“I am deeply committed to ensuring students are given every opportunity to experience exceptional learning opportunities in enabling environments – safe, happy, challenged and successful.
Pupils, staff and parents feeling proud of their efforts and achievements are key drivers for me professionally.
Inspiring others to drive forward to reach their goals, never giving up when faced with challenge, is for me what lifelong learning and education are all about.”
Maryssa O’Connor, Principal and Chief Executive Officer, GEMS Wellington International School Dubai
GEMS Wellington International School is one of GEMS Education’s flagship, premium, Tier 1 schools in the UAE, with a reputation today for delivering an outstanding education for children that securely fits its profile. Occupying a prime 8 acre site in Al Sufouh 1, GEMS Wellington International is located between the Dubai Police Academy and Dubai Media City, on the opposite side to the Mall of the Emirates.
Established in 2007, and excepting a first interim inspection, GEMS Wellington International School Dubai has secured a consistent rating of Outstanding since inspections in Dubai were started. The 2020 grading, whilst flowing automatically from its 2019 grading because of the special dispensation awarded to Dubai’s most outstanding schools, nevertheless represents a straight 11 year run of achieving the highest official award available to any school in the UAE.
The school takes children from 3 years (pre-KG or FS1) to 18 years of age (Year 13) and, even with this broad intake, its 2700 plus student body is large by any standards. Many parents may balk at the size of the school – but the benefits of scale – namely the degree of investment in children made possible by its size, are palpable and genuinely impressive – see below. Intake is drawn from over 90 nationalities of which the largest grouping is from the UK.
Children are taught by 210 full-time teachers of which the majority are British and almost all whom have relevant UK teaching qualifications.
GEMS Wellington International School is resolutely British but, like the similarly outstanding JESS Ranches, reviewed here, provides International Baccalaureate pathways, rather than A Level, for children at Sixth Form phase (16 – 18 years).
“As an English graduate followed by the PGCE at the University of Newcastle and then a National Professional Qualification for Headship at the London Institute for Education, I have been involved in school leadership for eighteen years. I have significant experience in leading school improvement and delivering outstanding standards in an international setting as well as being a Principal and CEO of two schools in the UK.
I am passionate about education; I have published texts on pedagogy and research with the Department of Education. I am deeply committed to ensuring students are given every opportunity to experience exceptional learning opportunities in enabling environments – safe, happy, challenged and successful. Students, staff and parents feeling proud of their efforts and achievements are key drivers for me professionally. Inspiring others to drive forward to reach their goals, never giving up when faced with challenge, is for me what lifelong learning and education are all about.
I am extremely driven to develop leadership skills in senior leaders and have recently completed a High Impact Leadership qualification at the University of Cambridge. I am now embarking on a MSc in Leadership, innovation and Management to further enable our school and staff to be ‘Beyond Outstanding’”.
Maryssa O’Connor, Principal and Chief Executive Officer, GEMS Wellington International School Dubai
In post since August 2018, Ms O’Connor is an English language and literature graduate by initial training, securing her BA from Teeside University in 1994. She secured her professional teaching and leadership qualifications from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the University of London respectively.
A natural and committed educator and school leader, Ms O’Connor’s career has seen her fast track to leadership. Beginning her career as a secondary English teacher in North Tyneside and Newcastle, her first move was to a school in Croydon where she was appointed Head of English and, later, Assistant Head of School. Following this, Ms O’Connor returned to the North-East as Deputy Head of Tanfield School, a Specialist College of Science and Engineering. In 2010, at just 37 years old, Ms O’Connor achieved appointment of Principal Designate of the Thornaby Academy, a position she held for some six years. Before her appointment at GEMS Wellington International School, Ms O’Connor was head hunted to turn around the then failing North Shore Academy, a monumental task which she achieved in under two years.
Ms O’Connor brings more than twenty five years experience to her role at GEMS Wellington International.
Stand-out Features – Investment
Investment in teachers and extending subject choice further is significant and ongoing. The breadth of subject choice made available to children has further been enhanced with the addition of subject choices in:
- Design and Technology; and,
New BTEC options have been introduced in:
- Creative Media & Production
- Business and Information Technology
For us, a key measure of how successful any school is in delivering to the needs, ambitions, potential and abilities of its children, is the breadth of subject and qualification choices made available to every student. This is also one very important and telling means for parents to calculate the likelihood of a school being able to meet the needs of their children as they grow within a school. None of us can know with younger children where their gifts and needs will eventually be – so a school that delivers breadth of choice across qualifications and subjects is much more likely to meet the needs of our own children later. Equally, if a child is able to study the subjects that they enjoy and excel in, they are much more likely to be happy in school. When measuring ROI and understanding the fees that schools charge, looking at subject breadth can be revealing. A marginally more expensive school for a child to attend, may offer twice the breadth of subjects as its competitor. In this case, the ROI will be much greater. Across these indices of breath of subject choice and qualifications, as a means of judging ROI, we rate GEMS Wellington International School outstanding [January 2021].
Stand-out Features – Subject Choice, Curriculum Breadth and Inclusion
Over recent years the choice offered to students across subject and qualification pathways has grown. Most impressively, GEMS Wellington International now provides students with the option to study for the in our view outstanding International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme as an alternative to the standard International Baccalaureate Diploma. Two IB CrP options are available:
- The International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme in Business
- The International Career-related Programme in Creative Media
Our discussion of the strengths of the Career-related Programme can be found here, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, here. Both qualifications provide equal access to the world’s top universities. The fit of the diploma is best for children who are most gifted academically. The Career-related programme is a better fit for children who are more gifted technically (the CP is usually grounded in the British gold standard BTEC qualification). Worth noting too that the Career-related Programme, unlike the Diploma Programme, does not downgrade children who are not gifted in languages. Of the two, if the BTEC options are in place to meet the abilities and interests of your child, we rate the Career-related Programme more highly. We would like to see GEMS Wellington International further expanding Career-related Programme Choice to include Sport (another key strength of the school) and a more scientific option such as Engineering in future years (in Singapore, for example, GEMS works with a specialist Aeronautical university to ground their CP in aviation.)
As a comparative site, we would ague that, currently, it remains the case that for many parents seeking the absolutely best British education available with IB pathways the choice will be a direct one between JESS and Wellington International.
Worth noting that in our earliest review of GEMS Wellington International School we had, whilst praising the school’s early academic inclusiveness, identified a mismatch in its inability to offer sufficient choices to its mixed ability students post IGCSE. It is an absolute credit to the school that this has now been not just resolved, but the bar set very high in delivering for every child. The sustained and ongoing commitment to technical education alternative pathways, as well as broadening subject choice is, as above, outstanding, significant and genuine.
As an aside, where possible, we would always encourage young men and women to study for either (1) the Career-related Programme or (2) the Diploma programme or (3) a Level 3 BTEC rather than opting for IB Certificates only. IB Certificates, in isolation, will not meet the entry requirements of top tier universities.
In the rather convoluted and confusing post-16 educational sector today, parents can best make sense of what makes an outstanding school by looking at the degree to which a school ensures that every child has a choice between academic and technical pathways. BTEC, The IB Career-related Programme and British “T” Levels (which will directly compete in status with British “A” Levels) are designed to provide students with direct routes to university or industry at 18 years – and meets the needs, inclusively, of children who may naturally enjoy more technical study – or a mix of vocational/technical/hands-on study with academics. In only the rarest exceptions would we recommend a school that did not offer a technical pathway for children (we can think of only one school in the UAE that we can recommend without a technical pathway, Dubai College, review here, and this only because it selectively accepts only the very brightest, academically gifted children).
Bottom line? The broader the choice of Post-16 options, the better any school is going to be able to meet the needs of all its children; with enough options no child will ever be pushed into a course of study that provides a poor ‘fit’ with their skills and potential ambitions. GEMS Wellington International School fees are high (see below) – but its provision of choice is a key justification of both why fees need to be pitched at this level, and why we still rate ROI as outstanding.
A good example of how GEMS Wellington International works for children can be found in its securing of places in 2017 for 3 graduating students at the University of Greenwich to study “Film and TV Production” and “Media and Communication; courses designed, unlike your typical academic university courses (English, History …) to professionally train students for careers in those professions.
The investment required to deliver BTEC and the Career-related programme is high. We know of more than one school that has privately said to us that it knew that it should be offering both the Career-related Programme and BTEC, but simply could not afford to do so.
If post-16 provision and choice for students is absolutely exceptional at GEMS Wellington International, the same holds true of GEMS Wellington International School’s investment in Key Stage 4 options. Stand-out is the school’s choice to offer all students both GCSE, IGCSE and, critically, Level 2 BTEC options. BTEC subjects are, we believe, as above, important in providing students with technically focused qualifications, and qualifications not always dependent on linear examinations at the end of Year 11.
Other examples of subject choice abound including the introduction of ASDAN courses (and certificates) for children identified with SEND and a mooted new BTEC in Sport.
We have included below the Key Stage 4 options literature provided by the school because it provides a benchmark, we believe, for both exceptional clarity in guiding students through the complexity of Key Stage 4 options – and indicates a school genuinely committed to providing an array of examinations best able to fit the potential, gifts and ambitions of its children. With around 40 subject choices available across IGCSE and BTEC, GEMS Wellington International is setting benchmarks for inclusion and genuinely – and powerfully, meeting the needs, gifts and ambitions of the children under it care.GEMS Wellington International Key Stage 4 Subject Options 2021
Facilities are Tier 1 and comprehensive. It would be easy to identify theoretical improvements – for example, a 50M competition sized Olympic swimming Pool, but this would be churlish – few UK cities can afford one. A 50M Olympic specification pool is certainly not a make-or-break for an outstanding school and you do not need one to compete in Tug of War….
Presented as a list, facilities at GEMS Wellington International School are stellar, including a Creation Garden; Digital Signboards; dedicated Television and Radio Station; 472-capacity Princess Haya Theatre, School Observatory; Smart Classrooms; Café; 3 fixed computer/IT Suites; mobile IPad/laptop banks; Image/video/sound editing/game creation/green screen/POD casting/multimedia presentation facilities/technology; Knowledge Centre Library; Dance studio; Drama studio; 3 Art studios; Television studio; and Radio broadcasting Hub. Investment in the Creative Arts as a whole we rate significant.
Sporting facilities include floodlit AstroTurf Sports Fields, health and fitness studio, multi-purpose sports hall; dedicated Primary Sports Hall; cricket nets; tennis courts; basketball courts; netball and volleyball courts; 25m indoor swimming pool; outdoor pool, FS/Year 1 play area; and dance/fitness studio (as above).
Refurbishments have been made to the central canteen area which forms the spine of the building on the ground floor open to the full height of the building. This extraordinary glass “sky-lit” space now doubles as extra study and performance area for students and is aesthetically zoned into 6 distinct areas. The fabulous space works extraordinary well as an inspirational hub of study, broader school activities and community – as well as being the canteen area at mealtimes.
These are small examples, but important and telling of the investment that is ongoing in the school in facilities, infrastructure and the tweaks that improve the experience of learning and school life for children.
What any list does not capture however is the feel of a school when you walk in – or a sense of the environment it creates for its children. There are some schools in the UAE that overflow with facilities but many parents might perceive as less like a school than a hotel. At this level, facilities do not make a school but contribute to it.
What we found – and we think is important – is a school that feels like a school. Do not expect to feel out of place, or uncomfortable walking into GEMS Wellington International. GEMS Wellington International School has warmth in abundance. On our 2018 visit our team noted:
“This is a school that really stands out in the way areas are themed.
GEMS Wellington International teachers have managed, almost uniquely in all my visits across Dubai and Abu Dhabi schools, to create a feel of ‘the real world’ outside school – and bring it to life in the most wonderfully rich, inciteful and thought-provoking ways. Media, Science, the Arts – all are brought to life extraordinarily and inspirationally – the role play internal areas for FS children, particularly the market stall and reading barn, are just so impressive and brilliant examples of how the school works to celebrate children, their work – and in so doing, creating a warm, happy and inspirational learning environment.
It’s very special …
The only other school, I feel, that is quite as successful in creating this atmosphere is Jumeriah College, [reviewed here. Ed.]. Both Jumeirah College and GEMS Wellington International share a rare sense of children having real purpose and confidence – and within a school environment brimming with educational integrity rather that ostentation.
The whole school feels youthful – and not at all stuffy. Parents should not imagine that an outstanding school needs to be – or should be, austere, colourless or vapid.”
GEMS Wellington International School publishes examination results in all subjects, and in full, for parents. Whilst we understand GEMS historic frustration that many parents were being encouraged to believe that the better the examination results, the better the school (which is clearly not correct – particularly when comparing selective schools with those like JESS and GEMS Wellington that are academically inclusive), the decision to publish this information is, we believe, creditable. parents do need to be able to benchmark a school’s performance over time.
As with JESS, examination results at GEMS Wellington International are particularly impressive given its inclusive role. In practice, GEMS Wellington International School is one that delivers for all its children – and is a school with an open welcome to children regardless of ability. Of course, this comes with the qualification that, like all top schools, securing a lace is not far from a fait accompli given the Waiting Lists in all phases.
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Results 2015 – 2020
Diploma results are listed below, with further information in our tables.
There are still some gaps. we would like to see GEMS Wellington having the confidence to breakdown the number of children entering each pathway – and the results in each. Not all children will enter for the Diploma so judging these (exceptionally good) results, in isolation, as a means for judging how good a school GEMS Wellington is, would be misleading. Until we can get schools in the UAE to between them agree a way of measuring Added Value – the degree to which each school achieves above and beyond expectations for each child, and to publish that information, parents will not have a fair way of judging how well schools really perform. Examination league tables need to be read with a health warning that they can only provide one small part of the jigsaw puzzle of positives that go into making a truly outstanding school.
In reading the following, parents should note that around 1 in 5 of children studying for the Diploma at GEMS Wellington International School achieve more than 40 points – the inflection point at which, all things being equal, children should have a good shot at Oxbridge.
|Number of Diploma Candidates
|Number of Diploma Candidates passed
|% pass rate
|Average points score
|ALIS points score
|World average points score
|Highest points score
|Average core points
|% students achieving 30+
|% students achieving 35+
|% students achieving 40+
|Number of level 7s
|Average subject grade
International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme
2020 International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme Results follow:
BTEC Results 2020
2020 BTEC Results follow:
Fees run between AED43,941 at FS1 and AED95,597 in Year 13. This is a premium school with the fees to match. But, to take two schools we have referenced here that are, in different ways, equally likely to inspire parents, those fees are not out of place. GEMS Jumeirah College fees run to AED 91,235 in Year 13 and JESS Ranches between AED39,837 at FS1 to AED 93.852 in the Sixth Form.
BSO Outstanding School StatusGEMS Wellington International School BSO 2019 - 21
KHDA Outstanding School StatusGEMS Wellington International School 2020 2021
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2021-22
Bottom line, GEMS Wellington International delivers one of the UAE’s most definitive benchmarks for how to deliver a genuinely outstanding IB education that meets the needs of all children.
This really matters with the IB. The UAE is creditably defined by its values of inclusion – and many IB schools simply do not deliver to these values. Not all students will thrive under the International Baccalaureate Diploma – and GEMS Wellington International recognises this in full by providing powerful alternative International Career-related Programme pathways for its students.
The results – in terms of results and happy school dynamics are evident and a a tremendous achievement for GEMS, the school’s leadership, its parents, teachers – and, most importantly, GEMS Wellington International’s students.
Stand-out features at this school then are two-fold.
- First, subject choice. Here GEMS Wellington International shines. As an inclusive school it needs to invest to ensure that all children can meet their potential and ambitions. With its provision of the BTEC backed (outstanding) International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme, broader investment in BTEC and ASDAN courses, GEMS Wellington International School is one delivering in spades. Further, IGCSE breadth of choice equals the very best available from any school in the UAE too.
- Second, GEMS Wellington International School is a happy one. It made us revisit our view of what makes an inspiring school for children – there is much to celebrate at this school.
There is the promise of a rich journey for children on offer here – not just academically, but in every aspect of their growing up.
We would like to see more Career-related Programme subject choices. GEMS has the expertise and might to deliver these. An extension of Level 3 BTEC options too would further strengthen the Sixth Form offer. Finally, we do need to see the Career-Programme and BTEC given much more focus in the school’s communications. But these are for the future, and on the strength of investment to date we can well see these emerging in the years ahead.
In the meantime, parents here are paying for the best education possible for their children – and that means far less an exams factory than a school genuinely, and powerfully, preparing its young people for the many new challenges of twenty first century graduate study and industry. Subject breadth is the surface way of measuring this, but it is the innovation, passion and welfare of children so evident here that lie at the core of the well-rounded, ethically developed and fundamentally interesting and inquisitive students that graduate from the school.
Worth noting too, the tracking of child progress – and the way the school is able to, and does, make swift and high impact interventions to ensure no child is (ever) left behind, is quite remarkable – and rare in UAE schools.
For parents set on a British IB education in the UAE, it does not come better than this.
© SchoolsCompared.com 2022. All rights reserved.
2019/20 - Outstanding
WSA certified "Good School" 2015-16, 2016-17; 2017-18; 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21
YEAR 1: 55,356
YEAR 2: 55,346
YEAR 3: 55,346
YEAR 4: 55,346
YEAR 5: 55,346
YEAR 6: 55,346
YEAR 7: 76,312
YEAR 8: 76,312
YEAR 9: 76,312
YEAR 10: 85,870
YEAR 11: 85,870
YEAR 12: 95,597
YEAR 13: 95,597
National Curriculum of England, International Baccalaureate Diploma, International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme, BTEC
Cambridge International, International Baccalaureate, EDEXCEL, ASDAN (SEND)
IB Career-related Programme: 100% (2020)
36 Points (2017)
34 Points (2019)
38 Points (2020)
BTEC: 100% Pass Rate Level 3
(1) GEMS Welllington International School offers alternative (1) International Baccalaureate Diploma; (2) International Career-related Programme; (3) International Baccalaureate courses only (Certificates); and (4) BTEC Pathways following IGCE for children between the ages of 16 and 18 years.
(2) International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme options include:
(a) International Baccalaureate Career Related Certificate in Business
(b) International Baccalaureate Career Related Certificate in Creative Media
(3) BTEC Options include:
(a) BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Business
(b) BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Creative Media
(c) BTEC Business and Information Technology (from 2019)
98% A*C (2017)
(1) 79% A*B (2017)
(2) 68% A*- A GCSE Maths
(3) 50% A* - A GCSE Science
(4) 41% A* - A ( 9-8) GCSE English
50% A*A (2017)
English Language (Core)
English Literature (Core)
Design and Technology
Dual Language (French and Spanish)
Additional Science (Invitation only)
Further Pure Mathematics
Art with Photography
Human Health and Physiology
Human Health and Physiology
BTEC Information Technology
Academically selective Post-16
Academically fully inclusive at younger years although some selection testing may be required
Limited but high quality SEND place availability
(1) GEMS Wellington International school has a mixed academic profile of students with (in our view an )outstanding choice of Post-16 pathways to meet the spectrum of abilities.
Al Sufouh, Dubai
SEND (including Gifted and Talented): 360
+971 (0)4 348 4999
• Subject choice and inclusion at IGCSE and Post-16 takes the breath away - outstanding.
• Students attain good to outstanding standards of learning in English, Mathematics and Science at Foundation, Primary, Secondary and Post—16 Levels
• Extremely impressive school leadership
• Children’s personal and social development is outstanding across every level of education
• Students demonstrate outstanding attitudes toward learning and contribute broadly and with depth
• Teaching and assessment is outstanding at all ages and in most subjects inspirational
• The curriculum is relevant, responsive, rich in breadth and texture and highly innovative
• Extensive after school extra-curricular sporting and cultural activities and provision including debating, robotics, musical and dramatic productions and computing
• Highly effective communication between the school and parents via weekly bulletins, on-line resource, informal meetings and direct mail contact
• Strong links with other schools and outstanding links with local and global businesses gives students a pioneering and entrepreneurial skills base and outlook
• Special education needs provision is exceptional and a stand-out feature of GEMS Wellington International’s commitment to developing talent across the ability and needs spectrum
• Outstanding value-added exam performance at all levels given its mixed ability inclusive intake
• Outstanding Key Stage 4 options - with exceptional and thoughtful focus on the needs, potential and gifts of individual children.
• Stand-out BTEC Options
• Happy school dynamics bring out the very best from children
• Outstanding tracking of child performance and relevant interventions - rare in schools
• No advertised scholarship and bursary provision
• Fees will stretch many parents
• Demand outstrips supply with waiting lists at many phases
• We would like to see IB Career-related and BTEC student achievements celebrated more on-line - it is a strength of the school that it offers two dedicated technical stream Sixth Form options for students.
• Further IB CrP and BTEC options in Sport and Scientific disciplines would strengthen Sixth Form provision still further.