GEMS Our Own Indian School, Al Quoz 1 – THE REVIEW
GEMS Our Own Indian School – Updated August 2019, KHDA 2019
Formerly the Varkey International Private School, GEMS Our Own Indian School (OOIS), in its current form, was founded in its move to Al Quoz in 2002.
There are so many good things about this school – and some frustrations.
First, this is not simply a good school. It is in some key respects an outstanding one. This is recognised in the Dubai Schools’ Inspectorate’s awarding of such a broad splay of results. It is not usual for a school to be graded by the Dubai Inspectorate with such diversity – and especially for a school to effectively, in practice, be operating at Good, Very Good and Outstanding levels simultaneously.
The core problems first. These fall in two categories and, for us, they are probably the most serious.
There is overcrowding in some classes, with large numbers of students – and restricted space to teach them. In usual circumstances, overcrowding is, in itself, almost in absence of other factors, enough to downgrade a school. However, the school recognises the problem and has the capacity to deal with it. It has started restricting admissions in KG phases so that, over time, as students move through the school, the problem resolves itself. Nevertheless, overcrowding does remain an issue.
It is worth noting these problems have not been caused, we believe, by commercial considerations but, rather, logistical and human problems of a much loved school facing impossible demands for places, including those from siblings and family.
Second, children being left behind. Last year we noted that the school was not meeting the needs of the most vulnerable children, those with Special Educational Needs, on the lower and mixed ability spectrum. Boys also faired less well than girls in some phases. In addition, students for whom English is an Additional language suffered slow progress. This critical area has now been the focus of significant area by GEMS and, whilst it is early days, there are real improvements across the board. This is in no small part due to the appointment of a new Head of SEND, with direct responsibility for ensuring that the needs of all children identified with SEND are met – and that children with special educational needs are effectively identified initially.
To some degree, these issues are interlinked with the overcrowding issues. The school is also genuinely, unambiguously, (and impressively) inclusive, welcoming students of all abilities – and clearly, very deeply, committed to their welfare. The KHDA makes clear that one cause of this weakness in SEN provision is that leaders have, to some degree understandably, become so proud of the school’s many achievements, that they have lost sight of a minority – and arguably, regretfully, in this case that minority is the most important one: children needing the most attention of all.
There are, however, so many positives in the school that it is not possible to be critical without tempering that in the context of so many other achievements.
We think this is the fundamental reason why, we believe, the KHDA will have faced some difficulty in placing the school – because elsewhere there are some also, genuinely, absolutely outstanding, achievements.
First, Our Own is a school that cares for its children – and creates an environment in which they can think beyond themselves to others. It is not an easy task, in a very large school, to nurture a community in which children think outside themselves and beyond some degree of simply “surviving.” In some of the most positive feedback, in very significant quantity, we have recorded, from students and parents, the school is variously described in a single word: “family.” The KHDA are very circumspect and tempered in what they write. However, we think the following is hugely telling:
“Students care deeply for their environment, for the community and for each other.” KHDA.
Schools cannot create this sort of environment easily.
Second, the school achieves outstandingly for students at secondary phase at a point in their education, facing Year XII Board exams, that they need to be most developed and academically ready for their lives leaving school. There is a real sense of awareness of the responsibility on the school to deliver – and they do, exceptionally, in both Commerce and Science streams. The curriculum – and its delivery, in Years XI and XII, is outstanding. The school records KHDA “Outstanding” status in student attainment and progress in Science, operating at a level very significantly beyond its fee level and its overall “Good” level of school provision.
Third. Leadership. The school has exceptionally strong leadership, one deeply committed to the success of the school for its students – and for whom education is clearly a vocation rather than a job. This sense of purpose cascades down through the school. Because the school is backed by GEMS, the group being integrated intricately and closely within its governorship, the leadership also has the ability to call on the investment and support needed to develop. This is not a school with nowhere left to go.
Fourth, safeguarding. This is not a bells and whistles school, very far from it. Yet, faced with basic facilities and significant strain on resources, the school gets the basics right: protecting its children. This extends across the spectrum of fundamentals, from spotless school cleanliness and repair, to sophisticated, well thought out, child protection policies – rigorously implemented and communicated.
Fifth, parental relationships. It is hard to speak too positively about the school’s investment in building links with parents and expanding the sense of family and community within the school to home. The edges are blurred, and it is children that benefit. A school strongly linked with its parents brings those parents with them on their child(ren)’s journey.
Finally, links outside the school. It is telling of a school not resting on its laurels, or becoming complacent, that it should continue to build partnerships outside the school for the benefit of its students. At the time of writing, GEMS Our Own Indian School has announced new links with the Lassonde School of Engineering, York University, Canada. This will provide a new slipstream for its students to study in the West. Backed by scholarships, this is further evidence of the school’s care to ensure that the journey of all its students leaving the school is as structured and open as possible. A school that takes its responsibilities beyond the boundaries of its grounds is something very special indeed, and particularly one on this scale, with such complexity and challenge.
“As an educational institution, it is our responsibility to provide our students with all the developmental tools to prepare them for their future. By partnering with esteemed international universities, through pre-university courses and scholarships, students can begin to carve a path of success for themselves.” Lalitha Suresh. Principal GEMS Our Own Indian School
Ms Suresh has been at the helm of Our Own for some five years, and you have a real sense she is there for the duration – and at least until she has met her ambitions for a school that shines a light in every aspect of its delivery within the GEMS organisation. In that respect, it is notable that her career has been built entirely at GEMS, previously both at Our Own English High School, and then Cambridge International. Her history is not a little inspirational – an educationalist since a very young age, her vocation was set early on empowering the future generations under her care and making a difference where arguably it most counts. In her High School days, Ms Suresh volunteered to be a reader for blind students, something that, later in her life, prompted her endeavours to learn braille and, subsequently, translating regular English story books for blind children. In 2012 Ms Suresh was awarded the International Women’s Day Excellence Award in the field of Education. It is often these small episodes from a person’s life that are the most telling.
Feedback to our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been uniformly positive – and, arguably most importantly, particularly so from students.
The school’s transparency and provision of information is of a very good standard. We particularly like that the school publishes the names and photographs of faculty – and all its administrative staff. Making a school is always about teams. Far too many schools push faculty, and other supporting members of their schools, into the background, concentrating only on the Principal.
We also like the school’s transparency in publishing the depth, and gaps in its facility provision. We have a suspicion that this is a meant, in no small part, to call on GEMS to build capacity further. The message is – see what we have done with what we have got – now deliver us the tools to build on this for our children. If there is one thing that comes through it is that this is a school that achieves despite of, not because of its facilities. And that is an achievement – a creditable one. In this context, where facilities are imperative, the school delivers. A good example can be found in its provision of separate labs, each specialising in and individual science – some other schools, at significantly higher fees, still combine labs.
Some areas have fallen by the wayside – this the inevitable result of priorities. We would like, for example, to see greater leverage of, and investment in, school alumni. At least the journey has been started, which, again, is significantly in advance of many other schools operating with significantly higher fees. We also wish the (excellent) newsletters, so important to prospective parents in getting “under the skin” of a school beyond marketing – and for celebrating children – were more consistently produced. We also wish the school invested more in Facebook – and the myriad of other ways it could be celebrating its students. This is one case where a school is simply not shouting about itself enough, not least for its students.
On the subject of fees, with a structure running from 5,737 AED to 11696 AED, Our Own is operating in the lowest edges of the Value segment. The school is a showcase for GEMS’ unique ability to match schools to the needs/demographic profiles of their parents.
Extra Curricular Activities(ECAs) are rich in breadth and offer rare uniqueness. They include the school’s own flagship Interschool English Debating Competition; Science Week; visual arts clubs; Eco Club Leaders and Warriors; Performing Arts events and clubs; an “Extensions” enrichment programme for students in Grades 4 to 11 including public speaking, Bharatnatyam classical dance, instrument lessons, boys football, boys and girls cricket, basketball and athletics, robotics, sewing and language classes in Arabic and Hindi; internships; Girl guides and Scouts; Olympiads programmes; (outstanding) community service programmes; after school academic support clubs; and, a plethora of trips and excursions. We particular like the school’s “Children for Children” mentoring programme that sees older children helping, coaching and supporting lower ability Middle School students.
Bottom line? It’s a tough one. This is not an average school. It is, in many ways an astonishingly good one, leveraging limited resources to deliver at levels of quality and care way beyond expectations. It could be more however. We know it is possible to deliver an Outstanding rated, value based Indian curriculum school because it is being done already elsewhere. Our Own Indian has no excuses: it is blessed with the leadership, students and resources in place to deliver. Notwithstanding the pressures of demand, the school must eradicate over-crowding as a first step. With GEMS impressive investment in new schools, including the 10,000 capacity GEMS Heritage opening fully in 2018, it is possible that pressures will begin to level across the Indian school sector. This could give GEMS “Our Own” schools as a whole, and not before time, the capacity to bring class sizes to acceptable levels. Time will tell.
© SchoolsCompared.com 2019
Private, for profit
YEAR 1: 7,279
YEAR 2: 7,279
YEAR 3: 7,279
YEAR 4: 7,279
YEAR 5: 7,279
YEAR 6: 8,246
YEAR 7: 8,246
YEAR 8: 8,246
YEAR 9: 10,357
YEAR 10: 10,357
YEAR 11: 12,965
YEAR 12: 12,965
YEAR 13: NA
CBSE Class X
CBSE Senior School Certificate Class XII (Science or Commerce streams)
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), New Delhi
Fully unambiguously Inclusive
1991 (as Varkey International Private School)
Al Quoz 1, Dubai
Indian (largest nationality)
+971 (0)4 339 1188
• Outstanding secondary school provision
• Depth of care for students and creation of a family, expertly, importantly, blurring the lines between school and community to build capacity and student achievement (and happiness)
• Inspirational, kind, committed, driven, high achieving leadership operating within the restraints of a value school
• Innovative, targeted and broad ECA programme and enrichment
• Outstanding whole child development
• Hard one slipstreams for graduating students
• Very good levels of school transparency
• Facilities – this school deserves further investment
• Some overcrowding – reduce the numbers and see the impacts on children