GEMS FirstPoint School, The Villa, Dubailand – THE REVIEW 2021
GEMS FirstPoint School Dubai, Updated April 2021
Background and location
GEMS Firstpoint is one of the founding community British schools within The Villa Community in Dubai and draws on neighbouring families based in Arabian Ranches, Motor City, Academic City, Nad al Sheba, Al Barari, International City, Falconcity of Wonders, Al Warqa, Dubai Silicon Oasis and the Remraam and Mudon communities. The school can be easily found just off the main arterial Al Ain and Emirates Roads.
GEMS FirstPoint opened in September 2014 and, over its first six years of operation, has established itself as a respected English National Curriculum all-through school offering a wide-ranging, technically and academically focused education to children from Primary phase through GCSE, A Level and BTEC. The school emphasises that it equally weights academics and whole child development, the latter increasingly demanded by 21st century business industries of which Google and Facebook have been leading proponents. The GEMS FirstPoint Sixth Form (see below) has evolved to be a major strength in school provision, attracting students from across Dubai for its powerhouse academic A Level and technical stream breadth of subject provision.
Currently, GEMS FirstPoint educates some 1627 students against a capacity of just 1700 students. The school is, understandably, oversubscribed in many years and the difficulty in securing a place at the school is likely to intensify in coming years as the Villa Community evolves and further establishes itself. By UAE standards this is a small school – and certainly not one of the 3,500 capacity “monsters” you might expect at this fee point that are generally required to meet the costs of this level of provision at this fee point. Teachers do know their students by name here – and community, individualised learning and care of children is meaningful and real.
The school occupies a 0.4 acres (17,843.64 sq. ft.) site.
School location maps follow:
GEMS FirstPoint is a very interesting school in a multitude of areas – and it is also, importantly, a very good one. So what sets it apart?
There are two defining features that standout and which we believe will be of particular interest to prospective parents.
First, value for money. On establishing FirstPoint, GEMS Education attempted what was, at that time, seen as an overly radical, impossible task. Critics said its ambition would not succeed. It aimed to create a Tier 1 premium British School that would take on the top performing British schools in the UAE, but, at the same time, set the fees at a level to undercut every school operating in that sector. The aim was deliver a Tier 1 premium education for children with few, if any compromises.
The following graphic is taken from its marketing literature at the time:
When you average the fees over thirteen years, the school, then, offered a very considerable value proposition for its parents, offering a premium education but at a level that (in places, just) touched the borders of mid-tier school fees. Note the average quoted above was for years KG-9, however even when recalculated up to Year 12 the average was AED 49,700.
Does the value proposition still stack up? Yes. Today, after six years of operation, that average has, remarkably, remained static, with average fees today, across all thirteen years, reaching just AED 49,702 (2020). Today, as of May 2020, GEMS FirstPoint School remains a leader in balance of fees to provision in its class:
To put context to this, although the average fee paid by a parent in Dubai is AED 29,057 per year, 51.1% of parents pay less than 20K AED annually, this because the majority of schools, across all curricular, operate with the value-mid tier fee segments. The average annual price of a new school entering the market today is around AED 60,000.
GEMS FirstPoint, measured against fees in the Tier 1 sector, which it aspires to in terms of quality of provision, delivers outstanding ROI for parents, particularly if that is measured in terms of breadth of its curriculum offer (which we think is a critical test of schools as it answers the question of whether a school can meet the broadest range of needs, potential, ambition and ability of the widest range of children) and the results it achieves for children (this measured both by value-add and pure results).
GEMS FirstPoint today, then, continues to meet its opening ambitions. It provides a lower cost of entry to a genuine Tier 1 education. It also undercuts its own Tier 1 competion within GEMS Education’s portfolio of British curriculum schools.
We also think that GEMS FirstPoint deserves credit for setting fee rises gradually, and transparrently, as a child moves through the school – GEMS has not set up honey trap with low fees on entrance and exponentially increasing fees later on once a family is “locked in” (something that happens too often in the UAE).
Second, its outstanding quality of curriculum. GEMS FirstPoint was set up as a specialist technology and technical school. At the outset, very significant investment was made in the full breadth of technology curricular and required infrastructure across facilities, labs, faculty and equipment. GEMS Education refused any compromises from Day One in the strength of the school curriculum offer and breadth of subjects offer.
This does not mean either that GEMS is a school only for children with an interest in technology or technical stream subjects – not at all; rather the school is set up so that it can offer a very broad spectrum of subject provision to cater for the individual gifts of all children, however their gifts develop over time. If a child requires it, the aim has always been that everything a child could possibly need to meet their potential is in place for them. In simple terms, this a school that gives integrity to the call that “no child should be left behind” and makes it tangible and real.
To make the point most powerfully, specialist teachers and subject provision is introduced from Year 1. It is worth listening to all the following introduction, but from 4:00 minutes you can directly listen to more on the extraordinary investment made by GEMS FirstPoint School in children from a very young age.
We rate GEMS FirstPoint’s investment in young children in the areas of enterprise, computing and technology as Outstanding Plus. All children access specialist computing and programming lessons from a young age, and, for example, gain access to trained technology teachers and the spectrum of facilities provision including an impressive robotics and electronics laboratory.
This at least matches the provision of one alternative Tier 1 ultra-premium we have reviewed which claims itself the benchmark technology school in the Emirates – with (very) considerably higher fees to prove it.
With fees running between AED 40,183 AED at FS phases and AED 68,734 in Years 12 and 13, the fees are still going to stretch many parents, some considerably. But, this notwithstanding, we believe that for those parents that can push themselves, GEMS FirstPoint, in its Tier 1 balance of curriculum, facilities and faculty, offers the best value proposition of any GEMS school, across any curriculum, to date.
The happiness of children and child welfare is placed, resolutely, centre stage.
GEMS First Point Sixth Form
The complete GEMS First Point Sixth Form Prospectus follows. We rate provision outstanding.GEMS FirstPoint School Sixth Form Prospectus_compressed (1)
Video introduction – Exclusive 2020
“We are very proud of our academic performance.
But, equally, we are proud of our Art, Our Drama, our Music and our Sports.
We provide opportunities for every FirstPoint child and [unlike other schools. emphasis added. Ed.] not just the elite few.
GEMS FirstPoint School is proud to equip all its students for the pathway they choose.”
Matthew Tompkins. Principal and CEO. GEMS FirstPoint School.
Appointed in 2019, School Principal Matthew Tompkins is a Geographer and Physical Education specialist by training and secured his school leadership and management qualifications from Canterbury Christchurch. Considered something of a coup, GEMS FirstPoint stepped in to secure his appointment after GEMS Education’s Tier 1 premium planned School of Digital Futures, for which he was originally headhunted, was delayed in coming on stream. Since his appointment he has seen the status of GEMS FirstPoint strengthened within GEMS Education still further with its now incorporating GEMS Centre for Digital Excellence and being the lead school in GEMS for innovation in the digital sector.
Mr Tompkins brings with him a very impressive history of achieving for children. He moved to the UAE from the UK where he led the International Baccalaureate curriculum, OFSTED Outstanding, Skinners’ Kent Academy for some four years, promoted internally from his post as Vice-Principal. Historically known as The Tunbridge Wells High School, Skinners’ Kent Academy has a long history of securing very high value-add for its students and is resolutely inclusive. In 2018, under Mr Tompkins leadership, the School was in the top 1% in the country for the progress pupils made in both English and Mathematics.
Prior to this, Mr Tompkins built up a decade’s experience working across UK schools.
Mr Tompkins is a keen sportsman. When he was younger, he played for 17 years as a semi-professional footballer and secured a 3 handicap in golf.
Mr Tompkins has 2 children, aged 15 and 13 years.
Feedback to SchoolsCompared from parents is of a very considered, highly approachable and painstaking leader, deeply committed to inclusive education and the welfare of parents, children and staff.
Mr Tompkins takes over from FirstPoint’s previous Principal, Stephen Sharples, who was headhunted to the post of Director of Education for Aldar Education.
School ProspectusGEMS FirstPoint School Prospectus 2020_compressed
Developments since launch
Since launch, GEMS Education has consistently invested in GEMS FirstPoint School including:
- development of close cross-curricular links between Mathematics, Science and IT, placing this at the core of curriculum delivery
- focus on programming for all students from year 1.
- Enterprise classrooms have been extended to include Graphics, Textiles, Electronics, Resistant Materials, Food Technology and both fully-equipped Metalwork and Woodwork workshops.
- building of extensive and powerful links with parents and the broader FirstPoint community included new physical access to the Villa project via a walk way, enabling students to cycle to school and empowering of a Parent Council. Parents have a genuine, direct say in policy decisions (such as operating hours) and engage in think tanks on a range of subjects. GEMS Firstpoint averages a score of 8.8/10 for parental engagement and is the highest scoring school in the GEMS network.
- Links with industry 1: The Digital Centre of Excellence, founded on a partnership with Siemens, sees FirstPoint students undertaking industry projects in direct conjunction with the Siemens business.
- Links with industry 2: GEMS FirstPoint is the designated lead school, with industry links, for Dubai’s Rahhal programme. This sees students aged 16 and above have a designated day per week for internships. Currently there are 15 students on internships at GEMS FirstPoint School in external organisations.
- Industry Links 3: Through both, industry-specific qualifications are being introduced into both Key Stage 4 and 5; incubator opportunities are being developed to engage in joint school and industry R&D and projects; alternative entry routes into university are being developed (in principle setting up the foundations for introduction of T Levels; development work is ongoing in industry-level courses and qualifications on sustainability and related technologies; direct school engagement is being made in Siemens’ energy efficiency programme; internship options are being developed for all students aged 16+ who want to pursue these. Together, the aim is that students at GEMS FirstPoint will significantly set themselves apart in applications to top-tier universities worldwide or in direct routes to industry employment or accessing premium apprenticeships with blue-chips.
- Centre of Excellence for Golf in conjunction with Claude Harmon Performance Golf Academy.
- Outstanding extension of BTEC and industry linkages provision – something we called for in our first review of the school.
We also think its worth highlighting exceptionally good school transparency and information provision for parents at the school. The breadth and level of information is significantly better than that we have noted in many other GEMS schools, this enabling parents to bury down into the curriculum, as well as to truly gain an understanding of school life through regular, informative weekly newsletters and further, open, publication of all communications with parents. We do, however, now need to see the school publishing examination results for children across GCSE, A’ Level and BTEC, preferably with value-added context, in full each year.
We also particularly like the inclusion of a plethora of supportive quotations from existing parents within the prospectus.
Facilities are Tier 1 – and significantly exceed those prospective parents should expect at this fee level.
- Full Primary & Secondary School Libraries
- Science Laboratories – Biology, Chemistry & Physics
- Electronics & Robotics Laboratory
- ICT Discovery Spaces
- Food Technology Catering Suite
- Textiles Studio
- Electronics Workshop
- Graphics Studio
- Art & Design Studios
- 500-seat Auditorium
- Specialist Drama Space
- Specialist Drama Space & Black Box Theatre Space
- Music Technology Suite
- Ensemble Room
- Recording Studio
- Desert School
- Black Box Immersive Room
Sporting facilities include:
- 25m Swimming Pool
- Learners Pool
- Six Court Sports Halls
- Climbing Wall
- Astro pitches
- 2 multi-purpose outdoor courts
Core sports include Swimming, Cricket, Football, Basketball and Rounders.
ECAs and enrichment at GEMS FirstPoint School is Tier 1 – and extensive. They vary according to the needs and interests of children at any given point in time and have included Visual and Performing Arts Clubs; GEMS Music Academy; Choir; Saxophone, Clarinet, Violin, Guitar, Drums and Piano lessons; Art & Crafts Club; International Day; Summer Camp; Environmental Awareness Club; Debating Club; National School Sports Quiz; Young Enterprise Club; Photography, Chess, Drama, Arts, Environmental Club; Support classes in Arabic and English; accredited skills-based courses); E-sports Football Academy; Clark Francis Tennis Academy; Ballet; Kung Fu; Dodgeball Club; Basketball; Swim Squad, Aquatics; Rounders; Dance Club; Theatre and Drama Club; Fashion, Design and Illustration Club; Ukulele Club; Brain Gym; Jewellery Club; Art Doodle Club; Badminton; Cricket; Islamic Projects; a Science Club; Arabic Magazines; DT Enterprise; Quran and Tajweed; iPad Photography Club; Dutch Language classes; Puzzle and Games Club; Film Review Club; planned Guest Speaker Programme for Sixth Formers; and, an Eco Club.
Current ECAs follow:ECAs - FirstPoint School
FirstPoint also adopts the classic UK independent House structure, with students assigned places in one of four houses: Air/Falcons (yellow), Earth/Leopards (green), Fire/foxes (red) or Water/sharks (blue). The house system is used very effectively for building the sense of community between faculty and students as a balance to the stretch of the curriculum, with “rewards” won across the spectrum of school activities.
Example University Destinations and Subjects of GEMS FirstPoint Students
|Queen Mary London||Astrophysics|
|Parsons, New York||Fine Art|
|University of Toronto||Law|
|University of Nottingham, UK||Business and Economics|
|University of Birmingham||Economics|
|Universita Cattolica del Sacro, Milan||Economics|
|OCAD Canada||Interior Design|
|University of Creative Arts UK||Film Production|
|Auckland University, NZ||Architecture|
|ESMOD, Paris||Fashion Design|
|Vatel Madrid||Hotel Management|
|Loughborough University, UK||Product Design|
|University of Melbourne||Physics|
|Goldsmith University, London||Computer Science|
|TU Delft Holland||Engineering|
|Avans University, Holland||International Business|
|Erasmus University, Holland||Economics & Business|
|University of Arts, London||Interior Design|
|Salford University, UK||Psychology|
|Glasgow University, UK||Civil Engineering|
|University of Sussex, UK||Psychology|
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared Independent Verdict on GEMS FirstPoint School 2020-21
“This school is amazing because you can express your creativity in different ways, like in our ECAs and lessons. Also the school encourages everyone to find their own passions – we get the opportunity to participate in so many different things, and find what we love doing. I also love our inspiring teachers.”
Leanne Woodmore. Primary Head Girl. Year 6. GEMS FirstPoint School. 2020.
“First Point has guided me through the 5 years I have been here and I see that it does this with every individual that comes to the School. It eventually shapes them into leaders of the future.”
Tiago Mendes Grilo. Head Boy. Year 12. GEMS FirstPoint School. 2020.
“Things around us are changing and advancing so quickly, that the journey of learning and applying are going to be far more exciting and challenging. I trust FPS with this journey!”
Sonaa Balasubramaniam. Head Girl. Year 12. GEMS FirstPoint School. 2020.
This is in our view an outstanding school.
Don’t expect landscaped gardens, shiny chrome baubles or airport lounges.
Do expect passionate and outstanding teachers, driven and compassionate leadership, children firing on all engines and a school set up to offer each child every opportunity to exceed their benchmarks.
Do too expect a school that offers an extraordinary breadth of subject provision in all phases, an outstanding Sixth Form and a level of investment in young children rarely seen in UAE schools quite regardless of their price point.
It does need to publish examination data for GCSE, A’ Level and BTEC – and it should do so with value-add context to bring these meaning and relevance. This is a highly inclusive school with an exceptional breadth of curriculum offer at every phase of provision. There should be no fear of publishing its results and celebrating the achievements of its students moving forward.
Primary and Sixth Form breadth of subject offer matches or exceeds that offered at any school in the UAE, particularly when measured with the sheer scale and investment in industry links. Few schools in the UAE properly understand, or choose to understand, the requirements of operating a successful technical stream route for children. GEMS FirstPoint School does – and investment here is ongoing and significant. This must continue because it could very well set the benchmark here. We would like to see further investment in BTEC and provisional work in establishing T Levels in the UAE to complete the picture. Bringing the Digital Centre on stream has created the strongest possible foundations for doing this.
The value proposition here, in terms of curriculum offer to fees, we rate as also outstanding.
It is hard to conceive of the fact that this remains a very young school. It has achieved extraordinarily against its radical, ambitious and – what many argued impossible – brief at launch to deliver the best British education available in the UAE at a mid-tier price point.
It may not quite have done that in every area yet, but year-on-year it moves the goalposts and its ambitions for children higher and higher.
It is absolutely impossible not to be both enthralled and impressed.
Get beyond the need for baubles, whimsy, chrome and gardens, and the integrity and sense of academic and industrial student and teacher purpose here literally lights up rooms.
Very highly recommended.
© SchoolsCompared.com. 2020. All rights reserved.
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Under review 2020-21
YEAR 1: 47,585
YEAR 2: 47,585
YEAR 3: 47,585
YEAR 4: 52,872
YEAR 5: 52,872
YEAR 6: 52,872
YEAR 7: 58,159
YEAR 8: 58,159
YEAR 9: 58,159
YEAR 10: 63,447
YEAR 11: 63,447
YEAR 12: 68,734
YEAR 13: 68,734
National Curriculum for England
Early Years Foundation Stage EYFS
International A Level
DT Fashion and Textiles
DT Product Design
Drama and Theatre Studies
Extended Project Qualification
Online Professional Qualifications
In School Work Experience
Practical Phys Ed
Model United Nations
BTEC Extended Certificate Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
BTEC Extended Certificate Travel and Tourism
BTEC Extended Certificate Business
Computer Science (Core)
Physical Education (Core)
Art & Design – Resistant Materials (Option)
Art & Design – Food Technology (Option)
Art & Design – Graphic Design (Option)
Art & Design – Electronics (Option)
Art & Design – Textiles Technology (Option)
(1) School will undertake screening and assessments to determine the right placement of an applicant.
(2) Students entering Years 1 - 12 will be asked to complete a placement test.
(3) Students entering Foundation Stage 1 & 2 will meet in groups with a member of the Educational team
(4) Priority given to existing GEMS students
(4) Decisions on admissions will be based on age, academic, social and emotional development.
(5) The school has comprehensive dedicated provision for Special Educational Needs (SEN) and English as an Additional Language (EAL), although places are awarded subject to capacity being available to meet the needs, at any given time, for each individual child based on their needs
1627 (1700 capacity)
(1) Maximum class size FS phases: 22
(2) Maximum class sizes Grades 1 - 13: 27
(3) School commits that all classes in FS - Year 4 will have one teacher and one teaching assistant
The Villa, Dubailand, Dubai
British (largest nationality): 18%
Arab & Emirati: 80
Special Educational Needs: 129
English as an Additional Language (EAL): >50%
+971 (0) 4 278 9700
• Outstanding value for a GEMS, English National Curriculum founded, British school
• Best in breadth of subject choice and provision at every phase
• Outstanding Primary and Year 1 curriculum
• Outstanding community links and parental engagement
• Outstanding facilities for its price point
• Specialist technology provision
• Very good levels of school transparency
• Outstanding new Principal (2019)
• Outstanding Sixth Form
• Outstanding teacher retention (turnover 0%)
• No advertised bursary or scholarship provision – although parents should ask whether the school can leverage GEMS central scholarship/bursary schemes
• Sixth Form Progress and Attainment playing catch-up with other phase provision and needs further time to bed-in investment
• GEMS FirstPoint needs to start publishing its examination results in full for GCSE, A' Level and BTEC. These should be ideally be published with analysis of value-add to put them in context given that this is a creditably and highly inclusive school.