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Safa British School, Jumeirah – The 2022 Review EXCLUSIVE
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Safa British School, Jumeirah – The 2022 Review EXCLUSIVE

by March 28, 2022

Safa British School, Jumeirah, Dubai – Updated review April 2022: SchoolsCompared.com independent inspection; world exclusive look at the new Tier 1 school’s relocation to Jumeirah; KHDA Very Good School status – with Outstanding Features 2020-21; BSO Grade A1 – Outstanding, 2022-2025 Report, published in full.

Background – Safa British School, Jumeirah, Dubai.

“To all our little ones…

In this, your school, you will discover the confidence to explore the strength of your imagination and, sometimes, even the power to overwhelm.

You will come to enjoy the surprise of inspirational achievement and the experience of sharing it together.

You will learn to expect standards of yourself you didn’t think you could reach. Everyone will expect the best from everyone else.

You will understand more the uniqueness of you and each person’s special place in our community and the wider world.

When the time comes for you to leave, our aim is that you will take with you the memory of a remarkable journey – and a determination to go on to be the very best that you can be.

GEMS_INARTICLE  

Above all, Safa British School will unlock all your potential to “dream big” – and give you the tools to make those dreams happen.”

Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School

“Safa British School is a genuinely inspiring, and lovely, school.

It has all the bells and whistles of Tier 1 British schools in Dubai – and adds the most beautiful architectural and thematic flourishes we have see to date in any school in the UAE.

But what we learned, above all else, on our visit is that beauty can be skin deep, and a school with heart and soul does not need them to flourish for its children.

There is a palpable sense of child happiness and purpose afoot at Safa under its award-winning Principal, Zara Harrington, and, on the basis of our visits, and from the outstanding feedback we have received subsequent to her appointment, this is a school where we are confident enough to state that outstanding leaps from every, single, page.

Very highly recommended.”

SchoolsCompared.com 2022 Inspection.

Established in 2004, Safa British School is an English National Curriculum school following The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework for Foundation Stage learning (FS1 and FS2) in phased launch to the provision of IGCSE and gold standard British A Level at Sixth Form.

The school, originally, was designed ground-up as a dedicated Primary. Historically founded as the Al Safa Private School, a much-loved small villa school in Jumeirah where it operated between 2005 and 2012, the school initially educated just 35 children.

Very quickly school the school expanded to a role of some 350 children and, in 2012, to meet demand, Safa British School moved to a location in Meydan Street at the edges of Al Quoz.

In September 2020, Safa British School relocated to a landmark site in Jumeirah with the results that, today, in our view, Safa British School qualifies as the most architecturally and thematically thoughtful and beautiful school built in the UAE in a generation.

With the second phase of the school’s development completed in January 2021, the school’s sporting, swimming, Design and Technology, and Science Labs infrastructure now ranks Outstanding Plus and equals if not betters the expected standard of Tier 1 Premium provision in the emirates.

The return to Jumeirah reflected something of a coming home for a school that has, for many parents, been a sorely missed part of the Jumeirah community – more on this below. The choice of Jumeirah bucked a trend which today which has seen nearly all new schools opening in lower cost “new” Dubai, this predominantly in the Al Khail and Al Barsha areas. It is certainly the case that the older established residential communities like Jumeirah, until the return of Safa British School, had been all but forgotten by new school developers, this in no small part due to the premium on land in the highly desirably and established “Golden Mile” of Al Safa 1 Dubai. 

Location and Directions Map to Safa British School in Al Safa JUmeirah Dubai in September 2020

In this old Jumeirah stretch there had, in fact, not been a new school for over ten years, and this despite there being a shortage of premium all-through and secondary schools. The new location for Safa British School puts it in squarely in the heartlands of some of Dubai’s most famous and respected schools including Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) Jumeirah College and GEMS Jumeirah Primary School.

The new purpose built Safa British School today provides the level and depth of facilities that older schools, simply because of their age and limits of plot, are too constrained to offer, whilst retaining the magic of its history and uniqueness:

“The new campus has been a long-time coming.

We are all so excited.

The children and our parents have been taken on the journey with us from Day One. From the new grand staircases, to decor and flooring, from the places where are animals live to the Roald Dahl inspired reading nooks dotted around the school, the children have had their input from Day One. From the moment families walked into the new school, they could see that everything had been chosen by the children.

On “Day One” of our opening the school was alive with voices saying “I chose that!”, “I chose that!” 

Our new school mirrors all the beauty of its historic school forbears – and adds to that. We have not looked to redesign the wheel – but this is a much larger school deliberately so that children have greater space to learn in and develop their gifts.  

We have moved back to directly opposite the home of the original Safa British villa school in Al Safa 1. The final change, of course, is that we will grow from a Primary to being an all-through school offering a British education to A’ Level.

The new school opened in September 2020 with both Year 7 and Year 8 pupils and will grow gently and organically so that we can stay true to the spirit, ethics and community of Safa.

All our families, and our children, will help shape the school as it develops over the years ahead. We are, and have always been, a school that gives voice to our children and their families. 

The school has 11 animals and, from chickens and ducks to our fabulous rabbits, they have all come home with us too!” 

Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School. 

Tellingly, given the school’s celebrated commitment to parents and community, the owners confirmed to us:

“The new Safa British School has been built under the guidance of teachers and families for children with the support of world class architects – not by architects imposing an educational vision on a school that may not fit the needs of children.”

The result, in our view, is a stunning testament to the imagination of children and families with their broad engagement with the schools development. This is one extraordinarily stunning school inside and out. It sets the bar for justifying how important the exterior landscaping and design of schools should be – something most schools, in our experience, either forget or ignore.

Collage of photographs taken by SchoolsCompared.com journalists in November 2020 at Safa British School in Dubai as it opens in its new location in Jumeirah Dubai

From its Roald Dahl themed magical themed corridors and learning spaces, to the extensive gardens surroundings the school, the result of all the love and care clearly invested in this school plays out in absolutely taking your breath away.

Roald Dahl themes classrooms and corridors at Safa British School in Dubai

If you want to experience a “wow” school in the UAE, this is it. 

 

British Schools Overseas – The Report 2022-2025

BSO Report Safa British School Dubai

Safa British School has been rated “Grade 1 – Outstanding”, its top Award, by British School Overseas in their 2022 – 2025 School Inspection. A BSO judgement is endorsed by the British Government, quality assured by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and is valid for a period of three years. The British international schools inspectorate measures attainment in the following core areas and Safa British School reaches an Outstanding level of achievement in all eight of these. 

1. The quality of education provided by the school across its Curriculum, Teaching and
Assessment.
2. The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.
3. The welfare, health and safety of the pupils.
4. The suitability of school ownership and staff at all levels..
5. The quality of school premises and accommodation.
6. The provision of information to families and students.
7. The manner in which complaints are handled.
8. The leadership and management of the school

The BSO report for Safa British School draws out the following standout achievements:

  • In English, pupils across the school make outstanding progress and almost all reach standards that are above national averages in England.
  • The language-rich learning environment and skilful teaching provide excellent opportunities for children to enjoy developing strong listening and speaking skills. Children leaving the Reception Year are very well prepared for the demands of the English national curriculum in Year 1.
  • From the moment children arrive at the school, staff foster in them a love of reading. In every year group adults encourage children to read an increasingly diverse range of texts for pleasure.
  • Standards in Mathematics are high and progress is outstanding for all pupils, including those with SEND and those with EAL. There is no significant gender gap.
  • Detailed lesson planning, high expectations, outstanding subject knowledge, an ambitious curriculum, skilled teaching assistants, exemplary teaching and rigorous assessment enable all pupils to thrive in their lessons.
  • In Science pupils achieve standards that are above those expected in England. Progress is outstanding in all phases of the school.
  • Excellent teaching provided by subject specialists ensures that pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills are both broadened and deepened.
  • Pupils make the same outstanding progress in subjects across the wider curriculum as they do in reading, writing, mathematics and science.
  • The quality of the curriculum provided by the school is outstanding. It is carefully constructed to reflect the school’s values and mission to ‘create truly multinational citizens who will be leaders in their respective fields’. Pupils learn about Britain and being British throughout the curriculum. For example, they experience democracy through the process of standing for elections and campaign speeches in student council elections. High-quality displays around the school constantly remind pupils about the experience of life in British society.
  • The quality of teaching and assessment is outstanding overall. As a result of excellent teaching pupils make very good progress across all phases and subjects. Pupils enjoy their lessons and are keen to acquire new skills. Positive relations between pupils and staff create a learning environment where success is celebrated and where pupils are confident enough to try new ways of learning. Teachers have high expectations and pupils respond accordingly. Teachers have expert subject knowledge and a deep understanding of how pupils learn.
  • Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. Safa children are considerate, kind, thoughtful and welcoming to visitors and are pleased to be members of an inclusive school community. They cooperate very well with each other and see learning as a collaborative venture which enables them to become valued members of their society. Attendance levels are high and closely monitored by senior leaders. Pupils recognise the importance of regular attendance and work hard in lessons and at home. They are very curious about the world around them and ask many questions. They complete assignments on time and show a determination to succeed. They value their teachers and other adults in the school and understand the role the school staff play in helping them to become successful learners. They enjoy coming to school immensely and fully participate in school life. They relish the opportunity to take on leadership roles as members of the school council, prefects, peer mentors and well-being champions.
  • Respect, tolerance and equality are at the core of Safa British School. Pupils have a clear sense of right and wrong. Consequently, rules are rarely broken and sanctions rarely applied. Far more common is the distribution of rewards that celebrate good behaviour. The pupils are democratic in their approach to decision making and appreciate the importance of considering the views of the whole school community before deciding upon a course of action. The voice of the pupils is strong in influencing school developments.
  • The welfare, health and safety of the pupils are outstanding. Pupils and staff are exceptionally well cared for. Leaders have achieved their aim of creating ‘a home away from home for students and an extended family for staff’. Pupils speak exceptionally highly of how the school helps them to remain safe and happy.
  • The leadership and management of the school are outstanding. Leaders and governors have established a highly successful school. Staff are extremely ambitious for their pupils and a strong culture of learning and achievement runs through all phases of the school. The school’s vision ‘to create a school that unlocks the potential of every child’ permeates all aspects of the life of the school. As a result, pupils in all phases make rapid progress and achieve well. Nearly one third of all staff are educated to Master’s degree level or are currently working towards it. One third of secondary staff are currently markers or verifiers for examination boards. Senior leaders are strong leadership role models who set high standards of accountability for themselves, show empathy and practise self-reflection. Staff are very proud of their school and its leaders.
  • A rich and varied programme of extra-curricular activities successfully supports the formal curriculum, providing opportunities for all pupils to develop their personal interests and skills. These include a range of sporting activities as well as activities such as yoga, mindfulness, Arabic creative writing and young entrepreneurs.

Safa British School BSO Report 2022

 

School role, accreditation and values

Photograph of a Britsih Early Years teacher helping a young boy with his reading at Safa British School in Dubai

Today Safa British School is attended by around 1200 children in 50 plus classes between Kindergarten and Year 10 between the ages of three and 15 years. Years 11 to Year 13 open in phased launch from August 2022 culminating in the awarding of British GCSE and A Level/BTEC qualifications respectively. Today, in total, some 78 different nationalities are represented at Safa British School with British, Asian and Arab students represented in depth. 

Safa British School runs with the direct engagement of its owners who care passionately about education and are driven much more by their values of giving back as educationalists than the big business drivers and pressures of many alternative, much larger, school groups. This is not a school run by backroom bureaucrats and financiers, but, rather, by fully engaged, inspirational, deeply committed, hugely talented, and compassionate, educationalists. In practice, Safa British School operates with all the core ethical values of a not-for-profit.

In 2020-2021, Safa British School was one of only six schools in Dubai to achieve the across-the-board highest possible rating from the KHDA, Dubai’s school regulator, for the outstanding quality of its Distance Learning provision. 

Under Ms Harrington, the school is now commended as a “Very Good” school by the KHDA, with “Outstanding” features. This follows the Good School rating with Very Good and Outstanding Features the school held for six years up to 2019.

It is also worth noting that its sister, Safa Community School, secured the prestigious SchoolsCompared.com 2019 Award for Best New School in the United Arab Emirates against exceptionally strong competition.

In 2021-22, school Head, Zara Harrington, was awarded the Top Schools Award for Best Principal in the United Arab Emirates, the awarding body’s highest award for school leadership.

In 2022, Safa British School was awarded A1 Outstanding school status by British School Overseas (above). 

Safa British School now sits comfortably within the top tier of KHDA rated “Very Good” and “Outstanding” schools in the UAE.

This is a school that, given its ownership, sister school and move to its new school location, we expect now to be achieving the highest Outstanding School level of KHDA achievement in the next three years. It is that good. In our view there is more than enough capacity here to deliver this. 

 

New relocation to Jumeirah review exclusive.

“In September 2020 something very special happened. We welcomed children to the new home for Safa British School.  

We have taken all the very best features from each of our award-winning schools, added everything we have learned over the last fifteen years in delivering an outstanding education for every Safa child and, then, working with one of the world’s top architectural firms, built an extraordinary new school in the heart of Jumeirah.

The new Safa British School is the first, new, premium, Tier 1 all-through school of this standard built in Jumeirah for at least a decade. 

We have come home to where Safa British School started some fourteen years ago – building an absolutely extraordinary new school for Safa British School right in the heart of the traditional Jumeirah community.

Our aim is simple.

The school environment we create for children, families and the wider Jumeirah community will set the standard for the education we are delivering. That means no less than parents will walk into Safa British School and just know that they have found “home” for the education of their children.

We are committed to create a school that parents and children will fall in love with.

Schools act as both vital community hubs and provide the single most important lever for every child to meet their needs, ambitions and potential. We have been aware of both from ‘Day One’ of our planning.

As the school open we have met that ambition. We have built on, and retained, all that we created originally at Safa British, and drawn the best from its its sister, award-winning, Safa Community School, to create an extraordinarily exciting learning environment for children.

We have also future proofed the school across our three pillars of, first, outstanding A Level grounded academics, second, BTEC-grounded vocational streams, and, third, a flourishing sporting life for every child. 

And, at its heart, the new Safa British School retains our deeply rooted commitment to inclusion and a world class British education where every child flourishes and builds on their individual and unique talents and potential.”

Sameer Merchant. Co-owner and Founder. Safa British School & Safa Community School. 

The new Safa British School in Jumeirah occupies a 4.8 acre site, this doubling the size of the old school’s grounds. Importantly, however, the new school remains small and intimate by Dubai standards with a capacity of just 1400 children

Exclusive aerial photograph of the new Safa British School opening in Dubai in 2020. Architect John R Harris.

Key features of the new school include:

  • Architecturally inspirational new school design with beautiful landscaping and architectural flourishes including an “awesome” wooden link-bridge across the two school buildings designed to fire the imagination of children. 
  • Integration of a flowing river running across the grounds and flowing beneath the link-bridge to relate the school to its green setting. This includes “hills and dales” within the landscaping to make a powerful statement about nature and its importance for children as well as providing a nod to the English National Curriculum underpinnings of the school. 

Building and Bridges at Safa British School in Dubai

  • UK Forest School accreditation planning: “The ethos of a Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and young people and for their capacity to instigate, test and maintain curiosity in the world around them. Forest Schools believe in children’s right to play; the right to access the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment); the right to access risk and the vibrant reality of the natural world; and the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build a resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.” (FSTC, UK, 2019).  This will build on a school setting designed to inspire children with trees, grass, water, rocks and a respect for nature, this through nurturing a recognition of the science of organic farming and a love of, and respect for animals.  It is worth noting that there is a strong history of “farming schools” in both the US and United Kingdom of which a good, though scaled example in the UK is the extraordinary Lancing College, reviewed here (by our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com) and, directly, here.
  • Much-loved organic and animal farms that have played such an important role in school life historically. The farm welcomes a menagerie of rabbits, ducks, tortoises and chickens, and will include an organic working farm focused on inspiring child awareness of the eco, climate and sustainability challenges facing us all in the 21st century global economy
  • An outdoor, hugely inspirational school amphitheatre used both for performances and to provide a setting for inspiring a love of reading through drama and setting. 
  • A very strong focus on BTEC technical education and the Sciences with highly resourced Textile labs, Design and Technology Labs, Food and Technology Labs and all four major Science Labs.
  • Flourishing sporting life for children with both a dedicated indoor Sports Hall and a separate hybrid indoor auditorium that doubles as a second sports hall. 
  • A unique hybrid outdoor-indoor, temperature controlled Swimming pool, naturally shaded by the Sports Courts built above. The result is the very best of outdoor and indoor pools – resolving the problem that most schools have of controlling pool temperature and cleanliness in outdoor pools and the claustrophobia of indoor pools. 

Sporting investment and swimming are core strengths of Safa British school in Dubai

  • Extensive football grounds, dedicated basketball courts; and, further rooftop basketball and netball courts
  • Investment in parking – a key concern for parents, is addressed in the design to ensure that drop-off and pick-ups are seamless. Underground parking is provided for teachers (located under the football ground). FS, Primary and Secondary school children each have their own separate drop-off zones. A dedicated parking bay is provided for children who arrive on buses.
  • Full all-through school build – the Jumeirah school was completed in a single phase and not staggered. The investment here is significant. Many schools stagger the building of schools for financial reasons. With Safa British School, children moved straight into what is, to all intents and purposes, a finished, fully Tier 1 Outstanding resourced school.
  • Landmark library spread over two floors. This provides a combination of a “story telling-transported into another world” inspirational library setting for the younger children and a university style library for the older children. Both libraries are connected by a spiral staircase and they each open out onto a vista overlooking the amphitheatre.
  • Ground floor classrooms which open out into their own outdoor learning decks. The outdoor extends the classroom. There is no single corridor – corridors function as learning clusters (see render below).
  • Continuing investment in the school’s already award-winning recycling centre.
  • A broadened curriculum focus for younger children beginning in Year 1 in areas including LAMDA preparation and BTEC vocational skills. Focus on the Performing Arts too begins from the Early Years (Baby Ballet and Baby Bop) and investment in whole child development in the broader Arts continues as children develop through the school.

Performing Arts investment at Safa British School we arte as exceptional. Here children are seen performing in song and dance.

  • Dedicated Nurture Room with specialist support for SEND therapies.

Images of the new school can be found below. 

Exclusive new photographs of the classrooms planned for Safa British School in its new school buildings opening in 2020. Architect John R Harris

Photograph of the new school buildings of Safa British School in Dubai opening in 2020. This shot shows the large corridors that operate as classrooms - a model that is a long way from the old model of school buildings with narrow corridors just used as a means for children to get from A to B. Architect John R Harris.

Exclusive look at the new Safa British School launching in Dubai in 2020. This photograph shows the main frontage of the building. Architects are John R Harris

Exclusive photograph of the new streetside entrance to Safa British School in its new buildings opening in 2020. Architect is John R Harris

Exclusive aerial photograph of the new Safa British School opening in Dubai in 2020. Architect John R Harris.

Exterior landscaping at Safa British School in Dubai

The teaching approach is wrapped securely around the needs of individual children – and this can be no better appreciated than in the laser-like focus on qualification and subject breadth as each child develops their talents and aspiration through each phase of school life and academic/technical development:

“Even today, no one has done the vocational route well enough in our view. At Safa British School we are looking at a huge breadth of vocational pathways and are going to draw this back to begin build vocational skills from Year 5. This is a bottom-up, middle school approach that is hugely successful in the UK. In the UAE the current approach limits child progression by too strongly isolating Sixth Form study from what comes before. We think passionately that vocational and technical stream investment needs to begin earlier as children evolve their gifts and aspirations.

We believe too that children learn from each other and we are building this into the brief, including in our adoption of the core value of Forestry Schools in the UK.  BTEC will be a hugely resourced part of our schooling, and this will work with A Levels and a passionate focus on Sport being made inspiring for every child. We are engaging today with parents as we move through these big secondary decisions. Children must have a breadth of choice – that means sporting, academic and vocational pathways will be built into the DNA, the very heart, of Safa British School as we move forwards in the next phase of our school journey for families, children and the Jumeirah community.”

Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School.

 

Fees 2020-21

International schooling and a strong commitment to British curriculum ethical values sees friendships flourish at Safa British School in Dubai

Fees offer very strong ROI with fee levels significantly below Tier 1 premiums operating in this segment with an equivalent level of outstanding facility, curriculum and teacher investment. We particularly like the gently staggered increases in fees, rather than the significant jump of fees between phases seen at other schools. This makes fees more manageable for parents in planning – and spreads out costs uniformly through the education of children at the school.  

Year

2021 – 2022 Discounted Fees

KHDA Approved Fees 

FS1

AED 32,000

AED 42,000

FS2

AED 44,000

AED 46,000

YR1

AED 44,500

AED 46,000

YR2

AED 44,500

AED 50,000

YR3

AED 44,500

AED 50,000

YR4

AED 46,000

AED 54,000

YR5

AED 47,000

AED 54,000

YR6

AED 47,000

AED 56,000

YR7

AED 52,000

AED 58,000

YR8

AED 52,000

AED 60,000

YR9

AED 54,000

AED 62,000

Y10

AED 58,000

AED 65,000

 

From the Vault: Safa British School – the backstory of the move to Jumeirah

It is worth looking back to the history of Safa British School to contextualise the heritage and reputation it carries forward to its new home in Jumeirah.

Safa British School, in its 2019 home, already had very good facilities, including a (pretty) shaded 25M pool, a smaller square training pool, sports grounds, music and ICT rooms and good breadth of PE facilities.  The school was colourful in its design, spacious, bright and genuinely friendly. The outside area at the school was fairly bijou by Tier 1 standards, but of a very good standard, including many thoughtful features including a climbing frame outside allocated on a rota basis from Year 1 – Year 6.

Stand-out were the areas set aside for the school farm (which, as with the new school, included a fabulous menagerie of rabbits, ducks, tortoises and chickens!), and an organic farm. 

An imposing three dimensional dragon, see below, set a formidable backdrop to the school library. Created by Safa British School children, the result was a hugely inspirational space for little ones to revel in the wonder and magic of reading:

A photograph of the three dimensional dragon created by children for the Safa British School library brining wonder to the magic of children and lighting up the room

The dragon has been brought to the new school too – see below:

Dragons and imagination run riot at Safa British School in Dubai - one of the most inspirationally designed schools we have seen in the last decade.

The FS area benefited from open areas and activity spaces for the children to play and learn. We rated these “quite charming” and the spaces were designed intelligently to flow from classrooms and were well utilised. Engagement with, and feedback we have received from, parents and the broader school community is, and has consistently been, outstanding. The support of the community was some of the most genuine of any school we have seen in the UAE and the fabulous climbing wall provided just one example of the input made by “Friends of Safa.”

A fairly typical range of sporting activities and squads were on offer including swimming, netball, football, basketball and Cricket. The Sports Hall was multi-purpose, including Auditorium seating enabling swift conversion to provide a theatre and assembly space.

The Library space for the main school we found hugely creative and well designed and populated with around 7000 books. The school also showcased a fabulous dance studio – ballet and dance were – and will remain, both taught from FS phases.

Broader provision for STEAM was very much in evidence and the Design and Technology [DT]/Engineering space benefited from a 3D printer which had produced some fabulous models of the Burj Khalifa and other notable landmarks in Dubai. ECA’s ran to between 30-35 choices and the clubs were thoughtful, with clear briefs to extend children’s knowledge and skills for improving performance in core subjects. All of this is carried over to, and built on, in the new school. 

Children with SEND were able to draw on expertise including OT, Educational Therapy as well as an in-house Psychologist. A good example of the drive for inclusiveness within the school was no better evidenced than in main hallway of the Administration offices leading to the classrooms. These were treated as a gallery and showcase for the children’s work with the single aim that examples of attainment of every child in the school would be shown at some point in the year – the standard of work we noted was high, and in many cases outstanding.

Another stand out feature of the school then was its focus on the bigger picture of whole child development over and above academics. In this area the school has been justifiably, we think, awarded “Outstanding” by the Dubai Schools Inspectorate. We found a palpable focus on the children taking ownership and responsibility for all aspects of school, keeping areas tidy and organising themselves efficiently.  One particularly inspiring example of this focus on children, in this broader context, was the “Vacancies Board”, which advertised positions for children within the school, including Headships, Prefects and Monitors. Each includes a clear job description explaining the responsibilities and role.  The procedure for appointment mirrors that of the ‘real world’ where applicants submit their CV and are then called for interview. Should they choose to resign the post they have to do so in writing and work a months notice (not that anyone has to date!).

Core academics were kindly taught with a strategy that ensured each child is given individual attention. This was, and remains, resolutely not a hot house school. For parents seeking academic attainment at all cost, there are certainly alternative schools. However, the approach at Safa is a balanced and hugely and inspirationally compassionate one.

We believe that, for parents who believe that a child’s happiness and being inspired with a genuine love of learning rather than is more important than rote learning and homework overload, will find much in this softer, more balanced approach to inspire them.

Safa British School remains today an exceptionally, and unflinchingly warm and happy school.    

A really lovely example of this is in the way each topic taught is self assessed by the children with a Learning Grid to reflect the level of understanding.  This enables children to understand properly what they have achieved and how to improve it. We have not see this approach quite so comprehensively used before – and it works. The initiative goes beyond even this this though – children are encouraged to support one another in the classroom: when a child needs more time to grasp a concept there is a culture of their asking amongst their peers, “who can help me?” This ‘phone a friend’ approach is quite inspirational when you see it working – building a sense of community within the school and within children an understanding of how important kindness is in shaping the world. As our inspectors noted: “…it’s a very creative, supportive and responsible approach to teaching that is extraordinarily effective, inclusive – and genuinely moving.”

It is worth noting when interpreting KHDA reports that we think the focus should be less on attainment scoring than child progress – this particularly true of Attainment in Early Years. Progress scoring represents how far the school is able to take children from their starting points and improve their education. A low initial attainment score simply represents that children arrive at the school from a low starting point. What is important is how well a school takes that starting point and improves the flight path beyond that that which would normally be expected from a good school.

Safa is rated “Very Good” for child progress at every phase, this indicative of its transforming the educational experience of children from low starting points of attainment to achieving above the baseline flight paths that would be expected to follow. This is hugely creditable.

The broader sense of community, and the links the school is building with parents to underpin the education of its children is another stand-out area of the school – and again an area in which Safa punches at the level of the Tier 1s in scoring an “Outstanding” rating from the KHDA.

 

School Leadership

A wall of giant books provides the background to this photograph of Zara Harrington, Principal of Safa British School in Dubai. Her impact on delivering an outstanding environment for ea h child's learning cannot be overstated.

In all these areas, as noted above, it is clear that there is a transformation taking place under the new Head, Zara Harrington.

Described by our Inspector as having “visionary ambition for children, professionalism and hugely inspiring compassion,” Ms Harrington brings with her more than a decade’s global experience in education, latterly as Head of Primary at GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai. 

Tellingly, Ms Harrington’s daughter is educated at Safa British School – we often find Principal’s educating their children elsewhere which is always very revealing.

Ms Harrington brings with her a rare business background in the hospitality sector, finding her vocation after a high profile career in business management.  More interesting is the exceptionally rare accolade given to Ms Harrington by OFSTED in the UK which is worth quoting in full. They write in glowing terms of her achieving:

“the most remarkable turnaround of a school in just 12 months [with] a complete transformation in teaching and outcomes for pupils through her outstanding leadership, which she has  embedded at all levels. 

Ms Harrington is an inspirational leader who gets the very best out of all the staff and pupils by modelling exactly what she expects with the result that pupils achieve well, often from low starting points and make rapid progress in all areas of learning, from the minute they start in the Nursery to ensure that no child is left behind.

Teaching under Ms Harrington’s leadership is outstanding and marking is excellent. The academy is forensic in the way that assessment information is collected and analysed. Teaching is never less than good, and is often outstanding, particularly in English and mathematics. Teachers are aware that time is precious, so not a minute is wasted: lesson introductions are brisk and sharply focused, pupils are given carefully prepared independent tasks that stretch them.

Provision in the Early Years Foundation Stage has been transformed under Ms Harrington. Teaching in the Nursery and Reception classes strikes just the right balance between formal instruction and structured play. Children quickly learn to make choices, but every activity has a specific purpose. Indoor and outdoor areas provide stimulating resources to entice the children into learning, and adults skilfully guide children with timely guidance and clever questioning.

Assessment and marking are exemplary. Teachers set work that is suitably difficult but also interesting, so that pupils are motivated and learn consistently well. Pupils like coming to school. They behave well and have positive attitudes to learning.

Ms Harrington’s endless energy and uncompromising standards are the reason for the academy’s rapid transformation. Her success is rooted in the way that she models what she expects, and in the ‘can do’ approach that she instils. Staff work exceptionally hard to meet these expectations, and the quality of their classroom environments, lesson planning and marking are testament to this.

Strong and effective leadership has been developed at all levels, including governance with a determination to secure the best possible outcomes for each child. Every step is taken to secure the pupils’ wellbeing and to ensure that every child has equal opportunity to thrive.

Ms Harrington’s drive to strengthen teaching has been relentless, but not too onerous because teachers have been guided every step of the way. Teachers work effectively in teams to plan lessons, to support and coach one another and share best practice, and, more recently, to plan subject developments. The result is a buoyant staff who channel their energies into the never-ending pursuit of excellence. “

Ofsted. The West Grantham Academy Inspection. 2013-14.

In 2022, Zara Harrington was awarded the Top Schools Award for the Best School Principal in the UAE, the highest honour awarded, one made for absolutely outstanding school leadership, by the judges of the de facto and de jure awards in Education. 

 

Secondary School Leadership

Photograph of Brian Horwell, Head of Secondary, at Safa British School in Dubai. Mr Horwell is leading the school through development of its IGCSE and A level curriculum development. This photograph was taken in November 2020.

Brian Horwell, Head of Secondary, at Safa British School is a geographer by specialism. He brings to Safa British School two decade’s experience in British education, latterly at the KHDA rated Outstanding Dubai British School where he led Secondary provision for six years. Prior to this Mr Horwell was Deputy Head of the Medina School, one recognised for its Performing Arts programmes and close partnership with the Isle of Wight Music and Arts Festival. 

Warm, articulate and hugely personable, Mr Horwell is deeply committed to “unlocking the potential of every child” and is currently designing the schools IGCSE, BTEC and A Level blended British Curriculum. This will include the spectrum of English EBacc subjects, dual languages, Business, Design and Technology and the Creative Arts.

Mr Horwell emphasised that he will be aligning the final choice of subjects with the needs, ambitions and talents of children to ensure that every child can study those subjects that meet their needs, talents, potential and ambition. “Children first and centre,” Mr Horwell emphasised. 

 

Scholarships

Safa British School has launched a major three year scholarship programme for student entry into Year 9 from September 2021. The Awards are being made for high achieving students academically and for those gifted in the Arabic language, both native and second language speakers. The scholarships carry up to 50% fee remission over the full three years. Applications for scholarships are open now.

 

Happy School Dynamics

 

Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2022

Inevitably a review can only give snapshot of a school, and even then, only at a moment in time. 

But we think that this is an exceptional, extraordinary school in the making and one of the very best in Dubai in its absolute focus on the happiness of the child, individualised learning and the ways in which the new Head inspires community within and beyond the school. 

Ms Harrington brings with her an outstanding record of school leadership that mirrors our own, hugely positive experiences in meetings with her between 2019 and 2022. Her commitment to the school, parents and children shows results in a school brimming with child inspiration, engagement and sense of purpose – and a sense of happiness that cascades through every part of the school like wildfire.

The word holistic, used often in an educational context, captures less well what is being achieved than the concept of the “whole child” because everything at Safa is now grounded in what is going to work best for children – with everything that follows then linking back to that core purpose.

The attention to detail, and human touch is everywhere to see.

And the new innovations, whether in the classroom, corridors, relationships between teachers and students, or students themselves, and in the links to create community – may be incremental and small in isolation – but they add up to something, as a whole, much bigger, and, we feel, very special indeed. We think parents would do well to visit the school.

In 2022, the opportunities for children at Safa British School have multiplied still further.

The school aims high: to “take the very best from schools across the UAE, and in some case worldwide, and bring it all together in a very special quite extraordinary new school in the heart of Jumeirah where our story begun. This is “Safa 2022″ – a school that incorporates the best features of Safa Community School and Safa British School wrapped up in the absolute care of children.”

Whilst the owners are very gentle, humble and resolutely do not seek the limelight, we think it is important to state here that over the last seven years we have found their integrity, vision,  commitment to children and families never less than an inspiration – and deeply moving. This is resolutely not a school run by back-room financiers or administrators, but, rather, by hugely committed child-led educationalists focused on delivering powerfully for their schools and children.  

Safa British School is one of very few schools in the UAE that we recommend without qualification.

The teachers, leadership, parents, owners – and children have everything to be proud of. 

Extraordinary does not come close to describing the achievement here….

Very highly recommended.

©SchoolsCompared.com 2022. All rights reserved.

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Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating

BSO A1 Outstanding School 2022
KHDA Very Good with Outstanding features 2020

2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features (2018/19)
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features (2017/18)

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

Rating FS

Very Good-Outstanding

Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good-Outstanding

Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good-Outstanding

Rating Post 16 / High

NA

Type of school

Private

WSA Good School

Yes, 2021-22.

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 42,000 (AED 32,000 discounted where applicable)
FS2: 3: 46,000 (AED 44,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 1: 46,000 (AED 44,500 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 2: 50,000 (AED 44,500 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 3: 50,000 (AED 44,500 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 4: 54,000 (AED 46,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 5: 54,000 (AED 47,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 6: 56,000 (AED 47,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 7: 58,000 (AED 52,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 8: 60,000 (AED 52,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 9: 62,000 (AED 54,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 10: 65,000 (AED 58,000 discounted where applicable)
YEAR 11: TBC - Phased launch August 2022
YEAR 12: TBC - Phased launch
YEAR 13: TBC - Phased launch

Curriculum

National Curriculum of England
Notes:
(1) Early Years Foundation Stage
(2) IGCSE / ASDAN
(3) A Level - phased launch
(4) BTEC (Level 2 and Level 3) - phased launch

Number of A Levels offered

Phased launch

A Levels offered

Phased launch

A Level A* to A

Phased launch

A Level A* to C

Phased launch

IGCSE A* to C

Phased launch

IGCSE A* to A

Phased launch

Number of I/GCSEs Offered

17+

I/GCSEs offered

English, Mathematics, Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) and Islamic Studies (Core)
Geography, History, UAE Social Studies and Moral Education, French, Spanish, Arabic, Drama, Music, Design Technology, Art, Physical Education (Options)

Selective

Fully and resolutely inclusive

Waiting list

Yes.

Value Added

High.

Number of Students

1185 (2022)
Notes:
(1) Capacity 1400.

Teacher to Student Ratio

12:1

Largest nationality teachers

British

Teacher turnover

9%

Year opened

2004

Location

Jumeirah, Dubai

Student composition

International
Notes:
(1) Highest nationalities: British, Asian, Arab.
(2) 78 total nationalities.
(3) SEND including Gifted and talented: 225

Gender

Mixed co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

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

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0)4 388 4300
[email protected]

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

60%

Attainment Pri SEM

80%

Attainment Sec SEM

NA

Attainment Post-16 SEM

NA

Progress Nur SEM

60%

Progress Pri SEM

80%

Progress Sec SEM

NA

Progress Post-16 SEM

NA

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

NA

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

NA

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

30%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

NA

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

NA

Islamic St. Primary Results

50%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

NA

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

NA

Leadership

80%

Community

100%

Facilities

80%

Quality of teaching

60%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

60%

School Governance

60%

SEN Provision

60%

Strengths

• BSO A1 Outstanding school.
• KHDA Very Good school status with Outstanding Features.
• Top Schools Award-winning school leadership in the shape of Zara Harrington, recipient of the Best Principal in the United Arab Emirates 2021-22 on a unanimous vote by judges for her absolutely outstanding strategic and operational management of her school and care of children.
• Extremely high performing inclusive school with children achieving/progressing significantly above expected baseline flight paths
• "The UAE's most thematically and architecturally well structured and beautiful school for children." (SchoolsCompared. 2021)
• Three year scholarship programme for Year 9 entry.
• Outstanding teaching, values and ethical framework, whole child development and happy school dynamics.

Weaknesses

• The exact shape of A and BTEC/T Level provision to come is still in development

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

• Hugely warm school dynamics
• Award-winning school heritage
• A1 outstanding, award-winning, school leadership
• Outstanding school ownership meaningfully and fully engaged in the success of the school for every child.
• Bottom line? Absolutely exceptional, across the board breath-taking school that sets the bar very high for what parents can expect from British curriculum schools in the UAE. School leadership, culture and ownership does not come any better - and teaching recruitment and faculty are stand-out. A "Wow!" school. Very highly recommended.

A+
Our Rating
B+
User Rating
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Top of shortlist
50%
In my Top 5
23%
Shortlisted
9%
A possibility
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Pass
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No way
6%
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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