GEMS Our Own English High School, Al Warqa’a 3
• KHDA Very Good School
• Outstanding school leadership
• GEMS founding school
• Dedicated later all-girl, single-sex provision
• Outstanding Grade XII results
• Top 5 Indian curriculum school in Dubai
• Happy nurturing school environment
• Value fees
• Well maintained buildings and facilities
• Outstanding school community and parental links
• Large school not for all children
• Question mark over the trade-offs of single-sex education
• Facility provision weak in comparison to other Very Good schools (but without the price tag)
• Draw of new Heritage school
• Undeveloped alumni
• Weakness in information on Grade XII subject streams
• KG and Early Year phases still playing catch-up
“The Our Own School was the goose that laid the golden egg for us.” Sunny Varkey, Chairman, GEMS Education.
“GEMS ‘Our Own’ moulds its students into confident, articulate and compassionate leaders who collaborate with others. We add value, not only to their wellbeing, but also to the wider global community. We constantly endeavour to achieve our vision to be a learning community that provides opportunities for all children to excel in their chosen field, respect their culture, celebrate diversity – and become leaders for a better world.” Thomas Mathew. Principal. GEMS Our Own English School
In its second year as one of an elite number of KHDA “Very Good” schools within the Indian school sector, Our Own English High School operates at a level above that of a “Good” school, the expected level of performance for schools across the emirates. The school operates in the top-5 of Indian schools in Dubai and is one of only three KHDA “Very Good” schools with Delhi Private School, reviewed here, and the Millennium School, reviewed here. Only two Indian syllabus schools operate in the KHDA “Outstanding” class of schools: GEMS Modern Academy (A CISCE school), reviewed here, and The Indian High School, Oud Metha, reviewed here. Our Guide to Indian Schools can be found here.
The school describes itself as GEMS Education “flagship” school. This is arguably overstating the school’s place within the GEMS family, but it is a very historic first school for GEMS. Its founding school, GEMS Our Own English draws its history back to 1968 (the school opened with just 27 children and 3 teachers) – and provides the foundation of GEMS subsequent launch of its family of “Our Own” schools, the most recent being GEMS Heritage, another 10,000 capacity school, due to open formally in landmark new buildings in April 2017. Our review of Heritage can be found here.
Prospective parents should note that Heritage will still firmly operate within the value fees class of schools, but will be significantly more expensive with comparative fees operating up to three times those of Our Own English. It will, however, offer significantly upgraded facilities, specialisation in technology and GEMS academy status for provision in Sports and the Performing Arts. We have already heard that some parents are looking to move their children to the new school on this basis.
The school has moved three times, from its founding in Bastakiya, then to Oud Metha, prior to its current home in Al Warqaa where it moved in 2011.
If this is the context of the school, one draw of GEMS Our Own English is going to be those exceptionally low fees. The school is a benchmark school for the sector in no small part because it evidences that a “Very Good” standard of education can be achieved for children at a very low level of annual fees. However, prospective parents should note that the trade-off here is the sheer scale of the school. GEMS Our Own English High School is the largest school in the Emirates with a role currently topping more than 10,000 children. Currently the largest school in the Emirates is also the Emirates’ most affordable.
Secondly, prospective parents should note that this is, in an all-through context, primarily a single-sex school, with education provision limited to girls from Grades 5. Whilst boys are welcomes in earlier grades, prospective parents seeking to avoid transferring their children later to its single sex, boys-only, school equivalent of its namesake, GEMS Our Own High School, reviewed here, may choose to look at direct entry to the High school in Grade 1. Prospective parents should note that the High School has no KG phase provision which, in practice, is delivered by Our English for both schools. Some parents too remain unconvinced by the benefits of a single sex education.
There is not the space here to discuss this, but whilst there is some data to suggest that single-sex schooling can improve overall academic results, there are also developmental and social trade-offs that come from separating boys and girls through these older years. Arguably this is most acute in Grades 11-12 when young adults are being prepared for graduation into industry or university study. There is a real balancing equation to be undertaken here by prospective parents.
Stand-out features of the school include:
- The outstanding progress children make in the core subject areas of English, Mathematics and Science at Middle and Secondary phases
- Whole child development including personal responsibility and an appreciation of the broader cultural context of education
- The culture of care for children across the school
- Outstanding levels of community and parental endearment in school life
In simple summary, Our Own delivers a happy, safe school with the eventual promise of strong academic results and well-developed children. Facilities are genuinely good and there has been recent investment, particularly in technology. This said, more investment is clearly needed and the school risks without that further investment in new and/or upgraded facilities, of knock on impacts on student achievement in Class X and XII – an area which always been a strength of the school. The size of the school has really driven the level of parental and broader community engagement – in many ways the school has become the epicentre of the Indian community it serves. Relationships between families and in business are often forged, secured and strengthened through school links and its focus as a core community hub.
As an interesting aside, the KHDA use the word “cheerful” for the first time in any report (that we can remember anyway) with this school. It is a particularly strong and positive word to use. It certainly matches independent feedback to our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor, this from parents, teachers and students where the word “happy” is uniformly fed back to us to describe school culture and the experience of learning.
School Principal, Thomas Mathew Koickal, brings with him more than three decades of experience. A graduate of St Thomas Residential School and Mar Ivanios College, Kerala, Mr Koickal took his first teaching role in English at St. Mary’ School in Delhi in 1983 leading to his first Headship at the Air Force School Gwalior. Following leadership positions across India, he took up the role of Principal at Varkey International Private School (GEMS Our Own Indian School) in the mid 90s. He has held a number of key roles in GEMS including being Principal of Our Own Sharjah and the Founder Principal of Our Own English High School Sharjah. He has won multiple awards including the National Teacher Award in both 2008 and 2015. We understand from GEMS that Mr Koickal will be remaining with the school as Principal (April 2017).
Mr Koickal has been instrumental in taking the school to its “Very Good” grading, inheriting a school on his appointment in 2014 that achieved a consistently Good standard over an extended 6-year period. Arguably his single most significant achievement has been to remove over-crowding and breaches of KHDA maximum class-size requirements since his appointment. The problem had been long-standing one, particularly at KG phase. It is here even today that most work needs to be done to stabilise the school’s current rating, and potentially secure its enhancement.
The context here is an Indian schools sector under strain from an under-supply of places and GEMS Education is to be credited with finding a commercial solution for education at this price point. GEMS’ considerable investment in the sector, including that most recently in Heritage, is to be applauded. We are not currently aware of who will take over from Mr Koickal as he moves to Heritage, but the school will certainly need to recruit carefully to protect his achievements in driving the school forward.
Facilities at the school are good. Do not expect bells and whistles at this fee level – but facilities do meet the requirements of children and are very well maintained. Of course, at this fee level there are compromises – the most obvious of which is the lack of swimming facilities. Instead the school has focused on academics. Facilities include a variety of activity rooms; 3 libraries; Labs including specialised facilities for Physics, Chemistry, Home economics, Mathematics and Fashion/Textiles; 4 further General Science Labs; 8 dedicated Information and Computer Technology (ICT) Labs; Prayer Rooms; Cafeteria; 600-seat capacity Auditorium; multiple music rooms; Art Studios; KG Play Area; AV studio; Astroturf playground; 200M Running track; and, Basketball courts (3).
ECAs include Choir club; Dance; Elocution; Environmental Club; Visual Arts; Guides, Crafting; Debating Club; and Olympiads.
Secondary provision is streamed across a choice between Sciences, Business and the Humanities. Prospective parents should note that this is in itself a stand-out feature – too many Indian schools save money by effectively cutting humanity provision altogether.
English (/Arabic) is a core subject across all streams. Business subject provision includes Marketing, Accountancy, Business Studies and Entrepreneurship. The Science stream focuses on Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Humanities subject provision is excellent including Home Science, Psychology, Political Science and Fashion. The one missing subject is Sociology (currently offered, for example, by GEMS Our Own in Sharjah).
Prospective parents should note that the provision of information by the school on course options is currently poor and they will need to contact GEMS Admissions directly for clarification on which subjects can be studied within each stream. One confusion is whether Computer Science and Informatics, which should arguably both be available across all streams, is limited only to those in Sciences and/or Business. We recommend that the school provides a functional on-line prospectus for subject options for potential parents as soon as possible. This is an obvious gap in information that is unusual for GEMS. The school prospectus can be found below.GEMS Our Own English Prospectus
The school is also building its alumni capacity which, given its role and history, should be of significant benefit to future students in building and leveraging their networks. Currently we do not have sufficient information to know how well the school is using this obvious resource for the benefit of current and graduate students. At the least, it has made a start on building capacity. Notable alumni of the Our Own schools include Anjali Menon (Film director and screenwriter); Roshni Chopra (Actress); Keba Jeremiah (Musician); Parvathy Nair(Actress); Nazriya Nazim (Actress) and Naeemuddin Aslam (Cricketer).
In terms of simple bangs for the buck – and for parents particularly set on an all-girls school, CBSE based education, GEMS Our Own English will be a stand-out option in shortlisting prospective schools for the education of their child(ren). There are difficulties reviewing schools in the value fees sector because obviously they simply will not compete with the bells and whistles of the Tier 1s. You will not find swimming pools or shiny steel and glass structures. However, in terms of the fundamentals of a very good to outstanding education, there is nothing missing. Particularly at later phases, everything comes together to produce the academic results that are critical to opening doors to later study or entrance into industry. The school is a happy one – and inclusive.
GEMS Our Own English also has some features you will not find in GEMS newer schools – particularly history and the prestige that comes inherently from one of Dubai’s oldest schools – and one so intimately linked with the founder’s own story.
What will, however, be a stumbling block for some parents, is scale. With more than 10,000 children this is a school that is the size of small village. Whilst class sizes are manageable (and have finally been capped at KG phases – not before time), there will still be the lurking worry for many parents that their daughter may just get lost in the crowd. For us, this is compensated for by the deliberate investment by the school in community. Whilst the school is large, it is also intricately and significantly woven into the life of the community it serves. As a result, the culture is a very supportive one, where the whole school, including its children, work together to ensure that no child is left behind.
Whilst SEND provision is excellent, the percentage of children identified with SEND remains small for an inclusive school of this size. This raises questions about inclusion and identification – or both. There are no clear answers to this. We would advise all parents with concerns to push for ILPs and to ensure that SEND is identified so that the school’s support can come into play.
Finally, capacity. The school continues to improve. Results are stable. To make the (significant) jump to “Outstanding” school status would require, however, investment beyond that available to the school. This should not take away from its very considerable achievement. A very good, in many ways outstanding school, we think GEMS Our own English School is one, within its class, that deserves our recommendation – and unambiguously. Children, teaching faculty and leadership should be very proud of what they have achieved.Go to the FULL REVIEW on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
YEAR 1: 8,332
YEAR 2: 8,332
YEAR 3: 8,332
YEAR 4: 8,381
YEAR 5: 8,381
YEAR 6: 9,466
YEAR 7: 9,466
YEAR 8: 9,466
YEAR 9: 13,806
YEAR 10: 13,806
YEAR 11: 14,397 (Science) /13,806 (Humanities/Business)
YEAR 12: 14,397 (Science) /13,806 (Humanities/Business)
YEAR 13: NA
Indian - CBSE
National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi
Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)
(1) SEND: 64
(1) KG maximum class size 25.
Al Warqa'a 1, Dubai
Indian (largest nationality)
Hybrid: mixed-co-educational, girls-only
(1) Classes are mixed from Kindergarten to Grade 4
(2) Single-sex, girls-only from Grades 5 to 12.
+971(0) 4 236 1335
Very Good. Download