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GEMS World Academy, Abu Dhabi
WSA Good School
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Review

GEMS World Academy, Abu Dhabi

by March 5, 2016
Strengths

• Excellent whichschooladvisor parental feedback
• Human scale architectural dynamics
• Central location
• Fabulous core IB Primary Years Curriculum with interesting, effective blending with Virginia US methodologies at its edges
• Current leadership draws significant independent praise from whichschooladvisor
• Equivalently intimate, dedicated primary IB schooling is rare
• High cache brand
• GEMS investment in a very high calibre of teachers

Weaknesses

• Concerns with overcrowding – school is running 20% above ADEC capacity
• Not a school for children with moderate or more Special Educational Needs [SEN]
• Question mark over Gifted and Talented [G&T] provision
• Facilities are poor relative to newer schools with limited opportunities for GEMS to upgrade/re-develop without moving children to a new interim school
• Potential changes to leadership risk short term re-balancing of school focus, vision and strategy
• Distant slipstream school will create logistical issues for many parents in future years
• Competition is re-defining what constitutes a “Good” school in the Emirate

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

• A school offering a rare, special combination of human scale, warmth, specialised primary IB provision, location and very high quality GEMS teaching - but also one facing limitations in facility provision, weaknesses in school design, (significant) risks of overcrowding and competition in a sector that is changing the standards parents are expecting from a premium school.

B+
Our Rating
A-
User Rating
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0%
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0%
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50%
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50%
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0%

Updated December 2016

It is rare to find a dedicated International Baccalaureate KG, let alone a GEMS school – or one situated in the heart of Abu Dhabi. Little wonder GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi[GWAAD] is over-subscribed. The school as you would expect from a dedicated 4 to 10 years elementary is inherently one with considerable warmth, and the leadership of its historic Principal, Jay Roy, was graded “absolutely exceptional” according to independent feedback to our sister site, whichschooladvisor.com in founding the school. The new Principal (September 2016), Linda LaPine, is by all accounts equally driven, bringing with her a new focus on building a “home away from home” dynamic to the school, as well as conviction driven passion for building student capacity in digital skills. Mrs LaPine, is also a mother to two daughters – and has faced head-on many of the challenges and worries of ex-pat parents as her own career has traversed the globe from Tanganyika and Singapore to Panama, St Petersburg and the UK. Her latter appointment brings critical experience in the IB to GEMS World Academy  from her four years leading the respected UK independent, ACS Hillingdon International School in London.

The World Academy brand too carries significant cache as an elite school; the Dubai sister, which historically won the happiest school in the Emirates accolade, is a stunning, purpose built new Tier 1 ultra-premium very at odds with the older style campus of its Abu Dhabi sister. It is also a KHDA Outstanding school for FS and Primary provision across the board.

ADEC reports for GWAAD, as of 2016-17, has seen the school improve to a band A2 rating (May 2016 inspection).

What we have is a brand, GEMS backing, a formidable new A2 rating by ADEC (High Performing) and a very powerful endorsement by whichschooladvisor in 2013-14 and 2014-15 as a WSA Very Good School (an award achieved by a very elite group of schools across the Emirates). Previously the school had been assessed by ADEC during a time of considerable transition as it re-branded from an American school and began teaching the International Baccalaureate PYP. It is good to see the new school bedded in and achieving the creditable rating it undoubtedly deserves – a rating predicted by our sister site and reflected in positive feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. We expect ongoing development to result in the development of its rating still further in the years to come.

There have been some changes however that prospective parents will need to weigh in the balance.

Most significant is that this was a maximum 400-capacity ADEC school. At the time of its 2013-14 inspection ADEC noted that the school could not expand further with a roll that reached 440 students. By September 2015 the school was reporting a roll of 480 plus children and was recruiting further teachers because of plans to increase entrance to the school still further beyond 500 students. This represented a significant 20% increase in student numbers of ADEC’s stated maximum capacity. We have now had clarification from the school that this has been resolved through the closure of its Movement Room to provide more space for new classrooms to increase its capacity – and critically whilst retaining  small class sizes capped at a maximum of 22 students per class with teachers and teaching assistants up to grade 2 after which there are shared teaching assistants. Our view is that even with this significant 20% increase in student numbers, GEMS World Academy remains a small school by GEMS standards, with the warmth that stems from this, and will appeal to parents who baulk at the 1000++ capacity school roles that increasingly dominate the school landscape across the Emirates.

Secondly, the school sector in Abu Dhabi, driven in no small part by GEMS itself, is moving up a gear, maybe two. The quality of provision in some key schools is setting world benchmarks, at the very least equalling the highest quality of facility, class size and teacher provision of the world’s best schools. Whilst competition is intensifying, GWAAD has proven itself up to the challnge in its on-going improvement in accredited scoring.

This said, GEMS World Academy finds itself in this context at a crossroads. Buildings and bells and whistles certainly do not make a school. But class sizes, building quality and physical space do make a profound contribution and at this site, facing such demand, GEMS to some degree has its hands tied behind its back, constrained in what it can actually do to bring the school at least to the standard of its sister school in Dubai sharing the same brand. It does not help matters that the school’s automatic slipstream to the GEMS American Academy is to a school situated in Al Raha, logistically not simple for parents based close to GWAAD.

Notwithstanding the above, facilities deliver what they need to. The school is a two-storey design (interestingly one that is being architecturally re-visited by some newer schools in order to re-capture the intimacy and warmth that inherently loses out in the large scale silver and glass schools dominating the new-build landscape). With classes set around two sides of the large central quadrangle, which acts as an outdoor playground and multi-sports centre, the whole feel is small and manageable, unlike the larger multi-phase schools. Classrooms are bright and decorated with children’s work which brings the whole school to life. Facilities include a sports hall; central shared block including the library, IT and specialist teaching rooms; a quiet corner play area that surrounds the KG classrooms; specialist music, art and Arabic rooms; further playground; music room; climbing wall, medical centre and a (200 student capacity) cafeteria. Prospective parents should note that the Movement Room has now closed to give way to new classrooms enabling the school’s expansion.

Extra-curricular activities include football; Lego; board games; weaving; Quran; bowling; multiple sports and holiday camps in association with ESM. ESM further provide karate, Capoeira, gymnastics and teacher-run ASAs including yoga and Zumba.

The (fabulous) curriculum is based on a blended International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) with US underpinnings from Virginia state. This follows the heritage of the school as an American Academy; the school became a fully authorised International Baccalaureate World School only in June 2014.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/124409808

The school offers provision to Year 5 and is selective; entrance is subject to the Head and admissions staff being sure that the school will be able to properly meet the needs of the pupil. The issue here is less one of academic selectivity per se and more related to a lack of infrastructure to effectively manage moderate or advanced Special Educational Needs or disability. To some degree the school is equally at a disadvantage at the other end of the spectrum given the facility provision and inspectors have historically drawn attention to a lack of flourishing Gifted and Talented [G&T] programmes. Language is less of an issue and support for children for whom English is an Additional Language [EAL] is excellent.

In summary, as long as parents manage expectations and are not expecting the sort of school associated in Dubai at least with the World Academy brand, parents should not be disappointed. This is a school, instead, focused on intimate, warm and dedicated FS-primary whole-child provision, centrally located, with all the advantages and disadvantages, particularly with space, that comes with the territory.

Teaching, especially in Science, English and Mathematics is a real strong point – GEMS invests heavily in recruiting not only qualified teachers, but genuinely committed and passionate faculty committed to on-going development, their students and teaching as a vocation as well as a profession.

This may not a new, “shiny bells and whistles” school – but for its parents, this is resolutely not an issue. As whichschooladvisor summarises “GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi carries the name of its sister school in Dubai, but that – at least externally – is where the similarities stop.”

 

Go to the FULL REVIEW on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Go to the OFFICIAL Q&A on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
Details to consider
Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

2013-14, 2014-15

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

KG1: 39,900
KG2: 41,900
YEAR 1: 58,400
YEAR 2: 58,400
YEAR 3: 58,400
YEAR 4: 58,400
YEAR 5: 58,400
YEAR 6: NA
YEAR 7: NA
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA

Curriculum

Blended:
International Baccalaureate® (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP)
Early Years, Commonwealth of Virginia, USA

External Exam Boards

International Baccalaureate® (IB)
Virginia Board of Education
MAP

Selective

Yes:
(1) "not staffed or equipped to handle the needs of moderate or severely disabled children"
(2) "assessment in literacy and numeracy"
(3) Academically and culturally inclusive

Waiting list

Applications open for all grades (2016/17), 2017/18 applications have also now opened.

Value Added

Not published (WSA projected LOW)

Number of Students

500+
(The original ADEC capacity of 400 students had left "no additional room to expand" but this has been addressed by the school in closing its Movement Room facility to provide the extra space needed to expand capacity.)

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:22
Note:
Teacher is supplemented by 1 teaching assistant per 22 students at FS
Upper grades have shared teaching assistants depending on grade level and class size

Largest nationality teachers

North American
[also European, Australian, New Zealand and South African]

Teacher turnover

20%

Year opened

2011 (formerly GEMS American Academy)

Location

Downtown (central) Abu Dhabi

Student composition

Boys: 58%
Girls: 42%
KG: 250+ are
Grades 1- 5: 200+
Nationalities: 60+
US: 14%
UAE nationals: 10%
Indian: 10%
Canadian: 8%
Jordanian: 6%
Special Educational Needs [SEN]: 25 students (Minor only)
G&T: 27
Muslim: 50%
Arabic as a first language: 33%

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

GEMS Education

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)2 641 6333

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

80%

Attainment Pri SEM

80%

Attainment Sec SEM

NA

Attainment Post-16 SEM

NA

Progress Nur SEM

80%

Progress Pri SEM

80%

Progress Sec SEM

NA

Progress Post-16 SEM

NA

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

NA

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

NA

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

NA

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

NA

Islamic St. Primary Results

40%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

NA

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

NA

Leadership

80% ("Very Good")

Community

50% (Developing)
Note: WSA projection 100% 2016-17

Facilities

75% ("Good")

Quality of teaching

80% ("Very Good")

Student personal responsibility

80% ("Very Good")

Quality of curriculum

80% ("Very Good")

School Governance

80% ("Very Good")

SEN Provision

80% (Note: G&T is in early stages of development 40%)

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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Academic
Value
ExtraCurricula
Languages
Sports
Arts & Drama
Teaching
Communications
Warmth
Differentiation
SEND Provision
Scl Community
Scl Facilities