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Top Schools Awards 2021. Results Live. Raffles World Academy and GEMS FirstPoint School Jointly Awarded The Top Schools Award for Best Mainstream School for Children of Determination 2021-22
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Top Schools Awards 2021. Results Live. Raffles World Academy and GEMS FirstPoint School Jointly Awarded The Top Schools Award for Best Mainstream School for Children of Determination 2021-22

by Jon WestleyDecember 6, 2021

The Top Schools Award for Best Mainstream School for Children of Determination 2021-22 is awarded jointly to:

Raffles World Academy. An Innoventures Education School.

GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

When we speak of inclusive schools, the tendency is to speak of schools that are inclusive to children of determination. At SchoolsCompared, however, we also include in inclusion, academic inclusion. For us, it makes little sense to speak of an inclusive school that is selective. That is a contradiction. Here we are dealing specifically with schools that provide an outstanding welcome for children of different gifts – and we mean gifts. This is not being “woke” – a terms now taken over by the right to describe almost anything humane. We mean exactly that – children that are gifted. In this category, this means children on a spectrum from those who are disabled in some way, to those with learning difficulties to those who are gifted and talented.

It includes children who are autistic, those with dysgraphia, those who need adjustments to buildings – essentially such a spectrum of giftedness that they make the point that they are in a category that really should not even exist – and would not in a world where difference was not an issue.

The finalists here all in some key ways understand this and walk the walk. There are, sadly, many schools who will describe themselves as inclusive. But in practice, this too often means quotas of children that require the smallest amount of possible investment and adjustment. These schools we believe are tick boxes players with children’s lives.

Finally, it is worth noting that this is an area of education that needs to be discussed and achievements recognised. Most schools do not want even to put their heads above the parapet in this area. The financial costs of admission are high, and the returns for schools in recognition low.  What is in it for them except meeting quotas?

We need to celebrate schools that welcome children with determination so that parents too value them as contributing to an outstanding education for all children. Only then will we see change in our schools that is overdue and much needed. Disappointingly too, our powerful support in the Top Schools Awards 2019-20 to a school that did seek to transform provision in this area, Riverston Dubai, was not sufficient to prevent its closure. Given the responses we received to this Award by schools, there is much, much to be done. It makes the achievements of all our finalists, however, all the more creditable – and important. It also beholds us as an organisation to do much more. We are not perfect in this area. Our reviews do not give this area anywhere near the depth of investigation it deserves – and there is a strong case for developing statistical measurements of this, currently missing, in Edstatica.

These Awards are a start – but all of us, ourselves included, need to do much, much, better. It is so telling that one of our finalists this year did not even want us to recognise them in this category – this despite our rating their provision here absolutely outstanding. This was a school in no small part established to welcome and deliver an education for SEND children by its founder.

This is a category in which we have, after much consideration and vexing, found it unavoidable but to put forward two winners for this award – Raffles International School and GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa. What has been achieved at both takes the breath away. But at play at both are very different ways of looking at inclusion – and it has produced very heated discussions amongst our judges.

We will look at each school in turn – and they deserve attention so we do not apologise for the length of the following insights.

First, Raffles World Academy. An Innoventures Education School.

Raffles World Academy in Dubai - winner of the Best Mainstream School for Children of determination at the Top Schools Awards 2021

This is arguably not a school that you would expect to feature in a snapshot of the very best schools in the UAE. It is not that it is a bad school – far, far from it. It is just that it operates in a sector filled to bursting with outstanding schools. Yet, for an area in which it absolutely excels, its welcome and treatment of children of determination, it gets absolutely no credit simply because children of determination are not big sellers – they don’t get the attention they should. So Raffles, which deserves its place here, doesn’t even make a discussion point in a general discussion of the sector and the region’s most outstanding schools. That needs putting right.

Behind the scenes, where it really counts, with parents and children, this is a school that is loved. It is a lifeline. And this is something for which the school has gained the longstanding recognition of the KHDA – this was the first school of only ten schools approached by the KHDA in its analysis of best practice in alternative education pathways in November 2020.

Tellingly this is too an International Baccalaureate school, best known for its provision of the Diploma – just about as far away from a school you would naturally associate with inclusion as could be.

There is a perceived disconnect between IB schools and the capacity to deliver for children of Determination that needs to be addressed. This year we want Raffles to get the attention it deserves. It’s long overdue.

We have received so many representations and celebrations of the school in just this context:

“The measure of RWA’s successful inclusion programme is that every child who joins the school remains safe and secure for their entire school career.

Once their safety is assured, we work tirelessly to support, prepare, and enable all children for adult life.

Raffles World Academy values the contribution of every student and welcomes diversity and inclusion. Our facilities allow easy access to those with differing mobility issues, while also meeting the physical as well as educational needs of all our students through our purpose-built learning environment.

We are responsive to our students’ needs, not hesitating if we need to try an alternative access point or build around existing facilities. What sets us apart is a deep-seated commitment to inclusion not only among educational staff, but across all our staff.

Our inclusion programmes cater to children with special educational needs (SEND) or those who are gifted and talented (GAT).

We also provide for those learners who are new to English through our English as an Additional Language (EAL) programme.

Our teachers know from the outset that we are a highly inclusive school, and every classroom has students with differing needs within it, which teachers need to be committed to in order to promote the RWA ethos.

We ensure teachers receive a classroom composite of the sections they teach, so they know from the start of the year which students have additional needs and are to receive provision within the classroom based on the inclusion programmes on offer.

Our inclusion support team supports not only students but teachers as well in helping identify potential barriers to learning and how best to remove them or circumvent them. Leadership team members support teachers who need further development of their inclusive skills as well.

Our teachers are outstanding in their knowledge of the students in their classrooms, and secondary school teachers cover a range of students as they work with a number of grades and sections, owing to clear documentation provided to them on students with additional learning needs’ learning profile.

Our Admissions intake policy is designed to ensure we are able to meet a student’s needs, be they SEND, GAT or EAL, and we are particular about ensuring we have looked at every option to meet a child’s needs when they come to us. This may entail thinking creatively to solve an access issue or being strategic in how we ensure a child is able to stay with us for the entirety of his schooling, by problem-solving as a whole team by considering every single possible option.

We believe deeply in collaborative practice as key to a successful inclusion programme. Our teachers meet with their assigned inclusion support teacher every week to go over the upcoming lessons and identify areas that may need further differentiation for students within a class. The inclusion support teacher or the learning support assistant also provides in-class support to students identified with additional needs, working with the classroom teacher during this time.

Separate to this, students on higher levels of provision receive pull-out sessions as well, and work either one-on-one or in a small group with their inclusion support teacher on classroom-related targets which both the classroom teacher and the inclusion teacher have identified for the student. Students on our highest level of provision have an individual learning support assistant made available to them, but they too will work to classroom objectives set by the teacher and inclusion support teacher.

We do not see inclusion as a separate programme. This sets us apart from most schools as we do not believe children who learn differently are different from the norm because of their learning differences. We consider all our students to be unique and different with diverse learning profiles. Therefore, there is no norm to aspire to. Some students require additional care, and these students come onto the inclusion programme, with student passports made available to all their teachers to enable them to adjust the learning environment accordingly to suit their students’ SEND, GAT or EAL needs.

We propound inclusion as fundamental to equity and not equality. We ensure staff are well-versed in their belief that fairness does not mean that everyone receives the same diet, but that instead we know that fairness means everyone gets what they need. This is most apparent in the way our students look out for one another.

Inclusion is at the heart of our understanding of why we exist and work towards building a safe and happy school community here at Raffles World Academy.

From the client demographics we invite, to the diversity of our staff body, culminating in the driving force behind our leadership ethos, we believe we are a school that believes differences are what makes us interesting, enterprising, and successful.

We believe inclusion is a philosophy that applies to all of us, for we all need to belong.

It isn’t something that is done for those who are differently abled, nor does it entail pitying them and opening our doors to them because it’s a nice thing to do.


We believe in bringing up all children to become adults with a strong sense of purpose and the belief that everyone deserves the right to be included.

We are steadfast in our belief that each of our students weave their unique contributions into the fabric that is RWA, whether they are on any on the inclusion programmes or not. Every student has a voice that deserves to be heard, regardless of ability, race, or age.

The UAE vision of an inclusive society is very closely mirrored in the rooms and corridors of the school.”

Timothy Roberts. Principal. Raffles World Academy.

“I love my inclusion support teacher and feel I can talk to her about almost anything as she is on my side and always helps me.”

Student – Grade 3

“I find math difficult but my math teacher and my inclusion support teacher both help me by encouraging me and reminding me how much my efforts are paying off.

When I hear that, it helps me try my best again.”

Student – Grade 8

“I think it’s okay that I receive help with some of my lessons, because I know I am getting better at things.”

Student – Grade 5

“My teachers make everything better, even if something seems difficult.”

Student – Grade 2

“I like coming to your support sessions with me.  It’s so not boring.”

Student – Grade 4

“I can do so many creative things here.  It helps me to write better.”

Student – Grade 4

“You showed me my mistakes and how to fix them. I will try not to forget them.”

Student – Grade 5

“I am not frightened to learn new things here. I know I’ll be helped.”

Student – Grade 3

“Thank you to you too for all your involvement and for partnering with us to ensure my child receives all he needs to do his best.”

Parent – Grade 9 student

“I’m very glad he is going to continue his sessions with you as you are a great help to his development in

English and confidence in understanding he is capable of improving his work.”

Parent – Grade 8 student

“Many thanks for your efforts in supporting my child to develop his skills, we will support as well from our side and please do let us know if anything we need do to help him to improve faster.”

Parent – Grade 10 student

“You are such an amazing team and such lovely persons, and it has been my pleasure knowing you. You cared for my son as your own and I will never forget that.”

Parent – Grade 4 student

“Thank you for your valuable advice and teamwork which has helped my son a great deal. Your team and you have been a great support to us throughout these years.”

Parent – Grade 9 student

“Thank you so much for your kind words but also for the amazing work you have done. It was extremely important and as you rightly said, it has been a real team effort with a lot of trust on both sides. Our daughter has been lucky to have the opportunity to benefit of the specific setup and attention Raffles provides. We are very, very grateful for what you have done.”

Parent – Grade 6 student

“One reason why our daughter insisted on staying on in Raffles was you! You have given her so much care and love like your own child, helping her feel like she can cope with everything.”

Parent – Grade 3 student

“Thank you for all your efforts. It is with your hard work and your continuous care that he was able to develop in his academics. I can’t thank you enough for that. I can say with absolute certainty that you were his favourite teacher. Your genuine care for the students really sets you apart.”

Parent – Grade 4 student

“I wish to say thank you for all the support and help you had given my son while you were providing support to him. All his growth and progress is all because of your hard work with him. I have no words to express my gratitude and will always remember you.”

Parent – Grade 5 student

“For our daughter, you have been a pillar in her learning and confidence during these years.  We would like to thank you for your work and kindness during these years.”

Parent – Grade 4 student

“Way to go, Miss. He really packed in a wealth of information in his writing. Such a joy to see him feel so able. The best part was it was completely his own work!”

Literacy Coordinator – Primary School

“Your support has been instrumental in helping her to work with mathematics more conscientiously. I’m glad we worked together on her goals and both gave her the time she needed to get where she has.”

Numeracy Coordinator – Primary School

“Together we have worked towards seeing a student who behaves far better than he ever has.”

Head of Grade 4

“The inclusion support department has always provided impeccable support to us and has helped us in furthering our understanding of individual student needs. Their support to us as teachers is crucial to our handling the needs of students within our classrooms.”

Head of English – Secondary School

“I have received immense support from the inclusion team especially in my initial days in school. They reached out to me and took the extra efforts to give me information on every child with additional needs in each of my classes. I felt much better-equipped, knowing I could turn to them with a query.”

Head of Mathematics – Secondary School

“As a teaching team, we focus on meeting individual needs while fostering an appreciation for diversity. The aim of inclusive education, as we see it, is nurturing independence by providing opportunities that promote the development of self-empowerment.”

IB – Middle Years Program Coordinator

The following were drawn out by judges as key indicators of the school’s commitment to inclusion:

  • Curriculum and support policy is in line with Federal Law 2006(29) and the aims of the Dubai Inclusive Policy Framework 2017.
  • SEND Children at the school have a broad range of special educational needs, including those we rate as complex.
  • The IB Careers Programme is delivered at the school “because it includes a BTEC component” seen as “fundamentally important for many children of determination. Separate BTEC and IB courses are also seen as achievements not “downgrades.” we also offer IB Courses for those students who can meet with a pared down version of the IBDP. “Our plans continue to focus on widening the scope of subjects offered in the BTEC, allowing even more choice to our students of determination.”
  • The school offers specific scholarship programmes or financial support for both Gifted and Talented students and Students of Determination (evidenced).
  • The school Principal is formalised as the inclusion champion for the school (evidenced).
  • The head of inclusion is on the senior leadership management team (evidenced).
  • The school is 100% non-selective on entry
  • All children undertake a CAT 4 test on entry to determine the skills and potential abilities.
  • Specific investments include a dedicated sensory room “to provide a safe haven for students of determination.” The new building was designed to include bespoke small teaching spaces for students of determination.

In 2021, 133 students at the school are children of determination against role of 1201 students.

In 2020, 152 students at the school were defined as children of determination against a role of 1243 students.

What in practice translates from all of this, in the context of the school’s inclusion prospectus and reality on the ground, is a school that lives and breathes inclusion in a meaningful, professional and hugely successful way for its children. All its children. Raffles World Academy is very well known to our judges and the feedback for the school we have received was unambiguous in its praise. What stands out for them, as for us, is that investment here matches the ambition. The school does what it says it does. Its ambition is deeply admirable, and resourced. For one of our judges, this school was described as “the absolute benchmark for inclusive education in the UAE.”

Our second, joint recipient of The SchoolsCompared Top Schools Award for Best Mainstream School for Children of Determination, GEMS FirstPoint, punches above its weight in so many areas of provision – yet, like raffles World Academy, is not a generally perceived Tier 1 school. But we think it should be. One of the challenges is the simple snobbery that aligns fee levels with the quality of provision – GEMS FirstPoint proves the exception to this rule. And it is in this area of inclusion that it proves that lower fees do not mean compromises on inclusion – something which, like Raffles, it sees as absolutely central to its role in UAE society, and fundamental to delivering an outstanding education to all children.

GEMS FirstPoint School - joint winner of the SchoolsCompared Top Schools Award for Best Mainstream chool for Children of Determination 2021 - 22

In terms of voice, it is more strident than Raffles in its public frustration with the status quo. It has no truck with the idea that education should be segregated. Tellingly, whilst not well known, Matthew Tomkins, the school Principal, was, at a former school (Skinner’s Academy in the UK), a SENCO. Worth listening to the following to understand how credible the ambitions and integrity of the school is in this area in an interview directly with him (if you can get past the musical introduction):

This school will never refuse a child a place on the grounds of SEND. Ever. This surely should be the standard expected of every school.

Both Raffles and FirstPoint deserve equal status here. Raffles shines in no small part too for sending a very clear signal to IB schools that there are “no excuses.”

The strength of unambiguous welcome to all children is the stand-out feature of GEMS FirstPoint, combined with its very different, and very successful, methodology of inclusion – one which sees inclusion best delivered through integration and a school in which inclusion and difference are integral to school life. Raffles is more traditional and for some of our judges has the edge because of its better resourcing of those same highly creditable values. Both are formidable exemplars of what we think all schools should be offering students in the UAE.

Responses from FirstPoint parents, teachers and school leadership make inspirational reading:

“When the family of a student of determination makes an enquiry at First Point School, the answer is always ‘yes.’

And then we begin the meticulous planning process to ensure that every possible resource is put in place to ensure a positive and productive experience for that child.

In what we do, how we do it and what we believe, we have the steadfast conviction that the “FirstPoint Way” should be the benchmark in this area against which all schools in the UAE are judged.”

Matthew Tompkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“We are very proud of the fact that we have accommodated students who have been turned away from other schools, sometimes on multiple occasions. Some families had been told that it was not possible for their children to be educated in a mainstream setting – but this is not part of our ethos.

We believe that all families and all children have the right to access the school of their choice and, as a result, we have been able to accommodate students with an incredible range of learning difficulties some of which are profound and highly complex in nature.

This has enabled the school to reach out to, and work in partnership with, a range of specialist therapeutic centres such as The Developing Child Centre in order to provide a smooth and appropriately supported transition into a mainstream setting.

A huge part of our ethos is about the impact this has on the whole school community. We believe that the presence of students with significant needs has a positive benefit on the social and emotional wellbeing of all students and all adults who work alongside them.

Truly, we need them every bit as much as they need us.

Matthew Tomkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“Virtually every school in the United Arab Emirates claims to be an ‘inclusive’ school and some even claim to be the ‘most inclusive’ school in the country. GEMS First Point School makes no such claim because it simply does not fit with our ethos and our collective understanding of the true nature of inclusion.

Our aim is to be the most inclusive school we can possibly be.

For us, it’s not about a competition.

It’s not about flashy, eye-catching initiatives.

It’s about recognizing that every child and every family has the right to a high-quality education at the school of their choice.

We are incredibly proud to be a fully inclusive school, who believe in celebrating the greatness in every child. Last year we were awarded the Most Inclusive Primary in the UAE and this year we have gone a stage further to receive the Most Inclusive School in the UAE from the MEA Markets Awards.

Inclusive is not a room or a group of people for us, it is the way we all conduct ourselves and our approach to supporting children.

We very rarely remove children from class because it is within class where so many lessons beyond the subjects that are taught are learned.

The children within our school are encouraged to support each other and work together. They support others when they need it and gladly accept support when it is required. These lessons and so many others, like winning and losing, giving and receiving, empathy, sympathy, joking and laughing together, are all seen as critical skills. Inclusivity makes our family what it is, we will always be a school that celebrates its inclusive approach to supporting young people to be their very best.”

Matthew Tompkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa. 

“Our intake policy is really quite simple. When a family knocks on our door the answer is ‘yes’ and the welcome is genuine. No matter what the complexity of need and no matter how challenging the learning barriers are, FirstPoint School’s default position is to accept without reservation, assess with professionalism and courtesy and then make impactful recommendations. The school has always been ahead of the curve in terms of statutory requirements. When the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework was published back in 2017, we were delighted to learn that virtually all of the recommendations and requirements were already an embedded part of our practice here. We will never change from this position.

It’s part of our DNA and it permeates the entire community. We believe that first impressions last and we are determined that when a child steps through the door at our school they feel instantly accepted and valued. The whole First Point community is determined to maintain this ethos as the cornerstone of every student’s learning journey.”

Matthew Tompkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa. 

“The benchmark for an outstanding education for Students of Determination begins with the space between the ears of every single member of our community. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on flashy resources and additional buildings; you can hire as many LSAs as you like and you can train your SENCO to within an inch of his or her life but it will not even scratch the surface of what needs to be done until you have addressed the issue of mindset.”

Matthew Tompkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa. 

“FirstPoint School is a family, and as with any family we celebrate everyone’s achievements, support each other to be the best we can be and understand that even though we have some differences we actually have more similarities.

Inclusion is the vehicle we use to drive our family ethos ensuring that every member of the FirstPoint family has a quality education in the common learning environment.”

Rhys Headley. Deputy Head of School. GEMS FirstPoint – The Villa.

“Real inclusion is not restricted to a small group of people with learning difficulties. It’s about a genuine belief that the inclusion of such people benefits everyone who works alongside them. That it opens people’s eyes, challenges prejudices and, ultimately, makes us better human beings.”

Mark Ellis. Head of Inclusion. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“Inclusion at FPS is very much a verb, an action word, something that we do. It’s embedded as a whole school community ethos and not just selectively reserved for our students with different learning needs. Instead, we believe that inclusion is relevant to all children and all staff, all of the time. We’re proud to be a truly inclusive school and facilitate opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential.”

Nancy Robinson. Inclusion Coordinator. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“Our passion and first priority is to support those students who find it more difficult to do things, in whatever way that might be. We firmly believe in advocating for those who may find it harder to advocate for themselves and we do this is by effective identification of additional needs, parental engagement and staff training. Our children come from a wide range of different backgrounds so making sure we are competent at identifying additional needs at the earliest stages is vital.  First and foremost we are a FirstPoint family school where teachers care greatly for their students and where inclusion is a whole school practice.”

Suzane Munn. Inclusion Coordinator. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“True Inclusion is one that happens in all dimensions, be it the classroom, the school or everyday walks of life. When our son finished Year six in a primary school, FPS welcomed him with his challenges and the school’s Inclusion Department provided dedicated approaches towards his studies. Since then, it has been an incredible journey, not always smooth, but the constant support and encouragement of the Inclusion department made this journey worthwhile in shaping our son to be the confident, young adult that he is.”

Anamika Banerjee. Parent.

“My daughter has struggled with learning difficulties and attention problems since a very young age. We tried various schools in Dubai and abroad. They all provided learning support.. but none provided what FirstPoint has provided. Empathy, such an easy word to understand for adults and yet even for many adults, empathy is misinterpreted as a temporary feeling of sympathy. Empathy in FirstPoint means everyone is aware and accommodating to those special students that are different. By everyone, I mean not only the adults, but also the students. The school administration and teaching staff continuously promote and encourage the students to empathise. Hats off for Susan Mahachi…This is a very hard task.. younger people are wired to be self-centred and dismissive of other students that are not in their “circle of friendship”.

My daughter has struggled with peer relationships all her life, yet at FirstPoint she feels safe and not judged. She is at ease. And when at ease, the brain absorbs information more easily. The Head of Inclusion, Mr. Mark Ellis, has made suggested outstanding “out of the box” solutions for my daughter since she joined school.

Yasmina came back from boarding quite depressed and lost.. unsure what to do next. Mark and the Principal took it upon themselves to create the best differentiated curriculum for Yasmina to reach her potential, without adding to her existing anxiety and low self-esteem. Offering her BTEC courses and entry levels that will ensure she can finish school just like any other student.. without feeling out of place or treated differently than others. When I drop Yasmina off at FirstPoint, I know she is home, even if she is having a bad day, she knows everyone is there for support – and emotional support.

its Yasmina’s happy place… and our happy place ….as parents.”

Lara Schinakov. Parent. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“The teachers at First Point School are patient, kind and understanding. They have taught me a lot about friendships and responsibility. The students are also great. I feel that they respect me and I am valued.

This is what makes FirstPoint so special.

No school will go the extra mile to create a HAPPY place for all their students to this degree.

FirstPoint does that.”

Yasmina Schinakov. Student. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

“When you come into this school there’s not one person who doesn’t say hello.

People are so helpful when you first start. If you feel stressed out or anything, they know how to make you relax.

This is the best school I have ever been to.”

Tarek El Sayad. Student. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa.

Key points drawn out by our judges include the following:

  • GEMS First Point School is a modern, light and completely accessible building. The rooms and corridors are spacious and thoughtfully laid out for maximum accessibility. There are specifically dedicated areas for therapeutic intervention work. These have been strategically placed at various points throughout the school. From a practical point of view, these facilities are easily reached for those with mobility difficulties. We rate accessibility across the school as outstanding – but we think that the school should invest in at least one dedicated inclusion facility, this notwithstanding its model of integration.
  • Tellingly, the school disperses intervention rooms and facilities across the school. There are no SEND silos here – too many other schools clump SEND together and worse, ghettoise these in some off pitch part of the campus.   The aim is that “therapeutic intervention is an integral part of the community.” Again, we rate provision here outstanding.
  • The school was one of the first in the UAE to become a registered ASDAN centre and was the first to implement ASDAN programmes in the primary phase of school.
  • Educational opportunities we rate outstanding. Beyond ASDAN, the school has broadened the range of options available year on year so that now it is fairly typical to find SEND students accessing Unit Award Scheme, BTEC, Entry Level Certificate and taking advantage of internships alongside the more traditional GCSEs and A-levels. The message of inclusion is embedded into the FirstPoint curriculum AND is taught through discrete units as part of its Core Enrichment and Moral Education schemes of work.
  • Between FS to Year 13 the school offers an assessment framework which ensures that students are assessed by ability related expectations as opposed to age related expectations. For example, a student in Year 6 can be assessed on Year 3 work or student in Year 5 can be assessed on Year 9 work. This in our view is an absolutely transformational way of understanding child progress and removing stigma.
  • As above, GEMS FirstPoint School never says ‘no’ to family with a child or children of Determination. To our knowledge this unqualified policy is unique in the UAE. “When a family comes to this school looking to place their child in our care, we consider it a privilege. We recognize the fact that the family is trusting us with something precious and we are honoured by that. If the child is experiencing barriers to learning we see it as our job to remove those barriers.”
  • Graduation options are extensive and we rate investment and thoughtfulness here outstanding. The school has developed an extensive network of Further Education, Higher Education and Vocational Training providers. The commitment to internships and work experience is “focused on providing genuine career opportunities for the increasing number of young people who do not seek the traditional university route.” The school works closely with “My Maximus” a dedicated vocational training centre for the determined and also “North Start” which is a recruitment agency specializing in the placement of individuals with learning difficulties across the GCC region with reputable employers from a variety of sectors.
  • Since 2014, more than fifty individuals have received in-house and external professional development for the role of Learning Support Assistant. Currently eighteen colleagues are employed in this capacity which is 55% above the ratio recommended by the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework. In the same period the school has employed seven UK trained specialist expert teachers with advanced SEND qualifications and experience. The school has further invested in the creation of ‘Inclusion Champions.’ There are sixteen Inclusion Champions across all phases of the school with at least one for each year group in primary and one for each subject area in secondary. Each are supported by Inclusion Coordinators. Investment here again we rate as outstanding.
  • Specific, bespoke resources have been purchased for the purposes of meeting the needs of students and the stock of specialist equipment is replenished annually. Sensory equipment is installed in one of the therapeutic spaces and the school has invested heavily in a variety of multi-sensory learning spaces throughout the school including an immersive learning laboratory. Again, in this area, our judges felt that the school should invest further – but without taking away from the achievements of the school.

147 students are on the school’s register of Special Educational Needs. This represents just over 10% of the whole school population. 46 students are described as Level 3 students which means that they are considered to have such significant learning barriers that an individual, personalized approach is required. This is 3.2% of the whole school population.

Progress achieved by Students of Determination at GEMS FirstPoint School 2016-2021, measured as a percentage of students achieving ability related expectations or above:

2016-17 Most (75% to 90%)

2017-18 Most (75% to 90%)

2018-19 Almost All (above 90%)

2019-20 Almost All (above 90%)

2020-21 Almost All (above 90%)

Additional fees paid by families to support students of determination are competitive and thoughtful. The majority of UAE schools have a binary choice between LSA or No LSA. The better schools offer either 50% or 25% fee support. FPS has a banding system which categorizes levels of need on a six-band scale depending on the frequency of support required. As a direct result, many families have found that the additional fees they had been paying at other schools have been reduced dramatically. Equally, the school has committed to us that where a child has identified needs that require investment in cases where families struggle financially, GEMS Education steps in to support the financial difference to protect every child.

In accordance with the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework, the school has partnerships with external specialist agencies including Inspire Therapy, Lighthouse Arabia and the Lexicon Reading Centre.

“Since the introduction of the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework in 2017, our teachers have enthusiastically grasped the central theme of maximizing time in the “common learning environment”.

Over the past four years we have seen a consistent and remarkable pattern emerging within our register of students with Special Educational Needs. The number of level 3 students (those requiring the additional support of an LSA) has plateaued and is beginning to decline. At the same time the number of level 1 students (those whose needs are primarily met via Quality First Teaching) has increased.

This clearly indicates an increasing level of competence and confidence amongst our team of teachers. Added to this the continuous cycle of lesson observations also demonstrates continually improving personalization in the classroom. Our most recent data shows that 63% of teachers are very good or better at ‘individualization’ and 68% are very good or better at ‘inclusivity.’”

Matthew Tompkins. Principal. GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa. 

In summary, the achievements of both Raffles World Academy and GEMS Firstpoint School – The Villa are important and inspirational.

They shine a light on different methodologies of delivering a SEND inclusive education in an educational system built ground up by the regulators to be inclusive.

In practice both schools create an education for children in which difference is deeply valued. We think this makes education better for all children at both schools.

At both schools the ultimate aim is that difference becomes normal and celebrated – without fear. Imagine a world in which this was made genuine and real, wouldn’t that be something?

Raffles World Academy and GEMS FirstPoint are very deserving winners of what some will see as the most important and meaningful Top Schools Award of all.

By any accounts, for the children that these schools welcome, this is the most important Award of all and both these schools stand as beacons of hope and opportunity.

For the families whose children have been turned away by other schools they are a lifeline.

And that alone, surely, should make us all think about our priorities.

© 2021. All rights reserved.

Visit the official Raffles World Academy web site here

Visit the official GEMS FirstPoint Web site here.

Read our independent review for parents of Raffles World Academy here

Read the independent WhichSchoolAdvisor review of raffles World Academy for parents here

Read our independent review for parents of GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa here

Read the independent WhichSchoolAdvisor review of GEMS FirstPoint School – The Villa for parents here

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

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