GEMS Winchester School, Oud Metha to Dubailand – the 2020 Review
GEMS Winchester School – History and Background.
Established in 2011, GEMS Winchester School is a K9 school based in Oud Metha, Dubai. The school offers the English National Curriculum to more than 80 nationalities of which the largest, 26%, is Indian. 82.82% of students do not have English as their first language and for some, English is the third or fourth language.
Following very rapid growth since opening, Winchester remains the poorest performing school in the GEMS group. Scoring only an “Acceptable” rating by the KHDA for each of its eight years since opening, the school has grew 700% from 500 students in October 2011 on opening to 3,500 children in its first thre years. Today (2020) the role stands at 3955 children.
In the early years the school suffered from “unstable staffing” with turnover approaching 1:4. The impact both on the quality of teaching and on students’ progress were formally noted by Inspectors. By 2020 this had calmed with teacher-turnover stable and below the region’s average at 18%.
Concerns about the school led, in 2015, to KHDA blocking planned expansion of GEMS Winchester to offer Grade 10 schooling. Existing children were offered an alternative choice by GEMS of a school mooted for closure or a school outside Dubai. In 2013 “Inspectors highlighted the need for Winchester to “improve teachers’ spoken and written English so they could communicate effectively with their students”. In 2014 Inspectors highlighted that some teachers “have a poor concept of educational concepts.”
In 2015 Inspectors noted that, amongst a catalogue of concerns, “most teachers” at Foundation Stage did not take the available opportunities to develop children’s English language skills; in Mathematics teachers sometimes taught children in a way that they did not understand what they were learning; and attendance at all levels of schooling was of concern.
From 2016, the highly regarded leadership of the school began to invest heavily in bedding-in change, stabilise staffing and create a school better reflecting GEMS excellence elsewhere in the sector.
The picture today.
GEMS Winchester was designed as a rapid response school, one opening to meet the urgent need for a low-cost value school solution for Indian families faced with a school system that could not meet demand. GEMS deserved significant credit for stepping up to the challenge. The fall-out, however, came from the sheer popularity of the school as parents clamoured for places. The school filled to capacity – and beyond at a speed that any school would struggle with – and this is a 4000 capacity school, large by any standards.
Today, the school maintains an “Acceptable” only rating for two key reasons:
(1) The school is simply too small for the volume of children. Design dos not help. This is a very basic school occupied at speed to a budget with limited space, poor design, and limited facilities. Winchester occupies the old school building of Our Own English High School which moved because precisely because of its deficiencies.
(2) The make up of its role requires greater investment in more staff. Although the teacher:student ratio at 1:18 would seem, for a value school, at least adequate, the curriculum demands placed on children for whom English is at best a second language and more often a third or fourth language, means the need if for much greater investment in teaching faculty.
When you combine (1) and (2) the result is a school that will intrinsically struggle to move beyond its Acceptable rating. It’s not impossible – and GEMS has moved the school forward very considerably since its opening years, but it’s a tough call and school leaders and teaching faculty have their work cut out. GEMS has been able to call on its significant expertise in this sector to work with what it has – but, at least according to Inspectors, not enough.
In 2020, GEMS has responded – but in a radical way that came from nowhere. It is going to relocate the UK curriculum school to share the site of GEMS Heritage School – itself due to close next year in March.
In practical terms this means thousands of families needing to move from the heart of Bur Dubai to Dubailand until next March – no small feat – and likely to be impossible for many families.
However, for those families that are able to make the move, the facility offer is, positively, in a different league. Investment in facilities at GEMS Heritage has been significant.
The issue is not fees. Although Winchester is a UK curriculum school, GEMS does not invest in British faculty. Arguably, even with this scale of role, it cannot afford to. GEMS has schools that perform at value fee levels with very high ratings. The issue has been the combination of facility provision/design and basic teacher numbers. The move promises to resolve the first in one single sweep.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2020
With the level of change now facing families, it is difficult to reach a considered view. However well GEMS manages the relocation, there will inevitably be teething issues – and particularly as it will have to initially share the site with an existing, albeit closing, CBSE school.
There is also little point discussing current facilities and provision at the existing site in depth – in real terms Winchester, as it exists currently in Bur Dubai, is a closed school. Parents looking to understand just how good, in relative and absolute terms, the comparative offer is at its promised new site at GEMS Heritage should look at our review here. Heritage was one of the most ‘liked’ sites on SchoolsCompared.com before its closure with overwhelmingly positive feedback from families. The decision to close it was not welcomed by Heritage families – but it is now clear that it is Winchester families, if they can make the move, that will benefit.
We do think that GEMS deserves credit here for solving a major problem. It could have left 4000 children at Winchester in old buildings and ageing facilities that were not fit for purpose. With the role of the school, it would only ever have been able to have tinkered at the edges. Children at Winchester, GEMS knew, would never have received the quality of education that GEMS is committed in its schools to deliver. GEMS knew that was not good enough.
Land availability in Bur Dubai, however, was an issue. This is an established area – It was not as simple as buying up land and building a new school. So, after eight years of working with a school that was always only a rapid response by GEMS to help Indian families faced with a system that could not meet demand, GEMS has offered Winchester families what is, to all intents and purpose, a new purpose built school. The issue is whether parents sill, logistically, be able to manage the move.
For those that can, the promise is of a GEMS British curriculum education firing on all cylinders. But whether families will be able to relocate their lives so far from their existing schools is a very big if…. There are going to be winners here and we think that GEMS has done the right thing (and probably the only thing it could given the limited options it faced. But there will also be families left in limbo. How GEMS will address these families it is still too early to say ….
Watch this space.
©SchoolsCompared.com 2020. All rights reserved.
FS 2: 11,494
YEAR 1: 14,367
YEAR 2: 14,367
YEAR 3: 14,367
YEAR 4: 14,367
YEAR 5: 14,367
YEAR 6: 15,324
YEAR 7: 15,324
YEAR 8: 15,324
YEAR 9: 18,197
National Curriculum of England
Oud Metha, Dubai
Indian (Largest nationality)
971-4-337 41 12
• The Principal has set a clear vision for school development and it is shared by staff throughout the school
• At Secondary stage children do have a good appreciation of personal, community and environmental responsibility
• The school meets a good standard of provision in meeting KHDA guideline health and safety requirements for children. Students do feel safe and well cared for - the well-being of all students is considered “very important by the school”
• Children’s understanding of Islamic values, and their awareness of Emirati and world cultures, is good in the secondary phase
• A good range of extra-curricular activities is available for primary and secondary students
• Staffing is unstable damaging both the quality of teaching and the attainment of children at the school. Staff turnover is running above 24%
• Children at all levels, but particularly at lower primary levels, are not being taught effectively. Children are being taught by rote and not being given the freedom to think and investigate for themselves. In some cases, children are not understanding what they are learning
• Whilst the curriculum does meet UK curriculum requirements, not all teachers teach in a way able to motivate students to learn
• Teachers do plan changes to the curriculum to meet the needs of all students but in many cases then do not deliver them
• School leaders are unsuccessful in ensuring consistently acceptable teaching and there are on-going failures in Governance
• Academic Special Educational Needs provision is often unsatisfactory
• Only 10% of students engage with the extra-curricular activities made available by the school