (an increase of over 200 in the past year), aged between three and 18 years. The single largest demographic is Indian, but the school had students from almost 90 different nations including Pakistan, Arab countries, the UK and the Philippines.
The Winchester School has been rated Very Good for the fourth year in a row in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full report has been issued.
The story so far...
One of the older GEMS schools, The Winchester School in Jebel Ali, which is one of the larger GEMS UK curriculum schools, accommodating close to 4,000 students, is a school that has become a benchmark in many ways, not only for GEMS but for other operators of affordable schools. The school stands out for its managed growth, academic achievement and much improved KHDA inspection rating. This is the model that the newer GEMS Founders' schools in Al Barsha and Al Mizhar are no doubt keen to emulate. Indeed, prior to opening, the Founders' schools were originally expected share the Winchester brand.
The Winchester School is particularly worthy of note for rising up the rankings in a way that is unique amongst schools in Dubai. Between 2008 and 2011 this was a school rated Acceptable. For the past three years, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, the school has been rated Very Good - just outside of the top rating of Outstanding. Leaders, teachers, parents and students at Winchester should feel incredibly proud. This is also a vindication of the belief that it is possible to receive an excellent standard of education in a moderately priced school.
The fifteen year old school employs 220 teachers and nearly 50 teaching assistants, all "well qualified and suitably experienced" according to the KHDA, Dubai's education regulator. Most teachers, like the student body itself, are recruited from India and Asia in general. Teacher turnover is running at 23% - a little above average for a Dubai school, and quite high for an Indian curriculum school.
Almost 300 students (around 7%) have been identified as needing some form of SEN support, a significant number and evidence of the inclusive nature of the school.
The school describes itself as "highly affordable", and it is almost certainly one of the best value schools offering an EYFS and England and Wales based curriculum - see fees below. Students are entered for external Cambridge, UK IGCSE, AS and A-Level examinations in the upper school phases. The school has also recently introduced Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) vocational courses for post-16 students.
BTEC is a career-based qualification designed to give students the skills they need to move on to higher education. BTEC develops a range of practical knowledge and skills, which help learners to prepare for life skills and progress in their chosen career. Increasing numbers of employers and Higher Education institutions are choosing BTEC-qualified candidates. BTEC is a two-year programme and is designed to be of a similar level of demand to A levels. The Winchester School offers the BTEC National level 3 Diploma in Information technology, BTEC National level 3 Diploma in Business Studies and BTEC National level 3 Diploma in Applied Science.
What about facilities?
The school is located in the centre of The Gardens, Jebel Ali Village, behind the Ibn Battuta Mall. It has expanded from its original building to two adjacent buildings, separated between the Primary and Secondary schools. The school has a reasonable level of facilities (although not up to the level of GEMS' top end schools, although given the fees, this could not be expected). They include well-equipped classrooms, a multi-purpose auditorium, a variety of sports fields to encourage specialised learning in different outdoor games, music and art & craft rooms, and two well-resourced libraries. Extra-curricular activities seem limited, and very much focused on sport - basketball, cricket, tennis, and soccer in particular.
All the classrooms are equipped with overhead projectors, Promethean/pull down screens and an internet connection is available in all the class rooms. ICT is a key component in lesson delivery. The spacious state-of-the-art, air-conditioned, multi-purpose auditorium is a superb indoor facility for students to play numerous indoor games , as well as develop their public speaking and theatrical talents all through the year. In addition to a large multi-purpose auditorium, the school has a variety of sports fields; the outdoors and indoors sports fields have been refurbished with new sports flooring recently.
Well-equipped Art & Craft and Music Rooms are designed to support talented young artists and musicians in every age-group, while encouraging everyone to develop these skills. Innovative Art Cafes led by students, are available in Primary and Secondary buildings to encourage free art expression and development. A rather more unusual feature is the Food and Nutrition lab. Food and nutrition are offered as an IGCSE subject as a two-year course. Students are also able to develop their culinary skills through break time club and after-school activities.
For the scientifically-minded, well-equipped science laboratories are available to encourage the practical application of science subjects, in both the primary and secondary sections, whilst six computer laboratories with multi-media facilities support the teaching of ICT which is a compulsory component of the curriculum up to Year 9. The school also has two STEAM Cafes, one each in Primary and Secondary, equipped with the latest technology like LEGO, Robotics, 3D Printers and Doodlers. STEAM is an integral part of the curriculum across the school with dedicated lessons in the STEAM café from Year 4 to Year 9 as well as the incorporation of STEAM in lessons in most subjects across all year groups. These facilities are further enhance by a dedicated 3D room with a 3D projector and 3D glasses to view educational 3D videos for Science and Mathematics for Primary and Secondary from EUREKA by Designmate.
What about academics?
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are delighted that the Winchester School has shared its A' Level and IGCSE results with us for 2018 and 2017. This is no longer the policy of the GEMS Education group, one we think is a mistake. Instead all GEMS schools hide behind an 'average' which provides little useful data and hides some very good achievement in reality as the Winchester's results show. Some of the more high-achieving schools within the group have started to publish the results on their school websites, but these remain in the minority, so we are all the more pleased that the Winchester has joined them.
|A Level results||2018||2017|
|Name of School||The Winchester School,Jebel Ali|
|No. of students in A level cohort:||68||48|
|No. of exam entries||234||133|
|% of exam entries graded A*||15.38||14.98|
|% of exam entries graded A*-A||33.33||23.84|
|% of exam entries graded A*-C||55.98||55.07|
|% of exam entries graded A*- E||98.55||91.39|
|Overall pass rate A*-E||98.55||91.39|
|Number of students excluded from the statistics||-||-|
As these A Level results show, there has been almost a 50% increase in the number of students who sat A Levels in 2018 compared with 2017, and almost double the number of exam entries. Despite this rapid growth, students achieved a higher percentage across each of the grade bands in 2018. The Winchester and its students can be justifiably proud and have reason to "shout about" their achievements. The top 10 students all achieved at least three A grade A Levels with at least 1 A* each, with the highest achiever obtaining 5 A* grades, followed by a fellow student with 4 A* grades and three further students who achieved a minimum of 3 A*s.
|Name of School||The Winchester School,Jebel Ali|
|No. of students in GCSE level cohort:||221||200|
|% of cohort entered for GCSE exams||100||100|
|No. of exam entries||1605||1413|
|% of exam entries graded A*/9-8||15.75||15.78|
|% of exam entries graded A*-A /9-7||40.68||39.46|
|% of exam entries graded A*-B /9-6||65.25||61.63|
|% of exam entries graded A*-C /9-4||86.45||81.32|
|% of students achieving 5 A*-C/ 9-4 including English and Maths||79.63||76|
|Overall student pass rate A*-C||86.45||81.32|
|Number of students excluded from the statistics||-||-|
IGCSE results show a less marked growth in terms of student numbers and exam entries, but the results again show an improvement in almost all grades. The school singled out 25 students who all achieved a minimum of at least 2 A*s and a minimum of 7 IGCSE passes. The highest achieved an exceptional 11 A* and 2A's. The next highest achiever obtained 9 A* results, and a further four students achieved 8 A* grades.
What the inspectors say
The Winchester has again been rated Very Good in the latest (2017-18) inspection round and rated Outstanding by the KHDA for English and Mathematics at Foundation Stage and at the other end of school life, at Post 16. Science is rated Outstanding across all sections of the school, aside from attainment in post-16. In between, The Winchester is rated Very Good for almost all non-Arabic subjects across all sections. Even Arabic and Islamic Studies are rated highly in Primary and post-16 at Very Good, whilst they are rated Good within the Secondary school. This is a real achievement, and one where many much more costly schools fail to measure up to the KHDA's standards.
Overall the KHDA inspection team identified the strengths of the school as:
With such a long list of 'Outstandings', it is difficult, at first sight, to see why the Winchester School is not rated Outstanding overall.
The key areas for development would seem to be in raising standards in English across both the Primary and Secondary school (currently rated Very Good for the most part), together with the Learning skills of students within the same sections of the school. The other two main areas of focus - and key to improvement - are in terms of the Curriculum design and Teaching and Assessment also across the Primary and Secondary schools. These are also rated Very Good.
The design of the curriculum was found to require some development: "The curriculum programme, courses and activities promote challenge, enjoyment, relevance and choice for students, who are able to pursue their interests, talents and individual goals. The lack of appropriate, timetabled provision for art in the primary phase, and music in the secondary phase, means students are deprived of key elements of the English curriculum." These are fundamental subject within the English National Curriculum and will need to be implemented by the school. This would seem to be a quick fix.
The inspection report notes that for Teaching and Assessment, "Teaching is variable across the school but improving as a result of personalised development opportunities. Relationships are supportive, subject knowledge is strong, lessons are well-planned and resources are well considered. Challenge and planning matched to the needs of all students are improving but still variable. Assessment systems are efficient. Data is used very effectively to influence teaching and adapt the curriculum."
In terms of the care and support of students, this was found to be of a very high quality. The areas for development revolve around support for students with Gifts and Talents, though the provision and outcomes for students with SEND requirements is rated Very Good - the school was found to be "highly inclusive" and welcomes all students.
The other key areas of assessment by the KHDA inspection team were the Personal and Social development of students and their Innovation skills - rated Outstanding across the board - and the Leadership and Management of the school. The latter ratings were largely Very Good, with the relationship between the school, parents and the community Outstanding.
The key recommendation from the KHDA to the Winchester School is to
"Improve the quality and consistency of teaching and learning by sharing the very good and outstanding practice that already exists, matching work carefully to students’ abilities and ensuring teachers do not over direct the lesson."
The Winchester School is a very large school with a long list of action plans towards its improvement. The challenge for the Senior team seems to be to prioritise those actions in line with the KHDA recommendations. If the team can do this, and implement the improvements recommended by the inspection team, in WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's opinion, the Outstanding rating for the school cannot be far away.
Feedback to WSA via its School Survey has been mixed. Just under half of parents would recommend the school (against an average of two thirds for UAE schools in general) . The school has thus far not performed particularly well in an assessment of its academic performance by parents (with some 39% being satisfied with this measure), or in the level of feedback provided to parents (a similar percentage). That said, survey results are still limited in number. Given the paucity of responses, results may currently be skewed.
Feedback to the KHDA from 271 Senior school students in its pre-inspection survey was largely positive. Students were generally happy at the school; "The student survey was very positive. The vast majority of students responding to the survey feel safe and note that there is someone in the school who cares about them, who listens to them and who tells them when they are doing a good job. Almost all students feel teachers help them to learn independently and offer feedback on how to improve. They feel teachers know their strengths and weaknesses."
93% of the 416 parents who responded were also positive about the standard of education being provided by the Winchester School with the report noting that "A very large majority of parents responding to the survey are satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. Most parents feel their children are happy, and almost all feel their children felt safe in school and on school transport. Most parents feel their children are developing a good awareness of the UAE culture and a good understanding of Islamic values. A very large majority of parents feel the school is developing their children’s’ awareness of the community and environmental issues. Most parents feel the school is well led, and school leaders and staff are approachable."
Fees at Winchester are, as noted, relatively very affordable for a UK based, GEMS managed school. Fees start at AED 13,542 for FS and rise to AED 30,210 for Year 13.
Children must take an age related placement test to enter, but an offer of a place is not based solely on the test. The school also conducts an interview with each child.
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