Now Reading First Look Review of GEMS Founders School Masdar City and Net Zero Campus ahead of August 2024 Opening

GEMS Founders School Masdar City First Looks Review

  • New GEMS Founders School Masdar City purpose-built campus in sustainable Masdar City claims to be the UAE’s first Net Zero energy school
  • Combines quality British education with affordability, with fees below Dh35,000
  • Initially offering FS1-Year 8, already over 300 families signed up, with aim to reach 900 before opening in August 2024

Founding Principal Mrs Albie Huyser is buzzing with excitement when we meet her ahead of a hard hat tour of her brand-new school, the much-anticipated GEMS Founders School (GFA) in Masdar City, which is set to open this August 2024.

Mrs Huyser is a highly experienced and well-regarded leader in international education, with a track record for pinpointing the promise in a school and propelling it to its full potential. Her experience spans her native South Africa, the UK and the UAE, including most recently GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah – which, under her stewardship, bagged a rare Very Good rating after just three years of being open in the 2022-23 SPEA inspection round.

GEMS Founders School Masdar City Founding Principal Albie Huyser [pictured right] showed SchoolsCompared Senior Editor Tabitha Barda [left] around the site of the new school on a hard hat tour in March 2024

When combined with her naturally warm and engaging personality, it is almost impossible not to catch the effervescent excitement she and colleague Matthew Burfield, Executive Principal/ CEO of GEMS Founders School in Dubai and GEMS Senior Vice President of Education, both clearly have for this latest addition to the thriving GEMS Founders family of schools. Mrs Huyser says:

“It is just such an exciting opportunity to be able to combine the great success of the Founders legacy with the sustainability ambitions that we have as a Net Zero energy school in Masdar City. This is the third school that I am lucky enough to launch in the UAE, and I am looking forward to using the insights I have from my time working with families in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah to make this another great success.”

As the first school in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city – GFA’s  purpose-built campus uses cutting-edge materials and technology, lower its carbon footprint, conserve resources and minimise waste.

Architectural render of how GEMS Founders School Masdar City is going to look when it opens in August 2024



Work in progress: The building site of GEMS Founders School Masdar City in March 2024

Offering the National Curriculum for England, initially to students from FS1 to Year 8, GFA is GEMS’ third Founders school and its first in Abu Dhabi, bringing the total number of the group’s schools in the UAE to 43.

When completed there will be an overall capacity of 4,150 students, and there is a projected initial capacity of 900 for the opening phase in September 2024 – a figure that GFA is on target to exceed, with more than 350 families signed up already. On the morning we met, there had already been 68 enquiries that day.

GFA follows the opening of GEMS Founders School – Dubai (read our review here) in 2016 and GEMS Founders School – Al Mizhar (read our review here) in 2018. Known for shaking up the usual UAE school business model, the Founders brand of GEMS schools set out to provide high-quality UK-curriculum education at exceptional value and, with fees ranging from AED26,000 for Foundation Stage up to just under AED35,000 for Year 13, spaces are highly sought after.

Matthew Burfield is Principal of the original GEMS Founders School Dubai

Matthew Burfield is Principal of the original GEMS Founders School Dubai

The Founders Brand is all about hitting that sweet spot between quality and affordability, says Mr Burfield, who has been principal of GEMS Founders School – Dubai for eight years, and has since gone on to oversee seven other schools in his capacity as GEMS Vice President of Education. GEMS Founders schools already serve more than 10,180 students in Dubai and, with a recent Outstanding rating from the British School Overseas (BSO) inspections, the team felt it was time to expand the model into the UAE capital. Mr Burfield says the secret is a mixture of the power of the GEMS brand and ability to deliver at scale, along with a unique staffing model (50/50 UK-trained and non-UK trained staff), stable and experienced leadership, and a “little bit of magic”:

“That magic is in all those people who work incredibly hard, putting in the hours and doing everything in their power to function as a team and protect the brand.”

Albie Huyser and Matthew Burfield in front of the GFA site in March 2024

One USP for the GFA site that sets it apart from the other Founders schools is that it will be net-zero energy, generating as much energy as the facility consumes, which minimises environmental impact and promotes energy efficiency. A key feature of this sustainability-driven strategy is an extensive solar panel system spanning 9,500 square metres, projected to generate 3.1 million kWh of energy annually. These solar panels serve a dual purpose: powering the school and providing shade to the building’s roof areas, car park, and walkways, enhancing energy efficiency and lowering temperatures.

All building materials are carefully selected to meet sustainability requirements, says Mrs Huyser, and enhanced thermal insulation, optimised building orientation, and other innovative features are set to reduce its annual CO2 footprint by 1,154 tonnes. Additional sustainability measures include water conservation measures, waste management strategies, and electric vehicle charging points.

Walking around the site on the hard hat tour it’s clear that everything is well under way and on track for the opening for the academic year 2024/2025.

Matthew Burfield, Senior Vice President – Education at GEMS Education and Executive Principal/CEO of GEMS Founders School – Dubai, said:

“As the GEMS Founders family of schools evolves and expands, it remains a beacon of innovation, collaboration, and excellence. We are proud to bring the Founders brand to Abu Dhabi in such a sustainable form, in line with the green vision of both the UAE and Masdar City.

“GFA will pioneer a transformative approach to education by establishing an innovative model for environmental responsibility, where sustainability and commitment to ecological stewardship play a central role in nurturing the leaders of tomorrow and contributing to a greener, more sustainable future.”

In pictures: GEMS Founders School Masdar City Hard Hat Tour

Founding Principal Albie Huyser and GEMS Vice President of Education Matthew Burfield stand in the future Reception room of GEMS Founders School Masdar City holding architectural renders of how the school will look when it is finished.

GEMS Founders School Masdar City – First Renders of What the New School will Look Like

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About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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