GEMS Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis -THE REVIEW 2021
GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis – Review updated September 2021.
“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.
During the eighteen years I have been privileged enough to work in the education sector, I have taught and led in four Outstanding schools in the UK and Internationally. My teaching experience spans across all key stages, and as a leader I have been an influential member of many innovative leadership teams. A child’s wellbeing, happiness and resilience are profoundly affected by the quality of the guidance, love and care that they receive during their educational journey, and my commitment to providing our students with the best possible educational experience is unrivalled.
Children and young people are the reason we come together as a learning community – and they will always be the absolute and steadfast focus of all decisions I make as the Principal/CEO of GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis.”
Sarah O’Regan. Principal and Chief Executive Officer. GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis.
“Moving to Dubai back in 2011 our priority was finding a reputable British Curriculum school for our two sons to settle into fast…
The fantastic facilities, wide range of pathways and enrichment opportunities are some of the best.
Teachers are very supportive…
These high standards have given our boys every opportunity to succeed, culminating in some amazing GCSE results for them both.
We would highly recommend GEMS WSO to anyone that is looking for the best teaching of the British Curriculum in Dubai.”
Mr and Mrs. Harrad. Parents. GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis.
Opened in September 2011 with approximately 1,000 students, GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis has today more than trebled in size to its current enrolment of 3200 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 full spectrum of academic, technical, sporting and vocational options for children.
The ambition of GEMS Wellington Academy’s Principal, Ms Sarah O’ Regan, to deliver to the broadest needs of children, was clear in our 2021 visit to the school and our first interview – see below.
If these are the headline mainstays of the curriculum offer, a myriad of other qualifications and secondary pathways are on offer from Performing 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 enrol their children in the school, they are almost guaranteed that, whatever the eventual ambitions, ability and skills of their child as they grow with the school, he or she is guaranteed find a post-16 pathway to meet them. These include the full spectrum of gold standard A’ Level, IB Diploma, the IB Career-related Programme and BTEC options. Further, subject choice within each pathway (or through a mixture of pathways), we rate as outstanding. Few schools can offer this promise – and many families find themselves having to change schools midstream because their existing school simply ends up not being able to meet the needs of their child(ren).
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 at a larger school – one armed with sufficient revenue to invest in teachers, resources and subject pathways.
So to the fundamentals. GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis offers and education to around 3200 students between the ages of 2 to 18 years 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. Teaching faculty are overwhelmingly British and the teacher: pupil ratio is a creditable 1:12. On the basis of balance of fee structure, facilities, fees and investment this is definitively one of Dubai’s premium schools.
GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis is classified by the KHDA, Dubai’s Inspectorate of Schools, as a “Very Good” school with “Outstanding elements”, this at the top end of its second highest rating on a six point scale that defines schools from being “Very weak”, “Weak”, “Acceptable”, “Good”, “Very Good” and “Outstanding.” This rating has been held consistently for over 6 years.
Worth noting that the school’s name is often abbreviated to WSO (not GWA).
Currently the largest single student demographic is Arab with significant populations of British, American and European students. Around 3% of the student population are Emirati. 12% of students have been identified as having some form of Special Educational Needs (SEN) requirement including being Gifted and Talented.
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 or otherwise disadvantaged.
GEMS Wellington Silicon Oasis, in our view, passes this test with flying colours.
Facilities are Tier 1 Premium and include:
- Spacious teaching areas with interactive whiteboards/LED displays in every classroom
- Three x 25m 6 lane swimming pools, with diving platforms and a learner pool
- Two full sized sports fields (3G surface (astroturf))
- Three large multi-purpose indoor sports halls
- Fitness Suite
- Several outdoor multi-purpose court areas
- Cricket practice nets
- 100m sprint track
- 650 seat professional auditorium
- External amphitheatre
- Performing Arts Suite; including Music Practice Rooms, Dance Studio & Drama Studio
- Three interactive blended learning plazas
- Media Suite; including ICT Suite, Editing Rooms, Radio Station, Recording Studio & Mac Suites
- High specification Science labs
- Design Technology facilities; including Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronics and Home Economics
- Arts studio with pottery kiln and printing press
- Student gardens
- Indoor and outdoor Foundation Stage play areas
- Outdoor Learning areas and outdoor classroom
- Three libraries
- Post-16 Centre including student café
- Two Parent Cafes
- Two student restaurants
- Spacious public areas for additional learning environments
- On-site bus drop-off area
- On-site parking facilities
- Padel Tennis Courts – coming in October 2021
British Curriculum Education
GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis offers the National Curriculum for England from Foundation Stage to Sixth Form. A Reggio Emilia Nursery is now also housed on site (2021). More on the Reggio Emila curriculum can be found in our dedicated curriculum guide here.
Students in Key Stage 4 follow GCSE, IGCSE and BTEC examination pathways.
Post 16 provision sees students prepare for a choice, as above, between A’ Levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) the International Baccalaureate (outstanding) Career-related Programme and BTEC. These can also be blended together, this on the basis that many students are both academic and technical. For example, this year students have: combined:
- BTEC performing arts, IBDP visual arts, IBDP English
- BTEC sports with A-level business
- BTEC media with A-level photography and IBDP visual arts
A broad outline of Post-16 provision is explored here by Ms Amy Cooper, Well-being and Curriculum Coordinator, GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis:
A Level options include:
- English Literature
- Computer science
- Design technology
- Further maths
Students can also sit for the Expended Project Qualification (EPQ)
Level 3 BTEC options are extensive, including:
- Applied Science
- Creative Media
- Performing Arts
- Music Production
- Sports Coaching & Development
- Travel & Tourism
Any of these can act as the hub technical stream qualification for the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme.
IB Subject options (for both the Diploma and Career-related Programme) include:
- English Language and Literature
- French ab initio
- Spanish ab initio
- German ab initio
- Italian ab initio
- Business management
- Computer science
- Design technology
- ESS (Environment systems and society)
- Sports and exercise science
- Maths: Analysis and Approaches
- Maths: Applications and Interpretations
- Business management
- Visual arts
The school’s now established digital “blended” IB Diploma (IBDP) is run in association with Pamoja Education a leader in the field.
ECA provision, which extends to some 90 options is outstanding (see below).
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 amphitheatre, 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 (see below)
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.
New School Leadership 2021: Sarah O’Regan, Principal and Chief Executive Officer, GEMS Wellington Academy DSO.
Read our exclusive first interview with Ms Regan exploring why subject breadth is vital in schools and why our children should not be treated as mass production boxes on a conveyor belt of identikit learning.
The Post-16 Official GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis Prospectus for Parents 2021Post 16 handbook_compressed
GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis has specific Performing Arts areas and groups of expertise and achievement:
- Dance Crew – Adrenaline
- Acting Students – Illuminate
- Singing Choir – Resonance
- Music Band – Amplified
- Musical Theatre Crew – Dazzle
Opportunities for Sport at GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis we rank outstanding and include:
- Football Development
- Padel Tennis (from October 2021)
- Netball Development
- Tag Rugby
- Touch Rugby
- Rugby 7’s/10’s/15’s
- Rippa Rugby
- Hardball Cricket
- Tapeball Cricket
- Inclusive Games
- Cross Country
- Table Tennis
ECA and Extended Whole Child Curriculum Provision
ECA and whole child provsion is some of the most outstanding available of any school in the UAE. For Secondary students, options include:
|Advertising & Promotional Team|
|Art & Design|
|Build a zoo|
|Building That Art Portfolio|
|Global Innovation Challenge|
|IST Private Study|
|Leading Enrichment 11, 12, 13|
|Mathematics Analytics HL|
|Model United Nations|
|SOCIETY: History & Politics|
|Taste for Travel|
|Textiles: Wall hanging|
For Primary Students, the opportunities are equally inspirational:
SchoolsCompared.com visits – Primary
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. The new Reggio Emila Nursery (above) is the icing on the cake.
Primary classrooms are well laid out and despite 10 form entry (GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai 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.
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 FS1 onwards and is a rotation of dance, drama and music.
The external learning areas are impressive. 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 levels. Level 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.
Level 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.
SchoolsCompared.com visits – Secondary
The Secondary School has a very different feel, helped by an impressive, double-height, glass-panelled 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.
Whilst we cannot confirm the figures, we were advised that the value-added blended approaches deliver for children exceptionally highly. From a minimal 2% of students predicted to gain an AA grade at iGCSE (based on CAT scoring) the blended approach helped drive this up to an eventual 52% of children, in practice, achieving an AA grade.
The Performing Arts area (see above) 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 bussed to the Rugby 7’s ground.
Fees are Premium Plus, with a high fee entry point. Based on value proportion, we rate the school as having outstanding ROPI. Parents using GEMS finance can reduce these fees by around 4% per annum.
|Year||Fees 2021-22||1ST TERM (SEP – DEC)||2ND TERM (JAN – MAR)||3RD TERM (APR – JUNE)|
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared Verdict on GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis 2021-22
GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis is a school that many parents will dismiss because of its size. But we feel this may be an opportunity missed. As one parent told us:
“Don’t be take in by the numbers. We moved from a highly thought of Primary-only for the quality of education on offer – and the feel of WSO, despite its stated size and scale, is of a community school where everyone knows our child’s name – and happiness abounds.”
Parent feedback. SchoolsCompared.com.
We agree. 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.
The choice of post-16 pathways is class-best with expanded post-16 educational provision to include A Levels and BTEC beyond both IB Diploma options. As significantly, pathways can be combined. All that is left is to provide T Levels – but then no school, yet, is delivering these in the UAE.
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.
As above, worth noting too that GEMS Wellington Academy DSO is a GEMS Centre of Excellence for the Performing Arts and Theatre Technology.
Bottom line? GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis is a really impressive, inspirational and, in the many ways that truly matter, an absolutely extraordinary school for children.
Very highly recommended.
Very Good school with Outstanding features
Very Good school with Outstanding features
Very Good school with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Good - Outstanding
YEAR 1: 45,380
YEAR 2: 45,380
YEAR 3: 46,319
YEAR 4: 46,319
YEAR 5: 46,319
YEAR 6: 46,319
YEAR 7: 70,000
YEAR 8: 73,080
YEAR 9: 73,080
YEAR 10: 75,438
YEAR 11: 75,438
YEAR 13: 82,511
National Curriculum of England
International Baccalaureate Diploma
International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme
BTEC (Media, Business and ICT)
Pamoja Education (Blended IBDP)
100% of IB Careers Pathway and BTEC students achieved a pass.
GWC offers a choice between A Levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma or International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme, BTEC, or a mix of these pathways from age 16. 16 dedicated A' Level options are offered plus the EPQ.
39% A* (9-8)
57% A*/A (9-7)
96% A*-C (9-4).
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)
Current role (2021): 3200 students
Capacity 4,200 students
14.5% (note: this is low by UAE standards)
Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai
Largest nationalities: British, Indian, Egyptian
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): 403
+971 (0)4 515 9000
• Breadth of subject pathways unbeatable in the UAE with A Level, BTEC, GCSE, and both IB options.
• Dual pathway IB options with International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme and the IB Diploma an outstanding aspect of post-16 provision.
• Subject pathways can be mixed to fit the needs of students, for example BTEC can be sat with A Levels.
• Inspirational and driven new Principal and CEO Ms Sarah O'Regan
• 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.
Care for students results in a school that has a community feel very different to that suggested by its scale.
• Blended, on-line learning is not for all children and requires self-discipline (but it lowers the costs of entry for the outstanding breadth of subject provision)
• 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
• Some parents will be hesitant given the large role of 3000 plus students - but it is this scale which allows such an extraordinary investment in student pathways.