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GEMS Nations Academy, Al Barsha
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GEMS Nations Academy, Al Barsha

by Jon WestleyFebruary 3, 2016

• Facilities that push the boundaries of quality provision at the high end of Tier 1 schooling in the Emirates
• Combination of parallel stream IB and US Curriculum at Secondary phase
• Pioneering bursary provision
• Accelerated learning programme foundations
• Excellent Gifted and Talented [G&T] child provision
• Olympics class 50M swimming pool for athletes
• Pioneering, radical teacher/co-teacher model limiting class size ratio to just 1:8
• GEMS prestige
• Opportunity for parents and students to be part of an important new school from launch and co-guide its evolution


• High fees
• Untested new school provision
• Radical dual teacher class dynamics will need bedding - some teachers may find the model unwieldly in its infancy
• SEN provision will not suit all children

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Updated January 2017

In the launch of Nations Academy, GEMS Education is seeking to raise the bar of Tier 1 premium American curriculum based educational provision in the Emirates.

We aim for GEMS Nation to be a beyond “Outstanding” school –  it is not enough anymore to just focus on achieving the top KHDA rating.Tom Farquhar, Founding Head, GEMS Nations Academy,

Its ambition is not only limited to the breadth and quality of facility provision; more powerfully it is seeking to create the lowest staff to student ratio of classroom teacher provision available across any school in the Gulf by replacing all teacher support assistants with fully qualified teachers in all classes, thereby providing at least two teachers in every lesson.

The threshold ratio of student:teacher provision is fixed at 1:8. This level of investment in a “lead teacher/Co-teacher” model of teaching, notwithstanding the extraordinary scale of GEMS investment in facilities and infrastructure elsewhere across the college, is likely to be the major driver for parents seeking a premium school experience for their children. Although the dynamics of two senior teachers operating within a single class is untested, the promise of this approach is an exceptionally individualised learning experience for students.


GEMS also argues that further investment in specialist teachers in Physical Education, Music, Art, Arabic, Islamic Studies, Design Technology, Computer Coding, College Counseling, and English as an Additional Language further reduces student-teacher ratios across the school program.

Facilities themselves again push the boundaries of the very highest provision available anywhere in the sector, these including shared learning/break out zones for every grade; multiple dedicated Arabic language facilities; landmark library; science labs; ceramics and kiln room; photography and dark room; music rooms; band rooms; digital theatre; drama rooms; dance studio; TV studio with green screen facilities; radio suite; music editing suite and production facilities; digital learning zone; the largest sports hall facility in the Emirates (the size of more than 3 basketball courts); elementary sports hall with single court; indoor running track; fitness suite and sports science labs. Outdoor facilities include a 400M running track; tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer pitch, shaded play areas, roof play areas and 2 further soccer pitches.

The exceptional provision by GEMS Nations Academy of an Olympics Grade 50M swimming pool offers a facility that even the largest UK cities have struggled to provide and GEMS investment roots the school from launch with the resources to provide Olympic standard training provision for future Olympics as well as the facilities for the Emirates top tier swimmers to train for global competition.

Another notable facility is the digital lab developed through GEMS’ pioneering new partnership with LEGO© Education. This will offer Nations’ students LEGO© Robotics development software and hardware development opportunities at every phase, with an “emphasis on a learning progression in computer coding from simple control routines to sophisticated programming structures for real-world problem-solving.” As the school notes in its whichschooladvisor 2016 Q&A: “…the aim is that all students will become proficient in computer programming–our third language.”

The school is set within a 70,000m2 site in Al Barsha.

GEMS Nation’s founding Head of School, Tom Farquhar, was recruited from the United States, from a career including almost four decade’s experience in the Quaker school’s segment, one known for its very distinct, extremely child focused, creative educational approach. For whichschooladvisor the choice of Head of School is an inspired one, closely matching the clear focus of Nation’s core ambition to set the highest benchmark for individualized learning in the Gulf.

The curriculum reflects this focus. By offering parallel International Baccalaureate Diploma/US High School Diploma streams at secondary phase, GEMS Nations is able to match the aspirations and talents of individual students extremely closely. Whichschooladvisor notes that it is the dual teacher model underpinning the school’s focus on individual children, an approach designed to enable every child to excel academically, that will enable the school to bring together the very different demands of each curriculum.

Inevitably fees are Tier One plus plus, ranging from DHS 84,000 at KG1 to DHS 118,000 in Grade 8 – the highest of any (day) school in the UAE.

Our sister site has long campaigned for schools to provide bursary provision for gifted children whose parents would not otherwise be able to afford the fees with GEMS Nations, the schools Founding Head aims to meet the challenge with the launch of a dedicated scholarship programme focused initially on Grades Six to Eight.

The criteria for bursaries will not be solely academic. The aim to establish both financial diversity and a springboard for exceptional athletes are also likely to play strongly in criteria for application, both relevant in the context of its Olympics grade sports facilities where potentially the families of world class athletes may simply otherwise not have the funds for their child(ren) to attend the school.

Elsewhere, Special Educational Needs [SEN] provision is designed to provide integrated teaching support within the classroom to ensure children are in no way isolated and that all students learn within the Nation’s accelerated learning environment together. Specialised individualized learning will also be provided but the approach is very much an inclusive one. This approach also means that the Nations Academy program will be appropriate for some, but not all, students with Special Educational Needs [SEN] and prospective parents should note, for whichschooladvisor, that it is unlikely to suit non-academic children with more than moderate learning needs. At the other end of the spectrum, Gifted and Talented [G&T] children are likely to thrive within the accelerated learning environment at the heart of school life.

For whichschooladvisor the opportunities for students enrolling at GEMS Nations Academy, notwithstanding the inevitable teething challenges faced by all new schools, are the most extensive and substantive of any school in the Gulf – and beyond. The degree to which GEMS succeeds on its ambition will have far reaching impacts too across the sector as a whole.

GEMS Nations Academy opens in September 2016 offering provision between KG1 and GR8, expanding to Grade 12 in subsequent years.

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Details to consider
Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1 (Nursery): NA
FS2 (GEMS US KG1): 84,000
YEAR 1 (GEMS US KG2): 90,000
YEAR 2 (GEMS US Grade 1): 102,000
YEAR 3 (GEMS US Grade 2): 102,000
YEAR 4 (GEMS US Grade 3): 102,000
YEAR 5 (GEMS US Grade 4): 102,000
YEAR 6 (GEMS US Grade 5): 118,000
YEAR 7 (GEMS US Grade 6): 118,000
YEAR 8 (GEMS US Grade 7): 118,000
YEAR 9 (GEMS US Grade 8): On Stream 2017-18
YEAR 10 (GEMS US Grade 9): On Stream 2017-18
YEAR 11 (GEMS US Grade 10): On Stream 2017-18
YEAR 12 (GEMS US Grade 11): On Stream 2017-18
YEAR 13 (GEMS US Grade 12): On Stream 2017-18


American High School Diploma
International Baccalaureate Diploma

External Exam Boards

International Baccalaureate
Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA)


Yes (written assessment or on-line MAP testing)

Number of Students


Teacher to Student Ratio


Largest nationality teachers


Year opened



Al Barsha, Dubai


Mixed, co-educational

School canteen



GEMS Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 04 440 1500

Web Address


Progress Nur SEM


Islamic St. Post-16 Results






Quality of teaching

100% (WSA Projection)

Quality of curriculum

100% (WSA Projection)

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Acting Editor of and the International Editor of You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]

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