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GEMS Dubai American Academy, Al Barsha 1 – THE REVIEW
WSA Good School
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Review

GEMS Dubai American Academy, Al Barsha 1 – THE REVIEW

by November 23, 2015
Details to consider
2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Outstanding

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Outstanding

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

Outstanding

Rating FS

Outstanding

Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good - Outstanding

Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good - Outstanding

Rating Post 16 / High

Outstanding

Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Yes

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

KG1: 22,826
KG2: 59,949
YEAR 1: 84,511
YEAR 2: 84,511
YEAR 3: 84,511
YEAR 4: 84,511
YEAR 5: 84,511
YEAR 6: 84,511
YEAR 7: 84,511
YEAR 8: 84,511
YEAR 9: 84,511
YEAR 10: 84,511
YEAR 11: 84,511
YEAR 12: 84,511
YEAR 13: NA

Curriculum

US-IB blended:
International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB DP)
US High School Diploma
Notes:
(1) No provision for Advanced Placement
(2) No provision for the International Baccalaureate Career-related programme

External Exam Boards

Council of International Schools
New England Association of Schools and Colleges
International Baccalaureate
College Board (from 2019)

IB DipM Pass Rate

Not published
Notes:
(1) GEMS Dubai American Academy does not publish the number of students, or percentage of students, who sit for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, IB Subjects only or the High School Diploma. Without this information it is difficult to benchmark the school as it is not possible to say whether any more than a handful of children actually sit for the IB DP.

IB DipM Average Grade

34 (2018)
Notes:
(1) GEMS Dubai American Academy does not publish the number of students, or percentage of students, who sit for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, IB Subjects only or the High School Diploma. Without this information it is difficult to benchmark the school as it is not possible to say whether any more than a handful of children actually sit for the IB DP.

Selective

Inclusive

Waiting list

Yes - some Grades

Value Added

Not Published

Number of Students

Capacity: 2750
Notes:
(1) Current role: 2647

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:13
Notes
(1) Class Size KG1 - KG2: 22
(2) Class Size Grade 1 - Grade 12: 25

Largest nationality teachers

American

Teacher turnover

36% (above average)

Year opened

1997
Notes:
(1) Moved to new site and merged with GEMS Nations in September 2017

Location

Al Barsha 1, Dubai

Student composition

American (largest nationality)
SEND: 199
Emirati: 55
Nationalities represented: 100+
US: 22.07%
Canadian 9.49%
Indian 6.84%
South Korean 5.96%
Egyptian 4.09%.

Gender

Mixed
Notes:
(1) Male-Female ration: 50:50 male/female

School canteen

Yes

Owner

GEMS Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 4 704 9777

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

100%

Attainment Pri SEM

86.6%

Attainment Sec SEM

86.6%

Attainment Post-16 SEM

100%

Progress Nur SEM

100%

Progress Pri SEM

86.6%

Progress Sec SEM

93.3%

Progress Post-16 SEM

100%

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

50%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

50%

Islamic St. Primary Results

45%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

60%

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

40%

Leadership

100%

Community

100%

Facilities

100%

Quality of teaching

95%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

100%

School Governance

100%

SEN Provision

100%

Strengths

• Tier 1 US-International Baccalaureate blended school curriculum
• Perfect alignment of the best features of US educational approaches (whole child focus/inclusion/warmth) with academic stretch of the IB Diploma
• Outstanding, visionary leadership
• Robust, professional development culture
• Strong, vibrant and inspirational partnerships between parents and the school create impressive and genuine integration of the school within the broader community
• Extremely high standards of collaboration between teachers and students are highlighted by the commitment to meeting the different needs of children across age, ability and outlook
• Competent, experienced and caring Special Educational Needs leadership delivers consistent outcomes across all abilities within the programme
• Wide-ranging and ambitious after-school activities are available to all students from Kindergarten through to High School, these developing individual student talents and interests beyond the classroom
• Outstanding facilities provsion

Weaknesses

• Lack of International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme leaves a gap in technical stream options for children
• Lack of Advanced Placement means that IB courses only, or High School Diploma only, students will not have the qualifications for accessing many top tier universities worldwide

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

Astonishing school in so many ways, GEMS Dubai American Academy sits tier of US-IB schooling in Dubai. Inclusive, warm, rich in its provision and high cache, this is a school that has the capacity to delivery an extraordinary education for all children. If sights are on top tier universities worldwide, the absence of AP and the IB CP, means for some families the choice to shortlist the school will need careful thought. Highly recommended.

A+
Our Rating
B
User Rating
You have rated this
Is this school on your shortlist?
Top of shortlist
33%
In my Top 5
29%
Shortlisted
17%
A possibility
13%
Pass
0%
No way
8%

Updated January 2019 – GEMS Dubai American Academy updated contact details, KHDA accreditation, Best School shortlisting and SchoolsCompared.com 2019 verdict

At GEMS Dubai American Academy we take our students on a journey through a world-class educational experience, empowering them to become the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

At the core of our futur

e-fluent curriculum is creative design, cutting-edge robotics and digital fluencies encouraging students to apply technology-based solutions to real-world problems.”

Tammy Murphy, Superintendent & CEO, GEMS Dubai American Academy

Background

GEMS Dubai American Academy is a 2700 capacity mixed, co-educational school occupying an impressive 18 acre site (circa 70,000m2 campus) in Al Barsha. The school offers a blended US-International Baccalaureate curriculum based all-through education to 2,647 students (2019) aged between 3 and 18 years of age.

Map showing the location of GEMS Dubai American Academy in Al Barsha

100+ nationalities are represented within the student body, with the largest number, around 22 %, drawn from the United States. The school has a mixed intake, with a 50% balance between male and female students, and is non-selective. SEND provision is outstanding.

By way of background, GEMS Dubai American Academy today represents the merger of GEMS ultra-premium GEMS Nations Academy (our historical review can be found here) – a school designed ground-up to be the most technologically advanced school in the world, and the historic KHDA Outstanding Dubai American Academy (DAA) in September 2017. The merger saw the launch of a new school, Dubai American Academy – Nations Campus,  blending the flagship facilities and faculty investment of GEMS Nations with the historically outstanding teaching and achievements of Dubai’s premium US curricular school. Today the school has reverted simply to GEMS Dubai American Academy.

The merger has seen to all intents and purposes an entirely new school. DAA relocated in its entirely to the landmark GEMS Nations campus and the integration was complex, seeing the blending of arguably the best facilities of any school in the Emirates with some core differences between the schools across almost every aspect of provision from SEND and bursaries to co-teacher models of education and the defined US curriculum approach from DAA that GEMS did not want to dilute. The risks of blending arguably the two highest profile GEMS schools in the UAE carried significant risk – but also opportunity.

Has it worked?

What we can say is that GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA) remains the only school in Dubai following an American curriculum to have been awarded an “Outstanding” rating by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau. The accolade has been awarded in each of the seven consecutive years since 2011 and in 2017-18 the school is described by inspectors as having “outstanding teaching leading to outstanding learning outcomes in English, Mathematics and Science.”

Children engaged in Labs study at GEMS Dubai American Academy

GEMS Dubai American Academy arguably competes only with The American School of Dubai, reviewed here, as the best US curriculum school in Dubai.

The International Baccalaureate and High School Diploma Graduation

Photograph of the exterior of GEMS Dubai American Academy - probably the most expensive school ever to have been built in the UAE

GEMS Dubai American Academy offers both an enriched US High School Diploma based syllabus and the International Baccalaureate Diploma, this helping it achieve flagship “Highly Recommended” status in the definitive Which School Advisor UAE Survey 2015. The school is one of a very limited number of exclusive schools to have achieved WhichSchoolAdvisor Good School status, an award it has secured for the last five years, latterly in 2018-19.

GEMS Dubai American Academy High School Diploma and IB

International Baccalaureate Diploma results in 2018 reach an impressive average 34 Points. However, GEMS Dubai American Academy does not publish the number of children who sit for the International Baccalaureate Diploma (as opposed to more limited stand-alone IB Courses or simple graduation with the High School Diploma), making it impossible to benchmark the performance of the school accurately. What we can say with certainty is that the school is resolutely inclusive and for the brightest students the International Diploma programme is both available, expertly taught and globally competitive in the results achieved by students.

Historically, DAA prior to the merger, in 2017, achieved 8 in 10 children sitting for the Diploma (up from 1 in 4 children at launch and 7 in 10 children in 2015-16) and all students sitting for individual IB courses and High School Diploma. Grade mean point average was then too  a highly creditable 34. This was quite some achievement for a fully inclusive school – and one combining two arguably very different curricula.  The very clever way that these were melded and interwoven to create such a rich whole-child education targeting the individual needs, potential and ambition of each child – particularly in integrating the warmth and individuality that comes from the US curriculum focus, was then a stand feature of the school. We cannot see that this should have been compromised unduly in the merger.

On our visit to the school last year we were advised that there were no plans, at that time, to introduce either Advanced Placement or the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme. Our view is that both would provide an outstanding fit with the school – and arguably a necessary one. The lack of a technical stream is a particular gap – and an odd one given the extraordinary level of facilities in place.

When we receive further clarification on both Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme we shall update our review.

Facilities and ECAs

An aerial view of Dubai American Academy showcasing the school's outstanding sporting pitch and facilities

Facilities are unambiguously ultra-premium and state-of-the-art. They include

  • 50m Olympic standard swimming pool
  • 400m running track
  • Spectrum of gymnasium, playing fields and shaded playgrounds
  • Dedicated science labs across all grades
  • Technology suite, with a workshop
  • The most advanced Robotics Lab in the UAE
  • Visual Arts with dedicated areas for all grades, including Studios for 3D and 2D art; a Ceramics / kiln room; and, Photography dark room
  • Extensive Performing Arts facilities including Music rooms; Band rooms; Individual music practice rooms; a Music technology suite; Recording Studio;  565 capacity auditorium for dance and theatre; black box digital theatre; drama classrooms and a Dance Studio
  •  Multimedia facilities include a TV studio/‘green screen’ room; a Radio suite,  Mac lab/editing suite and a Digital/blended learning zone
  • Indoor Sports facilities include a main sports hall  with 3 full basketball courts with retractable seating; Elementary sports hall large integrating a full-sized basketball court; indoor running track/fitness trail, fully-equipped fitness suite; and, Sports Science classrooms
  • Outdoor roof play areas provide space for three soccer pitches, a Baseball diamond and rooftop tennis courts

ECAs mirror the breadth and scale of facilities – more below.

GEMS Dubai American Academy ECAs

We rate this provision outstanding, and certainly meeting one of what we belive to be the key strengths of the US curriculum approach to alternative curricular as a matter of course. Whole child development is world class.

KHDA Dubai Inspectorate of Schools Inspection 2018

Image of the extraordinary Reception area at GEMS Dubai American Academy

Strengths of GEMS Dubai Americal Academy identified by the KHDA are many:

  • Outstanding child attainment and progress in English, Mathematics and Science at both KG and High School phases
  • Outstanding ECA Programme, community engagement and curriculum
  • Outstanding and “visionary” school leadership
  • Systemic and meaningful use of technology to fire innovation throughout the curriculum
  • “Exceptionally high” student outcomes at High School phase
  • Evident “culture of kindness” a highlight of school life

GEMS Dubai American Academy Bottom Line – the SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2019 

Children at GEMS Dubai American Academy engaging in learning with Virtual Reality headsets

Nothing can prepare you for a visit to GEMS Dubai American Academy.

When you first enter the school it is like no school anywhere in the UAE such is the scale of its entrance auditorium which has more in common with the entrance to a very grand 5 star hotel than it does to a traditional school. It is quite extraordinary and breathtaking.

Photograph of the startling reception to GEMS Dubai American Academy which has more in common with an airport lounge or hotel lobby than a traditional school

Exploring the school uncovers around each corner examples of a scale of investment – including 3D printers, robots, sporting and Performing Arts provision, that is absolutely unmatched by other schools.

For these reasons, it is an experience that you have to adjust to. There is so much space, so much investment, so many bells and whistles that we found it just a little intimidating! But, of course, this is what you get at the very very top of the market.

This does not mean that this is the best school in the UAE simply because of this. Arguably the heart and soul (and happiness) of a school lies elsewhere, as do the foundations of a quality education in the breadth of curriculum, calibre of teaching and inspirational leadership – none of which have anything to do with “bells and whistles.”

As it stands, there is no doubt that GEMS Dubai American Academy is a genuinely outstanding school, not only in the quality of its facilities and infrastructure, but also in the broader whole child, community, care and leadership it provides which have vibrancy and impact.

However, we think that the absence of a technical programe in the shape of the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme is a rare gap in the area of subject breadth, as is the provision of Advanced Placement. GEMS has the expertise in-house to deliver these to world class standrads – if it chose to.

Technical education is, for us, the bedrock of a truly inclusive school – and Advanced Placement provision for non-Diploma students is arguably imperative for accessing high level university placements on graduation.

In combination with this, because GEMS Dubai American Academy does not publish a full breakdown of results – and in particular a breakdown of students who do and do not take the International Baccalaureate Diploma,  our recommendation must be a qualified one.

For the most academic students who can sit for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, GEMS Dubai American Academy delivers in spades – and in a truly remarkable environment that breathes life into both academic and whole child education.

However, for less academic students, or those who are more technically focused, there are better options by definition. Provision for the International Baccalaureate Career-related programme is available today in leading IB schools almost as standard, opening graduation paths to top universities that a simple High School Diploma (which is effectively a basic qualification benchmarked against international qualifications taken at age 16, not 18) cannot compete with. Advanced Placement would balance this – but as yet it is not available.

So that leaves us in a very difficult place. What we have here is an outstanding school, one that has the capacity to both inspire and astonish in equal measure,  for many children but not all.

As always, it must comes down to the imperative need for parents to visit schools. And GEMS Dubai American Academy is definitely worth shortlisting, definitely worth visiting. But….. look beyond the scale of the extraordinarily impressive infrastructure on offer here and work out the fit for your child(ren), particularly post-16.

GEMS Dubai American Academy achieved shortlisting in the 2019 SchoolsCompared.com Awards for Best Blended US-International Baccalaureate Curriculum School in the UAE.

Highly recommended.

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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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