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Safa Community School, Arjan, Al Barsha South
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Review

Safa Community School, Arjan, Al Barsha South

by May 12, 2016
Strengths

• One of the most intelligently designed schools in the UAE, balancing small-scale warmth, and educational delivery without over-the-top “bells and whistles”
• Radical structuring of educational delivery by year groups, each with their own resources, creates warmth, human scale and student identity
• A school seemingly investing in staff – and the commitment to those staff to recognise all of their roles on-line
• Excellent school transparency thus far
• Mooted outstanding breadth of IGCSE and International A Level provision
• Founding children and parents have a genuine opportunity to contribute to the culture and dynamics of a new school
• Outstanding enrichment and Performing Arts provision in the pipeline

Weaknesses

• No published bursary or scholarship provision
• Web site portal is slow and many parents will give up waiting for pages to load – a shame because the content is rich and considered
• All schools launching will face teething problems
• No in-house cafeteria provision, arguably something parents expect at this level of fees – and important for children
• Safa Community must build on the lessons of its sister school if it is to meet the clear potential for Outstanding schooling in place thus far

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

Clever, exciting – Safa Community has all the makings of a very good school. But these are early days in a phased launch. What has been achieved thus far is really very good, sometimes outstanding in places sets new benchmarks for educational provision in the Emirates – but the real test is to come. Highly recommended.

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New sister school to the Safa (British) School in Al Quoz, and originally named the Safa British Academy, Safa Community School is an all through British School currently offering English National Curriculum based provision from FS1 to Year 8, with Years 9 – 12 opening in phased launch from 2016-18.

The school welcomes children of all nationalities, and aims to be engaging and genuinely inclusive. There is a buzz about the school – and a lovely, warm atmosphere.

The design of the school is a plus. Safa shines a light on the importance of school design in creating an environment in schools that in its own right inspires children to excel. Buildings matter – and Safa is an example school in this regard. Large and colourful terraces, outdoor race track for little ones, complete with scooters – and an excellent, well thought out range of play equipment , are real showstoppers – a few adults are likely to be “wanting a go!”

The architecture uses curved buildings rather than blocks, with columns and shade-sails providing a rainbow of colour at regular steps. Railings around all the upper floors create the sense of children being on a cruise ship. The proximity of the phased senior school (and future Arts hub) gives the sense of three ships sharing the waters on a dynamic journey – the horizon filled with the etching of the sea and the peaks of Dubai’s not too distant skyline.

As is probably clear, we think the architecture just works, and does so without any need of too much glass and steel. It feels rooted. Of course, outside this, there are many other parts of the jigsaw. Facilities and buildings provide just one part of the framework. Teaching, the quality of the curriculum (and how it meets the needs of individual children), how outward looking is the school (does it provide bursaries and scholarships for example to ensure the mix of children), school leadership and governance – all of these have a vital role to play in a school being outstanding. Get one wrong and there will be an impact that compromise successes in other areas.

In many of these areas it is simply too early for us to provide a certain recommendation for Safa Community. Schools need time to bed in, and the school is mid-way through its phased launch. What we can say, is that everything thus far we have seen shows a school at the top of its game with all the pieces in place.

If there is some caution, it is because its sister school, whilst laudably and consistently gaining a “Good” KHDA rating for the last four years, has not managed to push into “Very Good” (the new KHDA rating for 2016) or “Outstanding” territory. It is probably unfair to entirely rest any view of the new school on its sister, particularly as the original Safa (British) School is not an all-through school, but rather one focusing on FS – Year 6/7 schooling only. This said, Safa British provides the major slipstream to Safa Community and you would expect best practice to be consistent between both schools.

KHDA pinpoints major strengths of Safa British in its developing outstanding levels of student responsibility, community engagement and excellent relationships with parents. On this note, Safa Community makes a fundamental promise that “staff will always be happy to meet with parents to share any concerns”. Interestingly it is in these areas that we can already see strengths in Safa Community – it has taken the best of its slipstream and built on them.

Weaknesses however are identified in Safa British in Arabic core subject provision, a requirement many schools have yet to fully master. There are also identified core difficulties with SEN provision and teaching, particularly in engaging parents with Individual Leaning Plans –  and it seems to us that this is one area in which the school needs to push harder given its inclusive ethic.

It will be telling, as Safa Community eventually opens to full phase and works through its first tranche of IGCSE and A Level students, just how well its children perform, notwithstanding that parents must recognise this is an inclusive school and added value is likely to be a real issue. This is an area that any conclusive verdict is very much “wait and see”; only time will tell whether Safa Community has got its mix right – and better than its feeder.

Facilities themselves are tier 1. The new shared third building, currently being completed, mirrors the architectural curves of the 4-tier “upper” and “lower” schools. The Global Learning Centre contains a landmark Performing Arts Centre (including a 500-seat amphitheatre), multiple dance and drama studios, band and practice rooms, library, café and LEGO Robotics Lab. Sports facilities within the centre include indoor multi-purpose courts for basketball, netball, badminton and indoor cricket, and the centre edges the existing 25M main and learner pools, outlying FIFA football field/ground and planned tennis courts. The aim is that the centre becomes a hub for enrichment and self-guided learning across the spectrum of sport, Science, the Arts and Performing Arts that reaches out and infuses across the whole campus.

We particularly like the clustered approach to learning the school adopts internally, with each Year Group’s facilities, classrooms, café areas, project zones and various reading and social “nooks” grouped around a central common area in which children can coalesce for activities. It’s hard to describe, but extremely clever – creating a real sense of year group identity.

The classrooms flow onto the deck terraces of the “ship” too, which furthers the sense of drama and highlights the impression that this is a school looking outward. It’s a radical approach to school design with open spaces replacing traditional corridors and communities built in year groups rather with “ownership” of their own facilities. The only weakness of this approach is the current lack of a whole school cafeteria. Currently the school provides no in-house (or out-sourced) prepared food for the children, something we feel that is important, particularly beyond FS stages. It is not clear whether this will be addressed in later building and development.

Whilst not yet launched, it’s worth noting that mooted subject breadth at both IGCSE and International A Level is outstanding. A Levels in outlier subjects, for example, like Philosophy, Psychology and Media Studies, generally only provided in Tier 1s looking to provide the most extensive academic reach, are telling of the school’s commitment to meeting the gifts and talents of all children.

The school’s secondary language offer across French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and German, matches the breadth of subject provision elsewhere – but we particularly like the implementation of language lessons for parents, a move that reflects the school’s community focused DNA, but also its investment in parents and children sharing in language journeys. We think more schools would do well to pick this one up.

We, and our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, have long campaigned for school transparency and enhanced levels of communication for parents – existing and prospective.

It is critical that parents can properly understand and benchmark a school’s provision.

This can show itself in a myriad of ways, from transparently publishing, and explaining, school examination results, to publishing the bios of individual staff members across the school (and not just the Head.) Bios demonstrate that a school invests in staff – and is generally telling of a school not fearing staff-turnover. In this area Safa Community excels – with every member of staff given their place online and recognition for their role in the school’s journey. This is matched by completely transparent publication of Board minutes, owners and governors/board members and (interesting, well thought-out) newsletters giving a genuine insight into the school’s approach across academics, PHSE, enrichment, sport and community.

It’s also worth noting that considerable thought has been invested by the school’s owners in recruitment of Safa Community’s Principal, Stephen Duckittt. Mr Duckitt, a scientist by training, brings a wealth of experience from the UK independent sector (including Ballard, St John’s Prep and latterly Bournemouth Collegiate), and is professionally driven by the challenges of start-ups and trouble shooting. He is on record as absolutely committed to inclusive, non-selective co-educational education – a perfect fit for Safa. We would like to see this mapped into broader provision of scholarships and bursaries, one weakness, we feel, of of the school to date, but mid-way through launching there is still time.

Bottom line? It is worth repeating the results of the first whichschooladvisor visit in full:

“A very exciting, forward-looking community school in an excellent location, Safa has a lovely welcoming feel with highly motivated and enthusiastic staff throughout. As a new school you would expect it to have good equipment but the standard here was well above that. SCS is led by a dynamic Principal who also teaches. The specialist departments are standout.”

Highly recommended.

Prospective parents should note that, as a school in launch, scoring is prospective and based on independent whichschooladvisor data and inspections, published school information, SC visits, independent parental feedback and facilities meeting the advertised standard and quality on completion.

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

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 47,000
FS2: 47,000
YEAR 1: 49,000
YEAR 2: 49,000
YEAR 3: 49,000
YEAR 4: 51,000
YEAR 5: 53,000
YEAR 6: 55,000
YEAR 7: 65,000
YEAR 8: 65,000
YEAR 9: 69,000 (2016-17)
YEAR 10: 72,000 (2016-17)
YEAR 11: 74,000 (2016-17)
YEAR 12: 76,000 (2016-17)
YEAR 13: 80,000 (2016-17)

Curriculum

National Curriculum for England

External Exam Boards

Cambridge International Examinations [CIE]

Number of A Levels offered

24

A Levels offered

English
Mathematics
Physics
Chemistry
Biology
Arabic
Arabic AL
French
Spanish
German
Mandarin
Geography
History
Music
Drama
Art and Design
Business Studies
Economics
English Literature
Philosophy
Psychology
Media Studies
Further Mathematics
Computing /ICT

A Level A* to A

Phased launch 2016-18

A Level A* to C

Phased launch 2016-18

IGCSE A* to C

Phased launch 2016-18

IGCSE A* to A

Phased launch 2016-18

Number of I/GCSEs Offered

24

I/GCSEs offered

English
Mathematics
Physics
Chemistry
Biology
Arabic
Arabic AL
French
Spanish
German
Mandarin
Geography
History
Music
Drama
Art and Design
Business Studies
Economics
English Literature
Philosophy
Psychology
Media Studies
Further Mathematics
Computing /ICT

Selective

Inclusive
Notes:
(1) Entrance is by application followed by whole-child assessment over a period between 40 and 60 minutes. The assessment is designed to be stress-free and may be conducted individually or within a group.
(2) The school will observe communication skills, social development, behaviour, attitude, manners, physical development (large and fine motor control), academic levels and specific talents in any field – musical, sporting, artistic and/or academic.
(3) Assessments for Foundation 1 and Foundation 2 are based primarily on observation of the child at play. Subject to availability of a place, there are no limitation on entrance subject only to the school being able to meet the needs of the child.
(4) Assessments from Year 1 include basic mathematics, reading and comprehension, drawing and writing.
(5) The school does not have provision for English as an Additional Language [EAL] so students will need to have a level of English language ability appropriate to their age on entry.
(6) SCS has extensive Special Education Needs provision [SEN], including in the areas of Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD); Speech Language and Communication Difficulties; Epilepsy; ADHD; Autism; Visually Impaired; Hearing Impaired; Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) including Dyslexia and Dyscalculia; and Asperger’s Syndrome. Only in exceptionally complex areas should SEN provide a bar to entry.
(7) Parents will be contacted within 1 week of the assessment for any year and advised whether or not the application has been successful.

Waiting list

No

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

Capacity 1000+
2016-17: 750+
2015-16: 520
2014-15: 120

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:14
Notes:
FS1: Maximum class size 20 students (with teacher and teaching assistant)
FS2: Maximum class size 22 students (with teacher and teaching assistant)
Years 3 to 9: Maximum class size 24 students (with teacher and shared teaching assistant)

Largest nationality teachers

British

Teacher turnover

Not published
Notes
(1) School in phased launch so turnover may be higher
(2) Teacher turnover at sister school 20% which may be indicative

Year opened

2014-15

Location

Dubai Motor City, Al Barsha South, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest nationality): 38%+
Total nationalities: 30
Expat: 95%
Emirati: 5%

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

No
Notes:
(1) No provision in FS-Middle School phases
(2) Not published whether planned to launch with Senior and Post-16 facilities/provision from 2017

Owner

Education Capital (Holding) W.L.L.
Mr. Louay Khatib – 050 6252814
Mr. Sameer Merchant – 050 4618093

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)4 385 1810

Web Address
KHDA/ADEC Rating

Expected 2016-17
Notes:
(1) School in phased launch

Attainment Nur SEM

75%

Attainment Pri SEM

75%

Attainment Sec SEM

Phased launch 2017-

Attainment Post-16 SEM

Phased launch 2017-

Progress Nur SEM

75%

Progress Pri SEM

75%

Progress Sec SEM

Phased launch 2017-

Progress Post-16 SEM

Phased launch 2017-

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

Phased launch 2017-

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

Phased launch 2017-

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

50%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

Phased launch 2017-

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

Phased launch 2017-

Islamic St. Primary Results

50%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

Phased launch 2017-

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

Phased launch 2017-

Leadership

100%

Community

100%

Facilities

75% (phased launch/build)

Quality of teaching

75%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

75%

School Governance

75%

SEN Provision

62.5%

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Acting Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and the International Editor of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. 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