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GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi, Khalifa A
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GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020

“Inclusive schooling is making a commitment to provide each student in the community with the right to belong and assumes that living and learning together benefits everyone.

Inclusion is a value, a belief system, an intentional community commitment and attitude that is taught and modelled by example. 

As educators, our aim is to insure that each student is academically and personally engaged, challenged and successful. To fulfil this aim, we must design learning environments that address the unique needs of each student, across the spectrum. 

Students require a highly personalized approach to learning that is matched to their unique learning needs and tailored to learning preferences. A fully personalized learning environment moves beyond differentiation and individualization. 

We must know each student and understand their unique learner profile if we are to fully personalize the learning experience and inspire and prepare each student to be successful- at all levels of the learning continuum.”

Robert Rinaldo Head of School. GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi.

GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi (GAA-AD), after a blip in 2014-15 when it suffered a steep 3-place fall in its rankings in the Abu Dhabi Education Authority (ADEC) inspection from a near perfect High performing” A2 grading in 2013 to a B5 “Satisfactory” score, has returned to being a top tier A2 High Performing School. Ranked overall “Very Good” by ADEC since 2016, the school scores “Outstanding” for its care of children, the teaching and progress children make across all phases in English – and for its highly developed broader whole child focus across the Arts, Sport and Music. The broader curriculum is seen as fundamental to the school’s ability to nurture the individual gifts of every child, with the aim that every child finds their own unique gifts and limitless capacity to excel. The school’s innovation rich and centric curriculum is a stand-out feature of the school – and one matched by its outstanding facilities – something of a landmark in the Emirates.

General consensus is that, with its sister GEMS Dubai World Academy in Dubai, and the American School of Dubai, GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi ranks in the top three US curriculum schools in the Emirates.

Our view is that the out of character fall in the school’s performance was caused in no small part by the school’s rapid growth in numbers, something which has long since stabilised under significant changes to school management and new leadership. The result has been positive impacts across all areas of provision. The school rates as one of its USPs a genuine “culture of kindness” and this is reflected in exceptionally positive independent feedback from both students and teachers to both schoolscompared, and our sister site, whichschooladvisor. Prospective parents should note the school is in the early years of bedding in International Baccalaureate Diploma provision, something which we have noted takes time in even the very highest performing schools. Today the school runs at capacity and waiting lists run in almost every year group to ensure the school does not exceed that, despite the pressures of demand which is acutely high in younger years.

Students come from 92 different nationalities, with US, UAE, Korean and Canadian citizens providing the most significant presence.

The male to female ratio at the school is 55:45. In total, 42% of students do not have English as a first language.

GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi offers Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle and High School. Grade 11 was added in September 2013 and Grade 12 opened in September 2014.

The school follows the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program for KG and Elementary phases and offers both an enriched American Curriculum culminating in the High School Diploma and awarding of individual IB subject certificates – and the full IB Diploma programme for academically gifted children. The school was inspected and accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization, The Council of International Schools and New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2014. GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi awarded its first IB Diplomas in 2016.

 

Stand-out features

  • A genuinely rich curriculum for all students, founded on a combination of International Baccalaureate subject depth and reach underpinned with the child-focus of US teaching methodology. A strongly academic core curriculum is supported by an extended curriculum across Sport, music and the broader Arts and Sciences.
  • Outstanding links with parents with a genuine commitment to engagement with families and community.
  • Exceptional provision for children for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) with English provision more broadly an outstanding strength of the school across all phases. The school heavily invests in support staff and investment in teachers, both in professional development and in their numbers, ensures that curriculum modifications are made so that each child can find his or her own pace of learning. The aim is that both no child is left behind and that the gifts of all children are defined and nurtured.
  • Outstanding school facilities, including a Planetarium, evidence the uniqueness of, and genuine commitment to, the school’s ambition to the individual child – and to build learning capacity through curriculum choice, breadth and interdisciplinary linking.
  • Outstanding culture of care across school phases so that each child approaches school life recognising the value of their peers and faculty and leadership nurture a culture of kindness across the school focused on every child being given the confidence, investment and tools to develop their individual gifts and potential. This is a warm and happy school, a feature that for many prospective parents will be a defining strength of the school for their child(ren).
  • Developed, expansive and inspirational ECA provision
  • Very significant investment by GEMS Education. The clear aim is that the school sets the benchmark for Tier 1 provision across the Emirates’ American school sector.
  • Outstanding communication for parents. A link to the schools newsletters can be found here.
  • Heavy investment in teachers with a minimum requirement of two years teaching experience, a Bachelor/Masters Degree and an accredited teaching certificate.

 

Facilities

Facilities include:

  • A fully digital campus;
  • Dedicated Science Labs by subject/specialism (6);
  • Specialist Technology Labs;
  • Visual Arts Centre;
  • Performing Arts Facility;
  • Planetarium;
  • Landmark 600-seat Auditorium;
  • Swimming pools (2);
  • 4 tennis and basketball Courts,
  • Basketball Courts;
  • Sports (including full-size Soccer) pitches;
  • Black Box Theatre;
  • Dance studio;
  • Recording Studio
  • Green Screen Room;;
  • 6 Indoor courts;
  • Shaded play areas;
  • Black box theatre
  • Gym and fitness room;
  • Cafeteria (including hot food);
  • Language Labs (French, Spanish and Arabic)
  • Prayer Rooms
  • Two Libraraies
  • Learning Support Centre
  • Parents Engagement Groups (for both ASA programmes and Events)

 

ECA Programme

ECA/ASA (After School Activities) provision has included Board Games; Double Dutch skipping; Hawaiian Dancing; Chess Club, Big Band, top Motion; Fabric Crafts; Golf, Mathematics Games Club; Origami; GIN (Global Information Network); Street Art Club; Reader’s Theatre; Dance Club; Roots and Shoots Community Service; All Around the World; Construction Club; Arts and Crafts; Ultimate Frisbee; Choir; LEGO Club; Drama Club; Film making; French and Spanish Spelling Bees; Weight Training; UKE; Stunning Science; Stories of the Prophet Mohammed; Painting; Cooking Club; Crafting, paper cutting and colouring; Quran and Hadeeth; World Scholars Cup; Arabic Language; Mindfulness; Board Games; Drawing; Chess; Badminton; Cooking; Kindness Club; Aquafit; iPad Animation; lino-cut Print Making; Soccer; Collage Club; French; Spanish; Arabic; and, Arabic Cooking. Activities are run in six week blocks over the course of each academic year with new activities within each block to inspire student engagement.

More specialist paid ECA/ASA provision includes activities across sporting disciplines with ESports, ballet, swimming and Karate. The school also runs an overseas visits programme. No pressure is placed on families at any point to incur extra costs to access these opportunities and the school is careful to try and provide extremely high quality internally managed alternatives financed through the school fees wherever practicable. The ethos is that no child should be left behind because of the financial circumstances of parents.

 

School Leadership

Photograph of Robert Rinaldo, Head of School, GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi

Head of School Robert Rinaldo took over leadership of GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi in September 2020. Mr Rinaldo brings to the Academy more than 20 years’ school experience in school leadership and over three decades working as an educationalist. He spent seven years working as General Director of Lincoln School in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he unified the school community by leading a regeneration of student participation in academic, athletic, artistic and service learning programmes.

Prior to that, Mr Rinaldo held leadership positions in schools across Central America, including as Head of School at the International School of Tegucigalpa and as Middle School Principal at The American School of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. Mr Rinaldo also acted as a consultant to Del Campo International School where he coordinated and led the school improvement process, AdvancED SACS CASI initial accreditation process and curriculum development.

Mr Rinaldo believes the role of a teacher is to ensure that each child learns through “meaningful experiences that focus on inquiry and student interest.” To deliver this, a teacher being both inspirational and being able to ensure an emotional connection with each child and the subject matter being taught, Mr Rinaldo sees as critical.

Mr Rinaldo served on the AdvancED 2014-2016 Standards and Indicators Revision Committee as was part of the school-accreditation Quality Assurance Review visiting teams for AdvancED (SACS). For over ten years he served as Vice President of the Association of American Schools in Central America.

He holds a BA in Secondary Social Studies Education, an MA in History from The State University of New York and Cortland and a specialist degree in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

 

School Inspections

ADEK inspectors provide a very nuanced and limited critique of the school focused on three core areas. First, the school needs to further improve its provision for Arabic subjects, an area that provides a challenge for all international schools in the Emirates. In this area we think ADEK is harsh – on its own terms this is a school which, relative to other international schools, is pretty much excelling in Arabic B. Second, the quality of teaching must be improved further so that all teachers educate each student at the same exacting outstanding standards as the best educated students at GEMS American. Finally, ADEK guides the school in extending its provision for the most Gifted and Talented children (G&T). The school has a significant minority of exceptionally gifted children and the Inspectorate argues that more should be done to stretch these children and enrich their programmes of study. Significantly ADEK consistently emphasises that the school has the clear capacity in place to ensure that it meets all these need over time – and that the professional development of teachers is now significant and translating into significant improvements across the school. The importance of a school having the capacity and investment to improve should not be understated; it is arguably a vital way that parents should judge schools. Many schools in the UAE simply do not have the capacity or investment to do more than tread water. This is absolutely not the case with GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi. This is one of the crown jewels in the GEMS Education portfolio of schools- and it shows.

One critique we have of the school, and one which we address to all schools, is the lack of information provided by the school on added value. This is a very data rich school with significant investment in mapping flightpaths for children. It clearly invests in understanding children’s starting points and talents on entering the school – and in mapping out individual flight paths for children based on that data. We believe that that the school should make this added value data available to prospective parents so that they can understand the number of children who fall short of, meet and exceed their potential as they progress through the school. This is an ambitious and successful school for children, so publishing this data should highlight a core strength of the school – as well as providing all parents with a lever to benchmark the school’s performance over time and hold it to account. On a basic extrapolation of ADEK data, added value at this school would seem to be quite exceptional with clear evidence of child progress against flight paths as they work through the school. .

This said, overall, we rate transparency and communication to parents at this school outstanding. Good examples are the full publication of PISA data (below) and SAT results.

PISA2018_GEMS_AMERICAN_ACADEMY

 

Fees

Fees are premium/premium plus – but way lower than those charged for a broadly comparable education in its Dubai school. Based on facility provision, teacher calibre and subject breadth alone the value proposition here is quite exceptional. However, gaps in the curriculum breadth post 16 (see below) will take the gloss off the overall value proposition for some families.

Grade Int’l / UK 2020/21 2021/22
KG 1 / FS2 AED 52,870 AED 52,870
KG 2 / Year 1 AED 52,870 AED 52,870
Grade 1 / Year 2 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 2 / Year 3 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 3 / Year 4 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 4 / Year 5 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 5 / Year 6 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 6 / Year 7 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 7 / Year 8 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 8 / Year 9 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 9 / Year 10 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 10 / Year 11 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 11 / Year 12 AED 73,670 AED 73,670
Grade 12 / Year 13 AED 73,670 AED 73,670

 

School Prospectus

GAA College Profile 2020

 

GAA Key Facts 2021

 

The International Baccalaureate Diploma at GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi

GAA IBDP Handbook

 

Subject Options and Breadth of Curriculum

GAA Subject Options 2021

 

Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2020

GEMS American Academy, Abu Dhabi, is a flagship school for the Emirates. In many ways it stands alone in its parallel and linked stream US and IB curriculum and the strength that come from its melding of the two approaches. At its best, GEMS American Academy Aby Dhabi provides an extraordinarily rich education for its children.  Whilst it is a selective school, it is also inclusive, particularly in the area of EAL. We would like to see an increased investment in SEND places for children – this is a school which, by virtue of its own values, would benefit from extending further the inclusiveness of its student body. We would also like to see much greater commitment to scholarships and welcome to children and their families for whom school fees are simply out of reach. The school currently has no scholarship provision at all, including no access to GEMS existing scholarship programmes available at other schools, presumably this because of the sheer over-demand for places.

The school is now fully transparent and examination performance for the International Baccalaureate can be found below. Parents should note that 2016 represented th inaugural year for the IB DP and we would expect a larger percentage of students to access the programme as the school beds-in provision. The school also emphasises that entrance to the IB DP is currently inclusive which, on the basis of these (outstanding) results, is highly suggestive that the school should continue to make access to the programme as open as possible rather than making the programme selective.

This is a school that does share information with existing parents too very well.

The school has confirmed to us that it has no plans to offer Advanced Placement, this on the basis that the IB alternative better matches the school provision. Our view, however, is more nuanced. For those children who do access the IB DP programme, Advanced Placement, whilst not an imperative, would certainly strengthen the qualification foundations of children seeking to attend universities, particularly in the US. It is for those students who graduate with the High School Diploma, whether in isolation or individual IB subject certificates, that we feel would most benefit from AP. For these students we continue to believe that Advanced Placement is necessary. Certainly, the American High School Diploma, in isolation, is an age 16 level qualification and not a sufficient passport to access university. Providing non Diploma students with access to AP would have significant impact to their life chances on graduating. Our US Curriculum Guide can be found here. So too, its decision to not offer the International Baccalaureate Carer-related Programme puts the school outside a certain recommendation from us for children who are not adept in a second language. The Diploma programme insists on second language prowess and heavily penalises students who do not excel in this area – the Career-related Programme does not. So too, the Career-related Programme is founded, generally, on the respected British BTEC qualification, this affording technically and vocationally able children to follow their passions in a way precluded by the IB Diploma. The IB has the Career-related programme for a reason ……

This said, and finally, taking an overall view of provision, stand-out for us is the scale of investment in teaching staff and the ambition of the school to find and nurture the gifts of each and every child individually. Whilst the facilities of the school sparkle, it is this investment in each child that sets the school apart. The warmth and care that drives the atmosphere of the school is fundamental to meeting this aim. Independent feedback we have received over the last three years has been exceptionally positive.

We think that the the future is bright for this very unique and special school. Its profile, and the expectations placed on the school by both GEMS Education and its parents for it to deliver an outstanding plus education are intense, but everything is in place for the school to deliver just this. If it could just add AP and the IB Career-related Programme to its creditable investment in the curriculum options for students we would rate the school nigh on perfect. If it will not do this it shall have to make do with an Outstanding rating from ADEK which surely lies in the pipeline next year, a feat that will see it securing the status of being the first, and only, ADEK accredited US IB school in Abu Dhabi.

Highly recommended.

Go to the FULL REVIEW on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com

Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating

Very Good with Outstanding Features

2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Very Good with Outstanding Features

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Very Good with Outstanding features

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

Very Good with Outstanding features

Rating FS

Good - Very Good

Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good - Outstanding

Rating Secondary / Middle

Outstanding

Rating Post 16 / High

Outstanding

Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 52,870
FS2: 52,870
YEAR 1: 73,670
YEAR 2: 73,670
YEAR 3: 73,670
YEAR 4: 73,670
YEAR 5: 73,670
YEAR 6: 73,670
YEAR 7: 73,670
YEAR 8: 73,670
YEAR 9: 73,670
YEAR 10: 73,670
YEAR 11: 73,670
YEAR 12: 73,670

Curriculum

American High School Diploma (Virginia State Standards)
International Baccalaureate
Project AERO (American Education Reaches Out/Common Core)
National Arts Standards

External Exam Boards

Council of International Schools (CIS)
New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
International Baccalaureate Organization (IB/IBO)

IB DipM Pass Rate

2020 (Fifth full DipM graduating year)
IB DipM Pass rate: 100%
40% of students sat for the full Diploma Programme
60% of students did not sit for the full Diploma Programme and instead sat individual Certificates
GAA Average Score: 34
GAA High Score: 44

2016 (First full DipM graduating year)
IB DipM Pass rate: 78%
22 IB DP students
15 IB Certificate students

IB DipM Average Grade

2020 (Fifth full IBDP graduating year)
IB DipM Average Grade: 34

2016 (First full IBDP graduating year)
5.4
22 IB DP students
15 IB Certificate students

Selective

Selective
Notes:
KG: Fine and gross motor skill development at age appropriate level. Express and accept communication skills.
Grade 1: Assessment in basic literacy and numeracy skills, social (emotional and behavioural development)
Grade 2-6: MAPS (Measure of Academic Progress) testing including literacy and numeracy.
English Language proficiency and/or learning skills required.
Grade 7-12: MAPS (Measure of Academic Progress) testing including literacy and numeracy and additional mathematics and written assessments. A review of student transcripts is required.

Waiting list

Yes in some years. Good availability for September 2021 entry.

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

Capacity: 2050
2020: 2052
2017: 1865
2017: 1941
Notes:
Approximate split of school role:
(1) KG: 458
(2) Primary: 817
(3) Middle: 350
(4) High: 316

Teacher to Student Ratio

KG/Elementary: 1:12 based on 1 teacher and 1 TA and a capped maximum class size of 24 children.
Other grades: 1:25 based on rare but absolute maximum capped class size of 25 students.
Average class size across the school is 24 students.

Largest nationality teachers

American

Teacher turnover

15%

Year opened

2007

Location

Khalifa A, Abu Dhabi

Student composition

94 different nationalities
20% USA
22% Emirati
4% Canadian
5% Korean
3% Australian
3% UK
41% Other nationalities
44% Muslim
1.5% Special Educational Needs (SEND) excluding G&T
3.3% G&T
EAL: 42%

Gender

Mixed

School canteen

Yes

Owner

GEMS Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)2 557 4880

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

66.6%

Attainment Pri SEM

86.6%

Attainment Sec SEM

93.3%

Attainment Post-16 SEM

100%

Progress Nur SEM

80%

Progress Pri SEM

86.6%

Progress Sec SEM

100%

Progress Post-16 SEM

100%

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

60%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

60%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

60%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

60%

Islamic St. Primary Results

60%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

60%

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

60%

Leadership

100%

Community

100%

Facilities

100%

Quality of teaching

75%

Student personal responsibility

80%

Quality of curriculum

95%

School Governance

100%

SEN Provision

95%

Strengths

• Hugely warm and positive culture where students feel safe and are happy learners
• State-of-the-art buildings and resources provide world class opportunities for students to develop a wide range of skills and interests within, and beyond, the school day
• GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi inspires a good understanding of UAE values, culture and society within its student population
• The school is forward-looking with excellent ICT infrastructure; many students are developing a highly effective and valuable 21st Century skill base
• Student attainment is above similar schools offering the American curriculum. It is also slightly above comparable international schools
• Pupil attendance levels at the school are good at 94%
• The innovative linking and interweaving of the IB and US curricular provides a richly academic, but also broader whole-child focus that for many parents will be a significant draw.
• Outstanding new school leadership bedding in significant change over the last two years
• Non selective entry to the IB Diploma programme - rare in UAE schools and both impressive and courageous.

Weaknesses

• Data rich school with investment in comprehensive flight path setting and child monitoring - but this information should be more widely shared through V data.
• Teacher CPD still bedding in. The quality of teaching and learning across the school, whilst of a very good standard overall, needs time to match the outstanding strengths elsewhere evident across school provision
• Lack of Advanced Placement provision.
• No IB Career-related Programme.

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

• GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi has the makings of one of the finest schools in the UAE
• Its facilities are second to none, its sister school in Dubai sets benchmarks across the UAE educational system and its atmosphere and inspired sense of community is beyond reproach
• We expect the school to achieve a top A1 rating in 2021 as the school beds in its rapidly expanded management team and growth in student numbers. It has the capacity and investment from GEMS Education to now do so.
• This is a school that genuinely places the welfare of children at the heart of everything it does.
• GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi is a hugely impressive school and, we feel, it will repay the investment prospective parents make in shortlisting the school for the potential education of their child(ren).

A
Our Rating
B
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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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