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GEMS Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis
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Review

GEMS Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis

by November 22, 2017
Strengths

• Dual pathway with International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme an outstanding aspect of post-16 provision
• Inspirational and driven new Principal and CEO
• Wellington Academy offers “outstanding teaching” and a genuinely exciting curriculum in the Foundation Stage ensuring a positive beginning for children’s learning in the early years
• Students make particularly rapid progress in English across all phases of the school but progress in mathematics and science is also outstanding
• Students’ personal and social development is of a very high standard. Wellington students are driven and committed to their education and their behaviour is exemplary. Students show outstanding responsibility for their community and the environment.
• The quality of provision for students with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) is outstanding in most subjects and feeds seamlessly into a curriculum designed to meet the different needs of individual children
• The Academy has highly innovative leadership from its Principal and senior leadership team
• The high quality of school buildings and facilities are not simply for show but empower all aspects of the students' education including sporting and enrichment activities
• Blended learning reported to achieve extraordinary impacts on added value

Weaknesses

• Students’ attainment and progress in learning Islamic Education and Arabic, both as a first or as an additional Language, is weaker than in other areas of educational provision
• The teaching of Arabic as a first language does not sufficiently challenge or engage all students. Attainment and progress in learning Arabic as a first language are unsatisfactory in both the secondary and Post-16 phases
• Some parents are concerned that Wellington too readily charges for extra Special Educational Needs (SEN) support for their children which they expected to come included in already very high fees
• In some Islamic Education and Arabic as a first or additional language lessons, the progress of children identified with SEN is limited because curriculum and teaching styles do not effectively adapt to the individual needs of those children
• Attainment in Mathematics at post-16 phase is a rare weakness but one being addressed.

Rating
Our Rating
User Rating
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Academic
A-
A-
Value
A-
A
ExtraCurricula
A
B
Languages
B
A
Sports
A+
A
Arts & Drama
A-
A
Teaching
A-
A-
Communications
A-
A
Warmth
A
A-
Differentiation
A
A-
SEND Provision
A-
A-
Scl Community
A-
A+
Scl Facilities
A
A+
Curricula Global Rating
A-
A
Opportunities

• GEMS Wellington offers children the opportunity of an extraordinary education.
• The school’s provision and facilities mirror those of top UK independents and the curriculum cleverly, and genuinely, offers different pathways according to the gifts, ambitions, and needs of individual children
• As a young, rapidly growing school, prospective parents, in our view, should not be concerned that Wellington has yet to secure an ‘Outstanding’ rating from the KHDA. This is an outstanding school in the making.
• Identified imperfections, which are mainly limited to Arabic language provision, will settle as the school beds in over time. Relative weakness in these areas within British and IB schools is to be expected
• Post-16 weakness in Mathematics provision should be understood against impressive levels of progress/added value and continued investment by the school to drive up standards
• Innovations in fused digital learning are indicative of the forward thinking leadership of the school
• If you can afford the premium fees, then GEMS Wellington Academy is a school to consider. It's also worth noting, as time passes, fees for GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis seem to offer very high value (in this premium plus segment) against a backdrop of the newest Tier 1 schools which are pushing 16+ fees over the DHS 100,000 mark

A-
Our Rating
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GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis – Revised and updated November 2017 visit, rating and interviews

Young children engaged and laughing at GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis in Dubai

GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis stands out in so many ways – but, bottom line, it is our deeply embedded culture of innovation that sets our school apart for me – our experienced teachers are fundamentally and genuinely committed to using the most advanced teaching methods to intellectually inspire, and excite our students.

And our size, unlike smaller schools, allows us to be truly flexible to accommodate the needs of all our students – children all learn differently and GEMS Wellington has the scale and ambition for children to offer a variety of pathways to ensure we maximise the outcomes and success of all those under our care.

We offer the broadest Post-16 pathways within the entire GCC, unmatched in any other school, through our offering a choice to our children between the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma programme; the vocationally might of the International Career-related programme; our Blended Learning programme – and our exclusive Sports Academy, which delivers world class sports programmes for our athletes and shines a light on what the highest quality Sport-focused education and mentoring can achieve for children.

Michael Hall. CEO and Principal. GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis.

Opened in September 2011 with approximately 1,000 students, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis has more than quadrupled in size to its current enrollment of close to four and a half thousand students. Whilst many parents will fret, and may even discount the school, on the basis of its size, it is undoubtedly the case that this scale has enabled GEMS to invest in pathways for children on a scale that is matched in very few schools in the region. To provide multiple pathways is extremely expensive – but scale gives GEMS the commercial tools it needs to properly invest in choice for children. At GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis the fundamental aim is to ensure that no child is pushed into studying courses that simply do not fit with their skills, ambition, aspirations or potential simply because that is all that is on offer. Quite the opposite, the intention is to provide clear and open access to the spectrum of academic, technical, sporting and vocational options for children. The ambition of GEMS Wellington Academy’s ambitious new Principal, Michael Hall, is clear in our November 2017 visit and we hope for important new developments for children over the coming years.

 

If these are the headline mainstays of the curriculum offer, a myriad of other qualifications and secondary pathways are on offer from Perrforming Arts specialism in the school’s dedicated academy, to elocution, drama and speech training through LAMDA.

In real, practical terms what all this means for parents is that if they take the plunge and enroll their children in the school, they are almost guaranteed that whatever the eventual ambitions and skills of their child as they grow with the school, he or she will find a post-16 pathway to meet them.Few schools can offer this promise.

It’s a stark choice for many parents: the perceived disadvantages of a large school (will my son or daughter get lost in the crowd? Will they be able to shine? Will they be overwhelmed after leaving the small scale intimacy of a traditional and homely Primary?) versus the overwhelming opportunities opened up by subject choice and the revenue to invest in teachers and resources.

So to the fundamentals. GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis offers and education to students between the ages of 3 to 18 across some 96 different nationalities. This is an international school in every sense, with the benefits that come from the crucible and melting pot of languages, culture and perspectives.

GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis is classified by the KHDA, Dubai’s Inspectorate of Schools, as a “Very Good” school with “Outstanding elements”, its second highest rating under the relatively new six point scale that defines schools from being “Very weak”, “Weak”, “Acceptable”, “Good”, “Very Good” and “Outstanding.”

GEMS Wellington Academy, as above, has taken on the focus of GEMS Sports Academy, and it is telling that GEMS chose GEMS Wellington to be a flagship sports provider within the GEMS Schools Group following its decision to root its original Academy in a bricks and mortar home.

Currently the largest single student demographic is Arab with significant populations off British, American and European students. Around 3% of the student population are Emirati. 9% of students have been identified as having some form of Special Educational Needs (SEN) requirement. GEMS Education’s premier schools are recognised for their significant investment in SEND and the KHDA recognises GEMS Wellington Academy’s “outstanding” success in ensuring that the curriculum meets the needs of every child.It is at least arguable that one measure of a school’s ability to look after the needs of all its children is how well it looks after those who are most academically disadvantaged. GEMS Wellington Silicon Oasis passes this test with flying colours.

GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis offers the National Curriculum for England from Foundation Stage to Sixth Form. Students in Key Stage 4 follow GCSE, IGCSE and BTEC examination ‘pathways’ and students in the Sixth Form prepare for a choice, as above, between the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) and the International Baccalaureate (outstanding) Career-related Programme. The school’s now established digital “blended” IB Diploma (IBDP) is run in association with Pamoja Education a leader in the field.

GEMS Wellington Academy offers sporting facilities that mirror those of top UK independent schools including 3, 25M, 6-lane swimming pools, 2 full sized sports fields, 3 large multi-purpose indoor sports halls and a dedicated Fitness Suite. Arts facilities include a 650 seat professional auditorium, external amphitheater, Music Suite and Dance & Drama Studios tailored to the Performing Arts. Technology infrastructure includes the spectrum of resistant materials, CAD, electronics and food technology labs. Science facilities want for nothing. Added value, however comes further from spaces you simply don’t find at smaller schools including fabulous blended learning spaces, a school radio station and production class recording facilities.  This may now be an older school compared with, for example, GEMS Flagship “shiny” Dubai American Academy, or its sister school in Al Khail, but the scale of sporting and facility investment still impresses and offers breadth and quality significantly in advance of the majority of UAE schools.

For us too, this is a school that, notwithstanding its size, has an extraordinary warmth that you simply do not get in the majority of new schools – more on this below.

November 2017 visit

As GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis has grown it is clear that so has the investment. This is particularly apparent with the two school areas for Primary and Secondary, which now straddle the road – the Secondary building being the newer addition.

Primary

Primary classrooms are well laid out and despite 14 form entry (GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis has 4 house groups) the areas feel comfortable – and more importantly for these phases, cosy.  Classrooms are brimming with life – and the materials for learning.

Colourful FS classroom at GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis

 

This is due in large part to the displays in FS. Each child’s work and creations are celebrated and the colour this brings to classrooms is abundant and vibrant. Almost every inch of wall space throughout the corridors and the classrooms is covered – an approach very different to more “serious” schools which we have found to be less child-centric. There is a strange tendency in some Tier 1’s to think that parents want to see walls devoid of children’s work and the austerity that results, we think, hardly lends itself to the firing of the senses and celebration of achievement so important at this phase of education. In many ways what is taking place at GEMS Wellington Academy is exactly what you would expect to take place at the best type of traditional English Primary. The differences are in the size of classrooms and equipment – the feel is lively, not static.

We found children actively engaged and focused. Teaching was carried out in small groups within the classrooms – there is a real sense that teaching is differentiated and personalised as far as possible.

Technology was evident even in these early phases and, unlike a number of other schools, is not there as a token to look “pretty” or to suggest to parents a technology focus that is not real. We saw teachers using an app, “Too Simple”, which we understand is shared with parents every half term.

Music in FS1 becomes ‘Performing Arts from FS2 onwards and is a rotation of dance, drama and music.

The external play area includes (an impressive) ‘Outdoor Activity’ section.  Deliberately, children have an hour set aside each week for free-play, this based on the ‘Forest Schools’ learning outside concept. It is an approach that is integral to the school’s Early Years Learning and we really liked the way the children were allowed to cook popcorn on an open fire pit having discussed the merits of fuel types and the materials suitable to use over flame.  During our visit we experienced an ongoing discussion with the teacher based around the safest place for the children to place themselves whilst the teacher lit the fire. We noted a high level of responsibility rare amongst children of this age.

GEMS Wellington Academy’s reputation for inclusion we found well supported during our visit. There is a dedicated IEAT (Inclusive Education Action Team) for each year Group, comprising a dedicated staff member and 2 additional SENCO for Primary.

The Inclusion Room was large – and lovely, with small areas set up for when support in the classroom (the preferred option as every attempt is made to not separate children from their peers) is not appropriate.  Children with SEN are identified in ‘waves’. Wave 2 children, for example, may have EAL requirements and are mostly supported within the classrooms. GEMS Wellington Academy advised us that children in this group have 4 weekly sessions, all conducted in small groups. Unlike a number of other Tier 1 schools, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis charges no additional fee for this level of (high quality) provision.

Wave 3 children are those identified with greater challenges and are offered 1-to-1 support. Therapists are available in school as required, although prospective parents should note that the fees are passed on to the parents.

During our visit we saw a Primary Blended Room in action and we understand use is constant.  It’s effectively a breakout area, but with enhanced technological facilities. The space is open, with different sections for a near endless stream of activities. We particularly liked the smart screen area with individual black cube seating. Here the children can rotate allowing swift and effective interaction with their peers and the teacher during videos and screen-based teaching.

Arabic is now introduced from FS1. The Arabic area in Year 1 + 2 is imaginative and colourful with extensive Arabic displays.  There are Arabic rooms on each level of the school. What stood out for us is that Arabic areas are equally as colourful as those elsewhere in the school – there is none of the isolation or bleakness we have seen in other schools. There is a genuine dedication to helping children learn the language – and in an engaged, joined up and meshed fashion that links with other parts of the curriculum. At GEMS Wellington Academy Arabic is not treated as a third cousin to what is really important and holds a rightful place as a centrally important pat of each child’s whole education. Impressive.

Our view in summary? We found happy, engaged and purposeful young children – and teachers immersed in brining education to life. We found it hard to believe that the Primary phase houses some 2,800 students (compared with the smaller 1500 strong student body of the Senior School. This is a testament to good design – but also all the benefits that come with a Tier 1 school from large, bright, well-resourced classrooms and highly qualified, committed teaching faculty.

We found little to critique and many things worthy of praise. We think potential parents will be impressed – and both the size of the school and the loyalty of existing parents suggest this is a highly performing and effective phase of schooling.

Secondary

An image showing the entrance to the Secondary School at GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis

The Secondary School has a very different feel, helped by an impressive, double-height, glass-paneled atrium reception area with a coffee shop which sets the scene.

Children’s artwork, however, was clearly on display and it is clear that celebrating each child’s work is a fundamental part of the school’s value system and approach.

Obligatory CCTV cameras were present, and important for security, but less obtrusive than in other schools with none of the sense of Big Brother watching.

As above, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis offers iGCSE and GCSE until 16, at which point children progress to a plethora of alternative options centred around both variants of the International Baccalaureate. Too few schools offer the IB Career-related programme which we believe should be offered as a matter of course at all IB schools. It is worth noting that increasingly many top K schools are offering the Career-related programme  over the Diploma because of its sophisticated mix of technical and vocational elements in conjunction with academic IB courses – and its being less hung up on proficiency in a second language. The second language requirement of the Diploma in particular can leave very bright gifted children with low IB sores and more limited access to top universities. The Career-related programme has none of these issues, is as powerful and entry ticket to top universities as the Diploma –  and is, for many children, a much more enjoyable and productive course of senior school study.

We were particularly impressed throughout our visit to the school with the striking integration and mapping of the IB approach across all phases of learning. In English, for example, the study of Romeo and Juliet was not simply taught through discussions of the text, or even dramatic reconstruction – but broadened in scope to include production costings of proposed stage production with a Dragons Den style presentation to teachers following to bid for funding.

We found the Secondary Blended Area to have all the feel of the traditional Sixth Form/University common room – but with the advantages of technology integration and a designed-in lecture space. Students were actively using the space – and the school has clearly designed this perfectly. Again, we found technology actively being engaged with and not simple tokenism.  There were a number of Mathematics applications in use during our visit including “Maths Watch” and “My Blended Space” – both of which support on-line lessons.  We understand that the Secondary Blended Area is often used too for small groups from different year groups to work along-side each other on special projects.

During our visit a further example was given of the use of blended areas: in a recent History lesson, based on the theme of the Plague, the space was used to dramatize a mystery in which students engaged with both parents and teachers on debunking various explanations of how the Plague originated.

worked as a mystery with students being fed evidence and information from parents and the History teacher with the task of debunking how the Plague may have started. It was hugely successfully and created an imaginative and engaging learning structure.

Whilst we cannot confirm the figures, we were advised that the value-added blended approaches deliver for children is exceptional. From a minimal 2% of students predicted to gain an A*A grade at iGCSE (based on CAT scoring) the blended approach helped drive this up to an eventual 52% of children, in practice, achieving an A*A grade.

The Performing Arts area we found lively and expansive. Children have between 30 minutes and two hours of Dance, Drama and Music on a 6-week rotation.  There is an endorsement program for those selected for productions.  Years 3 and 4 Audition for the chance to be in the Performing Arts Academy.  Some students will be allocated to the Show Team.  LAMDA Drama qualifications are offered, as well as UDO Dance.  There are Bands and Choirs at school and there is the hope that Trinity and ABRS qualifications will be introduced.  Drama teaching has access to very good facilities including a large Black Box room.

Sport facilities at the Secondary phase are outstanding and the football pitch has been changed to 3D artificial grass. This has allowed for contact Rugby for the first time at GEMS Wellington Academy; previously Rugby teams were bused to the Rugby 7’s ground.

Leadership

GEMS Wellington Academy’s new CEO and Principal, Michael Hall,  joined the school in August 2017 from the position of Headmaster at highly respected Bedford Modern School in the UK, a position held for 8 years. Bedford Modern is a Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) independent progressive school rated excellent by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. GEMS took no chances with his appointment. Mr Hall was grammar school educated, and an economist by training (Liverpool). Mr Hall achieved his professional teaching qualification from Lancaster in Economics and Business. We found him driven and ambitious, but equally (and importantly) likable with a sense of humour, integrity and a genuine interest in the children. He is far from the disappearing, office based Headmaster/School Principal as you could imagine.

Bottom line?

GEMS Wellington Academy is a school that many parents will dismiss because of its size. But we feel this may be an opportunity missed. It may be a 5000+capacity school, but you do not feel this at the school. In practice the design and investment creates a school that has considerable intimacy and warmth. Combine this with what is undoubtedly a school that is driven in its DNA to meet the many different needs, ambitions, potential and aspirations of children and you have something very special.

Already the choice of post-16 pathways is class-best. Less a critique than a hope, it would be quite something to see GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon expand its post-16 educational provision to include A Levels and extended BTEC pathways – this is certainly the GEMS school that we feel has the proven capacity and experience to deliver this. Time will tell….

Everything is here – the highest quality teaching, inspiring and driven leadership, engaged academically curious children, a culture of achievement that celebrates child attainment, evident ongoing investment by its owners (GEMS Education) – and the ambition to be even better than it already is.

GEMS Wellington Academy is a really impressive, inspirational and, in many ways that matter, an extraordinary school for children.

Very highly recommended.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers from our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.

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Details to consider
2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Very Good school with Outstanding features

2016/17 Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good to Outstanding

2016/17 Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good

2016/17 Post 16 / High

Acceptable to Outstanding

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

Very Good with Outstanding features

Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 36,540
FS2: 45,380
YEAR 1: 45,380
YEAR 2: 45,380
YEAR 3: 45,380
YEAR 4: 45,380
YEAR 5: 45,380
YEAR 6: 45,380
YEAR 7: 73,080
YEAR 8: 73,080
YEAR 9: 73,080
YEAR 10: 75,438
YEAR 11: 75,438
YEAR12: 82,511
YEAR 13: 82,511

Curriculum

National Curriculum of England
International Baccalaureate Diploma
International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme
BTEC

External Exam Boards

BSO
IBO
Pamoja Education (Blended IBDP)

IB DipM Pass Rate

93% of those students sitting for the IB Diploma
93% of those students sitting for the IB Career Related Programme

IB DipM Average Grade

30 points

Number of A Levels offered

NA - GWC offers a choice between the International Baccalaureate Diploma or International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme from age 16.

A Levels offered

NA - GWC offers a choice between the International Baccalaureate Diploma or International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme from age 16.

A Level A* to A

NA - GWC offers a choice between the International Baccalaureate Diploma or International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme from age 16.

A Level A* to C

NA - GWC offers a choice between the International Baccalaureate Diploma or International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme from age 16.

IGCSE A* to C

90% 5 A*/C or 4 to 9 pass grades
Notes:
(1) 96% A*-C in English
(2) 95% Grade 4-9 in Mathematics

IGCSE A* to A

35% A*/A or 7-9 grades
5% A*/A or 7-9 grades in all subjects

Number of I/GCSEs Offered

25

I/GCSEs offered

Core: Mathematics, Science, English, Physical Education, Islamic Education (Muslim students), Arabic (Arabic National native speakers only).
Options: Arabic, French, Spanish, Computer Science, Information and Creative Technology (BTEC), Business (BTEC or GCSE), Psychology, D&T, ICT (GCSE), Geography, Music, Art, PE, Creative Digital Media (BTEC), Dance, Drama, History, Economics, Food, Performing Arts (BTEC), Science (Triple)

Selective

Selective

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

4,308+

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:13

Largest nationality teachers

British

Teacher turnover

11%

Year opened

2011

Location

Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai

Student composition

International
Largest nationality: Arab
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): 396
Emirati: 125

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

GEMS Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)4 515 9000

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

100%

Attainment Pri SEM

80%

Attainment Sec SEM

80%

Attainment Post-16 SEM

66.6%

Progress Nur SEM

100%

Progress Pri SEM

93.3%

Progress Sec SEM

80%

Progress Post-16 SEM

80%

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

50%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

50%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

NA

Islamic St. Primary Results

40%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

50%

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

40%

Leadership

100%

Community

100%

Facilities

100%

Quality of teaching

85%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

100%

School Governance

100%

SEN Provision

100%

About The Author
Jon Westley

Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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Academic
Value
ExtraCurricula
Languages
Sports
Arts & Drama
Teaching
Communications
Warmth
Differentiation
SEND Provision
Scl Community
Scl Facilities
Curricula Global Rating