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WSA Good School

GEMS American Academy, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi American Academy

GEMS American Academy Abu Dhabi has bounced back to an A2 (Very Good) rating in the 2016 reports from ADEC after an unexpected and sharp drop to a B5 rating in 2014. The school had previously held an A2  rating but “new leadership” at the school “still getting to grips with a large and complex school” had seen a decline in reported performance. The school’s 65 new teachers in 2014 had also seen it “over extended” in what it was trying to achieve.

Please see the results of our visit to the school, here.

The school has since improved “in nearly all areas of its provision”.

“Governance took prompt action to improve leadership and management by the appointment of a new head of school, and by providing an education consultant to work with the new leadership team.

“The head of school and her team have provided dynamic and clear-sighted direction for the school.

“Roles, responsibilities and accountability for the leadership team members and middle managers have now been clearly established. Above all, the team were successful in raising the morale of staff and regaining the support of parents…”

The school’s 2016 report confirms what the school’s parents have been telling us for some time – that students receive a very good education and there are some areas of outstanding provision. “Senior leaders, almost all of whom have been appointed since the last inspection, and staff present a common vision and show commitment and energy in their drive for continuous improvement. Teachers and administrators come together to ensure students experience a rich and innovative curriculum.”

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The school is fundamentally a very well liked US curriculum school, with a strong sense of community, and a reputation among expatriates in Abu Dhabi, especially for parents seeking an American education, as a warm, caring and high quality school for, currently, 1926 students (up almost 350 since its last inspection). The school rates as one of its USPs, its “culture of kindness”. It’s a trait noted in the schools inspection reports (2014 and 2016).

As a popular school, it is unsurprising it has been growing and is fast approaching capacity: In the 2014/15 school year the school expected to see a 20% increase in students – in fact it saw a 50% increase, with another 20% in the last two years. Initially it bit off more that it could chew. In order to meet demand the school added additional classes in most age groups. Most year groups now have five classes, with a class size of less than 20 (18 being the average, although the highest, currently, is 25). There are less than 10 students per teacher, with a teacher to student ratio is 1:14 in KG/ FS and 1:10 in other phases. There are 178 teachers in total.

Students come from 74 different nationalities, with the top three US, UAE and Canadian citizens. The male to female ratio at the school is 55:45. In total, 42% of students do not have English as a first language. Mandatory supplementary ELL instruction is provided free of charge for students requiring assistance with the English language.

The school’s principal and CEO, Dr. Kathryn Miner, had taken over from Daniel Keller shortly after the school’s previous, 2014 inspection. Ms Miner was previously the Director of Middle Years at the American School in Paris, and leads a team of relatively experienced teachers recruited from the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. For Arabic language lessons and Islamic studies lessons current teachers are from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Palestine. Turnover in teaching staff is mitigated by the fact that teachers have to complete a two year contract (and many of course stay longer). It is low for a UAE school, running at just 15% year on year.

All teachers at GAA have a minimum of two years teaching experience, however most have many more years of teaching experience according to information provided to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. Teachers must have a minimum of a Bachelor/Masters Degree in addition to an accredited teaching certificate, and benefit from continual professional development training courses.

The GEMS American Academy also has five full time teachers in Elementary and three in Secondary School dedicated to Special Educational Needs (SEN). Throughout the school there are 14 learning support aids that provide one to one guidance to those students who require this help. The SEN department has some special teaching resources available for students use, but generally the team will try to adapt/modify classroom materials and assessments where possible. SEN is provided at no extra cost to parents

The school has a number of specialist teachers and classes. While PE, Art, IT, Music, Arabic and Library are pare of the core school curriculum the Academy provides additional focus on Physical Education and Health, Arabic Studies, Music, Art and English Language Learners (ELL). ELL instruction is provided, as noted, at no extra cost to students who need assistance.

Academic attainment and progress is said to be good or very good, up from a mixed bag in 2014 (when attainment was satisfactory in English, mathematics, Arabic, Islamic education and social studies; good in science and ICT). In terms of progress it is a similar story, although progress made in English is now rated Outstanding -across all phases. The school’s weaker spots lie in Arabic and Islamic Studies.

In 2014 ADEC had noted that gifted and talented students made only satisfactory progress  in many lessons due to low expectations and the absence of appropriately challenging activities. SEN students and those with identified language needs make satisfactory progress and receive appropriate support. These issues do not seem to have continued into 2016.

The Academy in Abu Dhabi is modeled on the Dubai based school of the same name. It’s worth noting that the Dubai school is the only US curriculum school in the emirate to have been ranked Outstanding by the KHDA, its education regulator – so the Abu Dhabi school does have a very good school to learn from. For some, Dubai’s American Academy has begun to eclipse the American School of Dubai, almost an institution in the emirate.

Abu Dhabi American Academy upgraded its facilities in its move in October 2011 to new premises in Khalifa City A. Its new buildings now include a planetarium (which you have to admit has a bit of a wow factor about it), a 600 seat auditorium, a six courts sports hall, two swimming pools, four full size tennis/basketball courts and a full sized rugby pitch. It’s worth noting however that its not the size or shininess of your facilities, but how you use them, and one comment we received from a parent is that these can be underused. For a virtual tour of the school go here. (Nb: You have to hand it to GEMs Education as a group, it is one of the only education providers to take the Web seriously). The school also has a state of the art recording studio with a green screen room, and six fully equipped science laboratories.

The location, while clearly an advantage for those parents living in Khalifa A, is not so much so for those closer to the city itself. There has been much grumbling about the location, although not the facilities. Time from Abu Dhabi is very variable – from 25 to 45 minutes depending upon the traffic.

At full capacity, Abu Dhabi’s American Academy will provide an education for 2050 students ranging in age from 3 through 18 years, in four academic divisions. The school offers Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle and High School. Grade 11 was added in September 2013 and Grade 12 opened in September 2014.

The school follows the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program for KG and Elementary and offers an enriched American Curriculum program for Grades 6 – 12. In the 2013/14 academic year the school has been inspected and accredited by the International Baccalaureate Organization, The Council of International Schools, and New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

The school provides an extensive range of extra curricula activities for its students, tailored for specific age ranges. All after school activities are said to be free. GAA also works (or worked) with E-sports who provide professional coaching in a number of different sports including Karate, Ballet and Swimming. E-Sports activities cost around 70-100AED per class depending on the activity offered.

GAA also offers international trips for its students who are able to choose one of four trips in their Spring Break. Spring Break trips in 2016 are to Ghana, London, Switzerland and Russia. Last year the school went to Nepal (Current Grades 6-11); Kenya (Current Grades 6-11); Romania (Current Grades 6-11) and a Switzerland Ski Trip (Current Grades 9-11).

The school says it is academically focused, however GEMS Education is pretty weak providing information to substantiate this (GEMs currently obscures individual school performance by bundling results), however we are hoping the school group will begin reporting on individual schools. In many other respects, GEMS is a very transparent organisation – which as a quality education provider for the most part works well for it.

Fees at the school currently range from 47,880 AED for KG1 to 2, and then 66,780 AED for Grades 1 through to 12. This is on par with premium/premium plus schools in the capital – and significantly cheaper that the Dubai school of the same name. Admissions is said to be selective.
 

 
The WSA Inspection Visit

Located in the popular Khalifa A area, close to the Raha Beach developments and the airport, GEMS American Academy externally at least, is a typical GEMS Premium School. A curving front which is covered in glass from floor to roof is deceptive in terms of the size of building that lies behind it. This is a large school with a capacity for 2,050 students although currently it is only around 75% occupied. Students come from a range of 94 nationalities with the leading countries represented being US, UAE, Canada, Korea and Italy. The staff are a mix of US, Canadian and UK passport holders – a total 166 teaching staff and a total staff complement of 275.

The school offers an unusual mixture of curriculum – in some ways the American in the name is a little misleading! From KG to grade 5 (Elementary School), the school follows the IB PYP curriculum. This mirrors the curriculum taught at GEMS World Academy Abu Dhabi and allows for a smooth transition from this Elementary-only IB school to GAA. However, at GAA, the teaching of Maths, English and Science follows the US Common Core curriculum content, thus ensuring a smooth transition to Middle School. From grade 6, the school adjusts the focus further towards the US Common Core curriculum, but uses the methodology of the IB Middle Years Programme. Finally, in the Senior School, students follow the US High School Diploma and IB Diploma programmes. This hybrid arrangement is an interesting one – considered by staff to be the best of both worlds for such an international school. Accreditation through the International Baccalaureate Organisation for the IB programmes, NEASC for the US curriculum and the Council of International Schools ensures that standards are met across all curricula.

As would be expected with a GEMS Premium school, the building, facilities and resources are impressive. The building is an unusual shape – with a central core from which teaching and office blocks extend out in 3 sections towards the back of the building. To one side is the Sports facility which includes impressive gymnasia and additional weights and cardio rooms spread over the 3 floors of the building. Outside at the rear of the building, are 4 tennis courts, basketball courts, a double size football pitch and a beginners and 25m swimming pools. The rear of the school also incorporates 4 separate playground to cater for the different age groups of the Elementary, Middle and High schools. At the front of the building, the large open entrance leads up to the access for the 500 seater Auditorium which is spread across two floors. The only other Planetarium among the GEMS schools is located here also (GEMS World Academy in Dubai has the other). There is also a very large and popular cafeteria on the ground floor.

On the ground floor at the rear of the building, the KG and Elementary classrooms are located. All are brightly furnished, well-resourced and cheerful. On the first floor, classrooms are split by a central spine from which home/subject rooms are arranged overlooking the front and back exteriors of the building. At the centre are a range of specialist rooms including Music, Art and Drama. There is also an enormous Elementary Library which is open, bright and colourful.

The Middle and High School is located on the Second floor. Here the central rooms include 2 recording studios, 2 MAC Labs, a Black Box theatre and a range of Science Laboratories as well as another extensive Library, numerous classrooms and spacious areas for senior students to gather and study. Laptop carts are found on several corners for use in class and by students for individual study.

The school also has a very strong focus on supporting children with additional learning needs. GAA has a policy of accepting children who are academically one grade below the age appropriate level. In Elementary school, every grade as specialist teachers to assist with Learning Support and English Additional language requirements. This has grown out of the requirement by ADEC that children entering KG may not be refused on grounds of additional support needs. From grade 2, children are assessed and acceptance is not automatic. In the Secondary school, this support continues, facilitated by a School Councillor, and children will have an Individual Education Programme where required. External support for Occupation and Physical Therapy and Speech and Language are coordinated between the school and specialists. The school also has a Gifted and Talented team to work with children at the other end of the academic spectrum.

The students that we saw during our visit – from KG through to the Senior grades – seemed happy, busy and involved in their activities, attentive to staff and respectful of other students and adults around them. The only slight weak spot that we noticed was a number of Senior students who were working on laptops at various locations in the corridor. We could not ascertain whether this was because they did not have access to more usual locations to work, or whether they just preferred the relaxed environment that the corridors seem to provide!

In speaking with parents, the feedback was positive. They praised, in particular, the fact their children were happy, well-behaved and taken care of by the staff. Staff were felt to be approachable and dealt with children with an individualised approach dependent on their needs. They also challenged more able students and timetabled additional time to support students who were at both the higher and lower level of the academic spectrum. There was praise for the school’s staff-run after school activity programme which, we were told, caters to every type of child – be this sporty, artistic, academic or focussed on performing arts etc. – all of these activities are included within the school’s fees.

There is also clearly strong parental involvement within the school including the GAA Parent Association (GAAPA) and Booster Club. The GAAPA parents run the Parent Café, arrange monthly home room parent reps meetings, organise a buddy system for new parents based on nationality and also offer Mother Tongue language classes in Mandarin, Dutch and Korean – these are open to non GAA students also.

There is great focus within the school on ensuring that well-rounded, College prepared students leave the Academy with a sense of personal responsibility, gather all the tools and abilities they will need to thrive in the future, develop social and emotional intelligence and a sense of environmental stewardship. The school wants students “to care, commit, act, respond and engage with the global community”. For its part, the school states that “we inspire, we educate, we lead, we innovate”. Overall, GAA offer the impression of a busy, dynamic environment, supported by a strong ethos of involvement for all students and families to as great a degree as they desire.

 

Inspections

ADEC, Summary Inspection Report – 2012

ADEC Summary Inspection Report – 2014

ADEC Summary Inspection Report – 2016

 

Location

 

 

If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any factual inaccuracies, or would like to update any information, please do not hesitate to contact us at editor@edu2021.com.

 

Update on August 18, 2016 | Reviewed by David on July 28, 2012

11 Comments

Leave A Reply
  1. Ahmed says
    March 10, 2015, 10:56 am

    This school dropped from A2 to B5 in 1 year…I think that says it all, no?

    Reply
    • Professor says
      March 10, 2015, 11:18 am

      It says the school has grown, and there is a significant number of new staff members. GEMs will no doubt resolve the issues, but there is always a period of normalisation after such growth.

      Reply
      • Ahmed says
        March 10, 2015, 3:38 pm

        I don’t know, to me it says the school seems to be run more like a corporation than a school. Good management can and should have factored in how such rapid expansion should affect the students (and if not, that SHOULD be their first priority).

        I’m not saying this is a bad school. I do hear wonderful things about the faculty and facilities. And I understand that the demand for schools is increasing, and some schools are expanding to meet the demand. I am just saying, the school (and GEMS in general) should maybe realize “slow and steady wins the race”, even if it is a cliche.

      • Professor says
        March 10, 2015, 4:27 pm

        Personally I would agree with that Ahmed.

    • Frank says
      March 19, 2015, 12:32 pm

      For me, the issue isn’t that the school’s ranking has dropped, but rather, how much it dropped. We see every year, schools will up or down a ranking slot. But to drop 3 spaces in one year? That shows there was a miscalculation by the administration of the school (and possibly by GEMS as well).

      I do hope they get it together; the UAE needs more good schools that don’t just offer a US curriculum, but also are more orientated towards a Western culture socially (not just Western academics). This way, parents wanting to put their kids in an American school have more options.

      Reply
  2. Marjie says
    August 11, 2014, 4:33 pm

    I have four children at GEMS AA. We are pleased with the education they received last year as well as the rigor! Yes, we will miss the staff and administrators that we respected (danx2). However, as an international educator, I know that teachers fulfill contracts and need to decide for their families the next best move. We are encouraged by meeting the new administrators and look forward to another academic year at GEMS AA….

    Reply
  3. Phil says
    November 10, 2013, 8:26 pm

    I have had my children at GAA for three years, and have observed the quality decrease each year. This year, my son in middle school has had his schedule changed at least five times, has had teachers that barely speak English, and has had teachers send home requests for students to bring supplies from home. My child’s teacher in the elementary school reports that she is lacking essential materials for her class. The root problem at GEMS is that the corporation controls the local budget, and has not allocated sufficient funds for materials and qualified teachers.

    Reply
    • Mimi says
      November 11, 2013, 10:06 pm

      So why don’t you move your kids? Why jeopardize your children’s quality of education? Why nothing has been done till tody?

      Reply
    • Sarah says
      December 1, 2014, 10:33 am

      My opinion: Move your kids to ACS-AD. It is a much better school.

      Reply
  4. Phil says
    June 29, 2013, 1:32 pm

    GEMS is only concerned with image. Necessary services are subcontracted. GEMS profits from these services, but takes no responsibility for the poor service provided by these monopolies (uniforms, school lunches, after school activities). The community is good in spite of the corporation, not because of it. Don’t be fooled by the beautiful building. We have loved the teachers but the good ones leave as quickly as possible. The poor quality, expensive, restrictive uniforms, change every year. Despite charging the highest tuition of any school in the area you will be continually asked for money for field trips, fundraisers for the class activities etc. High achieving children are asked to complete meaningless busy work so that they don’t get too far ahead of their peers.

    Reply
    • Mimi says
      September 18, 2013, 10:20 am

      “High achieving children are asked to complete meaningless busy work so that they don’t get too far ahead of their peers.”

      What do you mean?

      I came to know there are different levels in many of the subjects!

      Why do good faculty leave Gems?

      Reply

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