GEMS International School, Al Khail – updated February 2021, SchoolsCompared.com review and Visit, KHDA 2020
“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 school that cares – so evident in our annual Pinktober event to support those with breast cancer and to seek to find its cure, and our students’ enthusiasm to help the women and children’s refuge in Dubai through their acts of service.
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, will not guide our students to be philanthropic leaders of the future.
And I believe strongly, that in the right environment, as at GEMS International School Al Khail, where each and every student is respected, trusted and encouraged, every child is capable of extraordinary achievements.
GEMS International Al Khail is defined by an an atmosphere in which students are never afraid to take risks, where they can ‘fail well’ and learn from their mistakes… our school builds resilience – but always within a caring environment.”
Simon Herbert FRSA, Head of School and Chief Executive Officer, GEMS International School Al Khail
Background and location
GEMS International School Al Khail sits within a clustered village of three 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 Academy, reviewed here, delivers equivalent all-through British schooling culminating in A Levels; and,
- GEMS New Millennium School, reviewed here, delivers all-through Indian schooling culminating in the CBSE.
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, if distinctly ‘upcoming,’ 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’ wishes 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 first independent visit to the school.
First, leadership. The new School Principal, Simon Herbert, brings to the school exceptional Tier 1 experience across international schools including significant depth of experience drawn from more than a decade at the outstanding Fettes College in Scotland and, latterly, from Dulwich College in Beijing. Grammar school educated, Mr Herbert shines in his deep-seated commitment to ensuring that his school empowers children to innovate and take risks within a safe and caring environment that never stigmatises “failure” but, rather, sees it as a critical part of developing potential and outstanding learning.
Secondly, 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 academically demanding – and a strong score is needed to maximize opportunities of entry to renowned 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 International 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 it should be provided as a matter of course in all inclusive International Baccalaureate schools. It should be noted, as of January 2021, that the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IB CP) at Gems International School is now in the application phase, awaiting approval from the IB Organisation. This marks a creditable and significant leap forward since August 2020, when the new leadership team made the firm decision to introduce this , in our view, vital pathway option for students. Numbers of post-16 students are growing and it is clearly the right time to enhance the provision and offer greater choice to students.
Thirdly, 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 sporting and ECA provision at the school, want for. As importantly, we found evidence that investment is ongoing, significant, child-focused and strategic. This is a functionally outstanding school.
Worth noting that investment at GEMS International School in facilities is (creditably) ongoing, this latterly evident in the opening of the school’s Fitness Suite. Comparing GEMS Wellington with its significantly less expensive neighbour shows, in fact, just how much the more affordable GEMS International School is delivering for students against quite significant odds.
Fourthly, new school dynamics. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Our view is that the major cause for holding the school back from a KHDA “Very Good” school rating is the lack of the IB Career-related Programme option at Sixth Form. However, whilst there is no technical stream option for students at this school currently, as above, this is being addressed. We would expect approval by the International Baccalaureate to be simply a matter of time given the otherwise very high standard of overall provision at the school.
Very Good and Outstanding features do exist at this school – but there are too few, at the last inspection, to set a roadmap for reaching Very Good and later Outstanding school status. Core subject provision in English Mathematics and Science still needs investment if the school is to meet its creditably ambitious goals. This said, Grade 12 provision only launched in the 2018 academic year, so these are arguably still early days. The school does deserve more time to be-in.
Four changes of Head since opening has perhaps 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 schools early in their development. We have very high hopes for the school following the appointment of Mr Herbert – GEMS Education has clearly placed a heavy-hitter into this role.
Parents should not underestimate the impact of school leadership. Nor should we underestimate the ability of GEMS to rapidly escalate a school’s performance. As of 2021, GEMS International School Al Khail is centre stage on the GEMS Education radar.
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. On our visit we noted significant evidence of child innovation and clear examples of GEMS investment in technology.
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. With a role of around 1400 students, the current role at GEMS International School fits the facilities and learning spaces pretty much spot-on. We are not sure, however, if it were to move to 2,500 students, its theoretical capacity, 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; outdoor multi-use game Courts (Basketball, Netball, Tennis); 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. The school has a significant USP with its cutting edge Centre of Excellence for Aeronautics, Aviation and Space – an academic area in which GEMS has very significant international experience and knowledge (more on this below).
As above, recent and ongoing investment is also evident in the school’s launch of a school Fitness Suite (2021).
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.
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 school’s four Houses is given prominent reference around the school with a ‘Hogwarts’-styled design as well as more simplistic graphics on display. We liked the 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.
We rate child happiness a strength of the school.
The Centre of Excellence for Aeronautics, Aviation and Space has been expertly designed to attract and engage with students of all ages to STEM subjects. This is a very real attempt to link with the UAE’s drive to invest in its space programme. In fact, the school is connecting with the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Agency and other reputable organisations to enhance the education of its students through external links. 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 programme, we do believe that the investment in technology, and ethos to deliver it, are now in place. The school had, arguably with good rationale, taken the strategic decision to get the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme significantly bedded in first.
Gems International School graduated its first cohort of 25 students in May 2019. Twenty-one students were enrolled in the full IB Diploma. Sixty two percent achieved a pass. Of those which achieved a passing grade, the average score was 30.1. Subject average passing grades were 4.79. Around 80% of students are enrolled in the full Diploma programme. In 2020, the average points score for students sitting for the Diploma rose to 32 points. This makes GEMS International School, creditably, the second fastest school in the GEMS network to reach this level, something it has achieved after just two years of results.
GEMS International School is celebrating its first Oxford University acceptance (2020-21) and will this year send its graduating class to Tier 1 universities worldwide.
School fees for the academic year 2020-21 follow:
|Program||Annual Fees||FEES (AED)|
|Term 1||Term 2||Term 3|
There are three questions, however, 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 are confident of very clear evidence for a happy school underpinned by significant investment in child care and welfare.
On every visit to schools we look for things like children being left isolated, obvious signs of distress and, conversely, 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. Facilities are not wanting.
It is in the final area of whether the school will deliver in results that we have to be more circumspect. The school is delivering good results for its Diploma students. It is also delivering highly across KG and particularly Primary phases. However, it would undoubtedly be able to deliver to the broadest needs of all its students if it introduced the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme. To understand why, more can be found here. The Diploma inherently (and seriously) limits the opportunity of students that are less able in languages or Maths or Science. The Diploma also intrinsically rewards the most academic students. For those students that do not secure high grades in the Diploma, or worse are not able to sit for it, the impact can be significant. Individual IB certificates are not sufficient to secure a place in top tier universities. The impact of introducing a technical stream alternative programme at Sixth Form will cascade down the school’s Year Groups, positively, like wildfire once it is introduced.
Fees nevertheless represent good value for premium IB schooling. Running between AED 48,460 at FS phases and AED 73,490 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, for the right children, it delivers the results at a keen price.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2021
Overall, GEMS International School Al Khail is a complex school to evaluate today. Potentially, it could be outstanding – but there is significant work to do, including much needed diversification of the post-16 curriculum offer beyond the Diploma. This is, however, coming – and we expect it to be on stream very shortly.
School leadership, most notably in the shape of Simon Herbert, 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.
In the area of Sport the school’s investment and achievement has been spectacular from a standing start, with significant engagement in the competitive leagues.
Perhaps most importantly, at GEMS International School Al Khail, the children are truly happy, and teachers committed to them. This shows.
So, overall, this is a good and promising school and one we think that deserves short-listing for parents set on an all-through International Baccalaureate education. The potential is here, however, to be better than ‘Good’ – and, with Sixth Form now launched and relatively established, now is the time to deliver on that potential.
We think in this case the last words should be left to Mr Herbert 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. We are even more than that and believe that a happy child is one who is fulfilled, challenged and ‘in the flow’, with high ambitions and aspirations.
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.”
Simon Herbert FRSA, Head of School and Chief Executive Officer, GEMS International School Al Khail
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
2019-20: 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)
(1) International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (CP) in pre-launch development
(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
New school leadership - rating due 2021-22
• Outstanding, thoughtful new leadership - creditable investment in creating a caring environment where students can test their knowledge and not simply learn it by rote as is the case at many schools.
• Excellent facilities – with the materials and resources in abundance to inspire children. Proven ongoing investment.
• High value fees given the offer.
• Eventual dual pathway IB Diploma and Career-related programme will maximise the school’s ability to meet the needs, aspirations and potential of individual children. The IB Career Programme is coming....
• Outstanding investment and achievement in competitive sports from a standing start. Impressive stuff.
• Outstanding student personal responsibility and development
• Creditably rapid child progress and Add Value in Primary phase across core subjects
• International Baccalaureate Career-related programme still not launched
• Some parents will be dissuaded perhaps 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 school need to remain alert to the logistical issues around parking and accessibility as each school in the area grows - this IS important to parents.