GEMS International School, Al Khail, Dubai Hills – THE REVIEW
GEMS International School, Al Khail – updated August 2019, SchoolsCompared.com First review and Visit, KHDA 2019
“I am so proud of our amazing, international school – and this incredibly visionary country in which our children learn.
I am proud of our Arabic leaders – and their hosting of the Arabic and Islamic Conference in the UAE this year.
I am proud to lead a whole school that cares – so evident in our annual Pinktober event to support those with breast cancer and to seek to find its cure.
I am proud of GEMS for recognising that we always need to go the extra mile for the children in our schools.
I believe that educating the mind, without educating the heart, is no education at all.
And I believe strongly, that in the right environment, as at GEMS International School Al Khail, where each and every student is respected and encouraged, every child is capable of extraordinary achievements.”.
Glen Radojkovich, Head of School, GEMS International School Al Khail
GEMS International School Al Khail sits within a clustered village of four GEMS schools, each delivering a different curriculum:
- GEMS International School Al Khail delivers all-through International Baccalaureate schooling culminating in the International Baccalaureate Diploma and, although whilst still in planning phase, the International Career-related Programme
- GEMS Wellington International Academy, reviewed here, delivers equivalent all-through British schooling culminating in A Levels
- GEMS New Millennium School, reviewed here, delivers all-through Indian schooling culminating in the CBSE
- GEMS Heritage Indian School, which opened later in 2016, delivers Indian value-segment schooling culminating in the CBSE. This school shares facilities with GEMS New Millennium and is moving to a new purpose-built campus in Dubailand in 2017-18. More information can be found here.
The schools are geographically displaced.
Whilst being described as being in Al Khail, the schools are in truth situated on the other side of the Al Khail road opposite Al Quoz Industrial Estate 2 in what might at first seem a more isolated, distinctly “up coming” area of Dubai.
To make sense of this parents should understand that this area is being developed as the “Dubai Hills Estate” – and the aim is that GEMS significant investment in these schools will form a school hub for families of the landmark 2,700 acre “city within a city” Dubai Hills community as it beds in and grows in the coming years. The Dubai Hills Estate will eventually form an integral part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid City (MBR City). In practice, eventually, we can expect the environment of these schools to be as vibrant and attractive as downtown Dubai – but it will take time.
As a note of historic interest, GEMS had originally planned for its flagship Jumeirah College, reviewed here, to open here in an adjacent site, but these plans were scrapped following parents visiting to remain at the current site in Al Safa 1. we understand that GEMS retains options to develop a premium school here to further strengthen its school hub for the Dubai Hills Estate.
For us there are really four stand-out features of the school that emerged from our 2017-18 first independent visit to the school.
First, leadership. The new School Principal, Glen Radojkovich, is extremely impressive with a deep-seated commitment to the International Baccalaureate and the potential of children at GEMS International School. More on this below.
Second, curriculum. We have long argued that it is not sufficient for inclusive International Baccalaureate schools to only offer a post-16 choice between the International Diploma (IB DP) or International Baccalaureate courses.
The International Diploma is extremely academically demanding – and high points are needed to maximize graduating pathways to universities. In schools without alternatives to the Diploma the norm is to offer individual International Baccalaureate courses – but these simply do not hold currency with universities and cannot, for example, be compared with individual A Levels.
GEMS Internal School Al Khail has committed to offer, further, the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IB CP). This is highly valued by universities and will offer a much better balance of technical/vocational and academic components for many children. We rate the International Baccalaureate Career-related programme very highly – and believe that its should be provided as a matter of course in all inclusive International Baccalaureate schools. It should be noted that the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IB CP) is still, at this stage (2018) in planning phase at GEMS International School, and will come on track as post-16 provision beds-in and numbers grow.
Third, design and facilities. Whilst the buildings of GEMS International School are pretty standard GEMS school mid-tier-premium fare and relatively “boxy” (do not expect significant investment in interesting architecture or design flourishes), the substance of what children need to excel is in abundance. We do think that design makes a difference – and investment in architecture, when it works, can really add to the culture and inspirational atmosphere of a school.
But GEMS had to compromise somewhere to differentiate this from its ultra-premium schools – and for many parents, correctly, the substance of facilities, materials and provision is what really matters. It is quite clear to us, following our visit, that there is nothing children academically, or indeed across the range of sport and ECA provision at the school, that children will want for. As importantly, we found evidence that investment is ongoing, significant, child-focused and strategic. This is a functionally outstanding school. To understand what GEMS does when it ratchets up fees, and what the extra investment delivers for children, it is worth visiting the adjacent British curriculum GEMS Wellington Academy.
Fourth, new school dynamics. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. GEMS International was the only one of the GEMS schools in the Al Khail cluster to open with an Acceptable rating. Even today, like its cluster schools, on its second 2016-17 inspection, GEMS International School Al Khail has only hit “Good” school territory (the basic minimum expected of all schools in Dubai).
GEMS will have wanted, and expected, more, but we think parents should take a more pragmatic and balanced view. It was only five years into the school’s opening that the schools were last inspected and GEMS International has yet to reach full-phase, all-through provision. Grade 12 will open in the 2018 academic year.
This means that relatively little in the way of long-term data is available to inspectors and they need to be circumspect. Yes, there have been issues. Three changes of Head since opening has not helped and staff turnover has shown the inevitable waves you get with a new school. It is also fair to say that an all-through school arguably needs an established “Sixth Form” to really find its identity; older children do impact on the culture of a school significantly. We are of the view that school leadership is the critical jigsaw piece in the making of a school – and this is particularly true of new schools in launch.
Mr Radojkovich is in his own words here for the long-term and his commitment and talents are, in our view, not in doubt.
There is also a lack of information online about the shape of post-16 provision – and we do not think that the phased launch of the school provides a justification.
When GEMS is at its best, it offers very detailed subject breakdowns for parents easily accessible online. Hopefully Mr Radojkovich will get the on-line information accessible to parents to benchmark the school effectively up-to-speed as a priority. It’s worth remembering that the way a school projects itself is not simply about marketing, but about celebrating children and providing a vehicle for universities and potential employers to gauge and understand the value of a school and what makes it tick.
Facilities, teachers and ECAs
Facilities are very good, certainly there is nothing, as above, that we saw lacking. This is a school that should be able to meet the needs of children. Our only caveat is that because the school is in phased launch of post-16 provision we were not able to explore in depth the level of investment in technical education. To be balanced, we did see significant evidence of child innovation and clear examples of GEMS investment in technology within GEMS International School.
Classrooms, corridors and learning spaces are spacious, but not too big – and the dimensions create a sense of buzz and warmth. Some schools we have recently visited have created excessive space, leaving corridors seem empty and classrooms filled with uncomfortable emptiness with only a small part actually used by children in lessons. There can be too much space!
GEMS International seems to have got the balance, in distinction, spot-on – although the school is not at full capacity and we are not sure if it were to move to 2,500 students we would feel the same. All the classrooms we visited were naturally lit – windows provide good lighting and there is no sense of education taking place in an unnatural bunker. We saw a cross section of Science, Technology, IT and Visual and Performing Arts labs, classrooms and spaces. For us, this feels like a 2000 capacity school.
Other facilities include a Black Box theatre; cafeteria; dance studio, music classrooms (all well stocked); central library; medical centre; outdoor amphitheatre; Parent Café; 6-Lane, 25-metre swimming pool; separate learner pool; full-sized football pitch; indoor and outdoor KG play areas; multi-purpose performance/sports hall; and outdoor multi-use game Courts (Basketball, Netball, Tennis); an Electronics and Robotics suite, 7 Science Labs, Music Room and soundproof pods for peripatetic lessons; TV Green Screen studio; Recording studio; Football on a terraced area; Climbing wall in the Gym and a Black Box space. We saw on our visit too identified space for Food Technology and 2 Design Technology spaces, one for resistance materials and one for heavy duty equipment. It is worth noting that GEMS International School Al Khail won the Global Innovation Challenge 2017.
ECAs include iPad Club; Snacks Club; Chess Club; Mathematics Club; a Reading Club; Homework Club; Computer Programming; World Scholars’ Cup; Quaran Studies; Basketball Basics; Football Fun; Table Tennis; Boxing Fitness; Bounce; Jump Jam Dance Aerobics; Cheer-leading; Dodge-ball; Just Dance; a Drama Club; Arts and Crafts; Islamic Art; Concert Band; Making Music; Guitar Club; a Singing Club; English Language Learning Support, Arabic Club; French for Beginners; German Speaking; Russian Singing; a Student Council; Cooperative Games; a Community Welfare Club; Paper Planes Club and LEGO Robotics – all are provided without incurring further costs for parents.
Teaching faculty are predominantly British and independent feedback to ourselves and our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, has been uniformly positive. The only critique offered by the KHDA at the time of its 2016-17 inspection was that a better understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the International Baccalaureate at MYP phase would better guide teaching practice. This ties into the critical importance of inquiry based learning to the IB – although we would balance this critique with the recognition that in an inclusive, international school there is inevitably a balance to be struck between more formal and investigative lessons. We understand that this has been addressed.
In terms of layout, the gym on the first floor effectively divides the Primary and Secondary areas of the school – and these are reflected in school House competitions which are held in many disciplines, including innovation.
Each of the 4 school houses has prominent reference around the school with a ‘Hogwarts’ styled design as well as more simplistic graphics on display. We liked theme of ‘4 Houses one Home’ which clearly understands that competition needs a reference in values of altruism, care and community. The school is structured around the five core elements/clusters of Kindergarten, Primary School, Middle school & Diploma, Sports facilities and the Dining and Multi-Purpose Hall with each cluster positioned to create courtyards which are dissected by the main circulation spine.
Tellingly, a recent school trip to NASA has resulted in the students converting a classroom to become a space simulation experience and space hotel. A budget is being allocated to them and there are intentions that it should become a focus for commercial enterprise in some format. Of all the elements of our school visit, this joining up of subjects and clear evidence of the school investing in children’s creativity by building the school around their needs and ambitions, evidenced to us just how good GEMS International School can be when it fires on all cylinders.
Whilst GEMS International School has yet to launch its International Career-related programmes, we do believe the investment in technology and ethos to deliver it are in place. The school has, with some sense, taken the decision strategically, and with strong supportive arguments, that it is important to get the International Diploma programme bedded in first.
The first tranche of students will graduate with the International Baccalaureate Diploma in September this year (2018).
We very much look to forward to hearing about their successes.
There are three questions we think parents probably grapple with more than any other in dealing with the fee issue beyond affordability. Will my children be happy here? Does the school have the resources to treat my child as an individual and explore his or her individual potential, ambition and needs? Finally, does the school get the results?
On the basis of our visit we found very clear evidence of a happy school.
We look for things like children who are left isolated, obvious signs of distress, evidence of laughter and engagement, teacher engagement with children, the celebration of children’s work on walls and regularity of changes to artwork and so on. In all of these areas we found only evidence to suggest GEMS International School Al Khail is an extremely happy school, with cared-for, highly engaged children. On the issue of resources, as above, we found a school in which children should want for nothing.
It is in the final area of whether the school will deliver in results that we have to be more circumspect. As a school still in phased launch it is not yet clear how children will perform in the International Baccalaureate, or numbers of children that will eventually sit for the Diploma, Career-related Programme and basic courses only. We would hope that few children will only sit courses – but time will tell.
When we asked the school about this we were advised that the aim is that the significant majority of children will sit for the Diploma. Obviously more children will sit for courses only until the International Baccalaureate Career-related programme is up and running.
As all-through provision beds in we would like to see a document on-line that clearly explains to parents the benefits of the Diploma, and the Career-related programme.
Fees represent good value for premium IB schooling. Running between circa AED 48,000 at FS phases and AED 72,000 in Grades 11 and 12, the fees are approximately 30% lower than the most expensive IB schools. This will for many parents still be an expensive school – but if it delivers as expect the value for money here is, in our view, high.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict
This was our first visit to GEMS International School Al Khail – and we left, overall, genuinely impressed.
We would also like to see much more information available on-line with regards to post-16 options.
We do believe this is a really impressive school. School leadership, most notably in the shape of Glen Radojkovich, is a strength. Facilities too are top notch: Children have everything they need to academically and humanly explore the curriculum and broader whole child areas across the Arts, Sciences, Technology and Sport.
Perhaps most importantly, at GEMS International School Al Khail, the children are truly happy, and teachers committed to them. This shows.
So, a good and promising school, one we think that deserves short-listing for parents set on an all-through International Baccalaureate education.
We think in this case the last words should be left to Mr Radojkovich in describing his school:
“We’ve often been referred to as “the happy school” and parents often describe how welcoming the school is as a community.Visitors say that we have, at GEMS International School Al Khail, an environment like few others in terms of the “feel”.It is this Intangible feel of the community, that unexplainable essence – beyond programs, beyond USPs, websites and prospectuses – that ensures, I think, that our students are highly engaged.It is this too that provides the platform we have here to foster a love of learning in every child – and an environment in which we are all proud of who we are, what we know and what we can achieve.”Glen Radojkovich, Head of School, GEMS International School Al Khail
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with a mix of both Acceptable and Very Good features
YEAR 1: 54,570
YEAR 2: 54,570
YEAR 3: 54,570
YEAR 4: 54,570
YEAR 5: 65,483
YEAR 6: 65,483
YEAR 7: 65,483
YEAR 8: 65,483
YEAR 9: 69,849
YEAR 10: 69,849
YEAR 11: 73,490
YEAR 12: 73,490
(1) Primary Years Programme
(2) Middle Years Programme
(3) International Baccalaureate Diploma (DP) /International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (CP)
(1) Assessment may take place at younger phases to ensure that the school can meet the specific requirements of SEND required for an individual child
(1) The school was designed and built for a maximum capacity of 2,500 children, although we understand that GEMS aims to cap capacity at 2,000 on launch to full all-through provision and as the school beds-in.
Al Khail, Dubai
(1) 83 nationalities with strong student body representation from India, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, the U.S. and S. America
+971 (0) 4 339 6200
• Outstanding, thoughtful leadership
• Excellent facilities – with the materials and resources in abundance to inspire children
• High value fees given the offer, although the school will have to prove itself in IB performance across the Diploma and Career-related programme
• Eventual dual pathway IB Diploma and Career-related programme maximises the school’s ability to meet the needs, aspirations and potential of individual children
• International Baccalaureate Career-related programme will not launch until later
• Overall lack of clarity on post-16 provision
• Some parents will be off put by the area – but this will eventually be a very well-developed and attractive part of Dubai. The confusion in describing the location does not help.
• The schools will need to continuously monitor the logistical issues around parking and accessibility as each school grows to all-through provision - this IS important to parents.