GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi – The Review
Updated August 2019 – GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi ADEC official inspection and SchoolsCompared.com 2019 verdict
“As a parent of two daughters who have attended international schools in four countries, I know how monumentally significant it is that you choose the right school placement for your child.
I want GEMS World Academy to be that right school for your child, his or her ‘home away from home’.”
Linda LaPine, Principal and CEO, GEMS World Academy Aby Dhabi
It is rare to find a dedicated International Baccalaureate KG, let alone a GEMS school – or one situated in the heart of Abu Dhabi. For many parents the holy grail of early primary years learning is an outstanding school that is not simply bolted on to some behemoth all through school. Rightly in many cases, the fear of those parents is that, inevitably, childhood cannot survive and be celebrated – and an effective early years education cannot be provided properly, in schools swamped with children embarking (and embarked) on much later stages of growing up. To discover that a GEMS premium brand provides a dedicated Primary in this area is for these parents a revelation. But does the potential meet the reality?
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi has a pretty much perfect city centre location on Fatima Bint Mubarak Street in the Al Dhafrah area, this very much part of the puzzle explaining why a small dedicated primary came to carry arguably GEMS premium brand of its Dubai-based all-through sister.
The schools could not be more different. Do not expect, sparkling glass facades, bells or whistles from the exterior – this is not a school that reveals its real identity or workings externally. In fact, from the outside, GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi could be kindly described as traditional. The design is resolutely “old school” with two floors constructed around the de rigueur central quadrangle/sports facility. Inside however, the substance could not be more different. This is a fabulous, cutting edge, hugely warm ADEC accredited A2 International Baccalaureate PYP primary delivering, through its leadership and teaching faculty, a Very Good education for its children with Outstanding features.
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi is home to 518 children between the ages of 4 years and 10 years exclusively covering the KG1 to Grade 5 Primary Years Programme International Baccalaureate curriculum phase. All children at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi automatically qualify for a place at its slipstream GEMS American Academy, reviewed here – a great school and one equally recognised by ADEC as a Very Good school with Outstanding features. It’s unfortunate that GEMS American Academy is somewhat of a trek (its around a half an hour journey) for parents with children split between the schools – but the value of an independent primary education trumps the frustrations of the drive for its parents. Nor will there ever be an expansion of GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi to an all-through school – there is simply not the room.
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi, 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 current Principal, Linda LaPine, has been in post since September 2016 and is by all accounts equally driven, bringing with her a 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 Abu Dhabi from her four years leading the respected UK independent, ACS Hillingdon International School in London. It is notable that ACS Hillingdon shone for its ISI rated Outstanding Primary phase provision at the time of her leadership.
GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, 2019 School Prospectus and Parent HandbookGEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi prospectus 2018
GEMS World Academy Student Parent Handbook 2019
ADEC Inspection 2018
Stand-out features of GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi for ADEC include:
- Outstanding child progress in English – the backbone of the curriculum and one driving standards across all areas of the PYP.
- Children genuinely “love coming to school” – a testament to the “outstanding quality of protection, care, guidance and support of students.”
- A rare example of a school that is “considerably” improving its performance for children in Arabic subjects – an area that the vast majority of international schools struggle with.
- Highly engaged parents hugely supportive of the school nurturing a vibrant school community.
- Very Good school leadership succeeding in making rapid progress towards achieving outstanding school status.
- Outstanding personal development of all children
- Highly effective integration of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP) with the U.S. Common Core standards which are used to assess students’ progress.
ADEC reports for GEMS Wellington Academy in its previous 2016-17 inspection had seen the school improve to a band A2 rating. This is now secure and the school clearly has the capacity to excel given its progress since that inspection.
What we have here is a formidable, relatively new school firing on all cylinders transforming from its previous American school roots into something of a US-International Baccalaureate PYP tour de force . It is good to see the new school bedded in and maintaining the highly creditable ADEC rating it undoubtedly deserves – a rating predicted by our sister site and reflected in (continuing) very positive feedback from parents to our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
How has GEMS achieved this? We think in part it has been significantly helped by the increase in student role, with enhanced revenues enabling much greater investment in school life. 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. Today, its role stands at around 520 children, a significant 20% increase in student numbers over ADEC’s stated maximum capacity.
To achieve this, GEMS closed its Movement Room and made a number of other adjustments to provide more space for new classrooms. At the same there remains a steadfast commitment in place to maintain 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 the experiment has clearly not only worked, but enabled the school to very significantly improve the education, academic and whole child, available to its children.
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. The ongoing appeal to parents baulking at the 2000+ capacity school roles that increasingly dominate the school landscape across the Emirates is unlikely to diminish any time soon.
Buildings and bells and whistles certainly do not make a school. However, class sizes, building quality and physical space do make a profound contribution and at this site, facing considerable demand for places, GEMS has its hands tied behind its back, constrained in what it can actually do to bring the school to the standard of its namesake sister school in Dubai. We certainly do not think the school can increase its role any further.
Facilities and ECAs
Notwithstanding the above, facilities deliver what they need to. The traditional two-storey design allows classes to be set around two sides of the large central quadrangle, this acting as an outdoor playground and multi-sports centre. The whole feel is small and manageable, unlike 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.
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 and Common Core standards. 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.
The school offers provision to Year 5 and is SEND 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 not one of academic selectivity, but a necessary approach, given the age of the buildings and traditional design limitations, 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.
GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2019
The World Academy brand 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. It is all the more fascinating then that GEMS should have awarded arguably its most coveted US brand to such a visually and structurally different school. We think, however, it was a courageous move and a testament to GEMS confidence and ambitions that this school would earn its name through the quality of teaching and substantial, not skin deep, provision.
Our view is that, as long as parents manage expectations and are not expecting the sort of school associated in Dubai with the World Academy brand, parents will 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.
The value proposition here, in a nutshell, is GEMS powerhouse investment in premium teaching and leadership – but within a very small and intimate school founded in its DNA on delivering to the very different early years and Primary phase needs of children. Small schools like this are inherently expensive to run – there are no economies of scale to draw on.
Teaching, especially in Science, English and Mathematics are excellent – 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.
Instead, parents get a school that delivers for children individually, academically and whole child, and one where children and teachers know each others names and are showered with the sort of care and attention it is nigh on impossible to achieve in larger schools.
For many that is beyond priceless.
Request School Information
Very Good with Outstanding Features (Highest performing, Grade A2)
Very Good with Outstanding Features (Highest performing, Grade A2)
Very Good - Outstanding
NA - see GEMS American Academy
NA - see GEMS American Academy
YEAR 1: 59,300
YEAR 2: 59,300
YEAR 3: 59,300
YEAR 4: 59,300
YEAR 5: 59,300
YEAR 6: NA
YEAR 7: NA
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA
International Baccalaureate® (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP)
Early Years, Commonwealth of Virginia, USA
US Common Core
International Baccalaureate® (IB)
Virginia Board of Education
(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
(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 is supplemented by 1 teaching assistant per 22 students at FS
Upper grades have shared teaching assistants depending on grade level and class size
[also European, Australian, New Zealand and South African]
15% (below average)
2011 (formerly GEMS American Academy)
Downtown (central) Abu Dhabi
KG: 250+ are
Grades 1- 5: 200+
Special Educational Needs [SEN]: 3%s (minor only)
Arabic as a first language: 33%
+971 (0)2 641 6333
• 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
• Guaranteed slipstream to the excellent GEMS American Academy
• Not a school for children with moderate or more Special Educational Needs [SEN]
• Distant slipstream school
• Premium fees (though the value proposition is very high given the size of the school)