Safa British School, Al Meydan Street – The Review
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Under review 2019-20
FS2: 3: 40,115
YEAR 1: 40,115
YEAR 2: 40,115
YEAR 3: 40,115
YEAR 4: 40,115
YEAR 5: 40,115
YEAR 6: 40,115
YEAR 7: 41,315
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA
National Curriculum of England
(1) Early Years Foundation Stage
1:14 (2015) increasing to 1:17 (2016) increasing to 1:20 (2018)
20% (2015) increasing to 38% (2016)
Al Meydan Street, Al Quoz, Dubai
Arab (largest nationality)
(1) Emirati: 25
(2) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): 22
Education Capital (Holding) W.L.L.
Mr. Louay Khatib – 050 6252814
Mr. Sameer Merchant – 050 4618093
+971 (0)4 388 4300
• Students genuinely enjoy school and have very positive attitudes to learning
• Genuinely inclusive school with children achieving/progressing above expected baseline flight paths
• Effective, successful teaching methods enable students to reach above average levels in English, Mathematics and Science by the end of Year 6
• The curriculum is well-planned and engaging
• A wide range of additional activities contribute to both academic and personal development
• Physical education facilities are excellent with large multi-purpose auditorium, covered outdoor sports areas and two sheltered swimming pools
• School leadership is determined and focused on ensuring all children meet their potential
• Students’ personal development is a particular strength of Safa’s provision
• Students with Special Educational Needs are identified quickly. Empowering and inclusive school vision of, 'Every Child an Achiever' which is now showing significant improvement in school provision, matched with ongoing investment in SEN to respond to KHDA reviews
• Students show an outstanding understanding of their responsibilities as members of the community, exemplified by their dedication to preserve the environment and conserve its resources
• Outstanding whole child focus
• Ongoing investment and strong support from committed Safa Friends
• Newly appointed innovative Principal driven to bring Safa up to Very Good school status, and beyond, swiftly guided by a "child first" underpinning of whole school provision
• Islamic Education and Arabic language lessons are weaker than comparable lessons in other core subjects (a typical failing of British schools)
• Facilities do not match the bells and whistles of the Tier 1s
Updated April 2019 – SchoolsCompared.com independent inspection and KHDA updates
“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.
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 doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the ultra-premiums. But what we learned, above all else, on our inspection 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 purpose afoot at Safa under its new Head, Zara Harrington, and, on the basis of our inspection, and from the outstanding feedback we have received subsequent to her appointment, this is a school very much to watch. Recommended.”
SchoolsCompared.com 2019 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). The school is designed ground-up as a dedicated Primary and will be attractive for parents not convinced by the increasing move to all-through schools in the UAE which, it is argued, risk losing childhood within large schools inevitably much more focused on older children and the endless drive to achievement in later examinations.
Located in Al Meydan Street (the school relocated in September 2012) the school was historically also known as the Al Safa Private School.
Originally established with just 200 children, today Safa British School is attended by around 800 children in 41 classes offering Kindergarten and Primary education to students between the ages of three and 11 years. Safa British School is fully British Schools Overseas accredited and run 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.
Safa offers automatic transfer from Year 6 to its in our view outstanding, and heavily over-subscribed, sister slipstream, Safa Community School, local in Al Barsha. Together, the schools ensure continuity of their English National Curriculum based education to GCE O’ and later A’ Level.
It is worth noting that Safa Community School secured the SchoolsCompared.com 2019 Award for Best New School in the United Arab Emirates against exceptionally strong competition.
In total 49 different nationalities are represented at the school.
The school is commended as a “Good” school by the KHDA, with Very Good and Outstanding features, a standard it has maintained consistently for some six years, including this year (2019). Safa British School sits comfortably within the “Good School” class which is the minimum (but high) standard of quality school provision expected by the KHDA of all schools in the Emirate. It is fair to say, however, that this is a school that, given its ownership and sister school, we expect to be achieving at least at the higher “Very Good” school level of KHDA achievement and much is expected of the school’s new Principal to address the clear potential of Safa British School to “up its game” still further. The core area that needs better focus is Arabic subjects (including language) – a traditional problem for Uk and international schools.
The school has a teacher to student ratio of 1:20 with an average 24 children in a class and between 3 and 7 parallel classes per year group. Teachers are predominantly British and mostly recruited from the UK. From our independent discussions with teachers we know that both Safa schools invest significantly in teachers, both professionally and personally.
The school has had a high level of teacher turnover for a number of years and it is fair to say that this has followed a number of changes of principal and the owners’ drive to get the highest quality faculty for children. Inevitably this takes time. We were very impressed with the new school Principal, Zara Harrington, and it is telling that in our discussion she identified that the school’s resources were some of the best she had seen within any school in her career – but had historically been considerably under-leveraged. There is considerable change afoot – and for the better.
Safa British School Facilities
Safa has, in general, very good facilities, including a (pretty) shaded 25M pool, a smaller square training pool, sports grounds, music and ICT rooms and good PE facilities. The school is colourful in its design, spacious, bright and genuinely friendly. The outside area at the school is fairly bijou by Tier 1 standards, but is of a good standard and sufficient. It includes a climbing frame outside which is allocated on a rota basis from Year 1 – Year 6.
The FS area has been redesigned to benefit from far more open areas and activity spaces for the children to play and learn. These are quite charming and the spaces have been designed intelligently to flow from classrooms and are well utilised. Engagement with, and feedback we have received from, parents and the broader school community is outstanding – and, for example, the fabulous climbing wall is just one example of the input by “Friends of Safa.’
A fairly typical range of sporting activities and squads are on offer including swimming, netball, football, basketball and Cricket. The Sports Hall is multi-purpose, including Auditorium seating enabling swift conversion to provide a theatre and assembly space.
The Library space for the main school is creative and well designed and currently has around 7000 books. There is also a dance studio – ballet and dance are both taught from FS phases. Broader provision for STEAM is very much in evidence and the Design and Technology [DT]/Engineering space benefits from a 3D printer which had produced some fabulous models of the Burj Khalifa and other notable landmarks in Dubai. ECA’s run to between 30-35 choices and the clubs are thoughtful, with clear briefs to extend children’s knowledge and skills for improving performance in core subjects.
Children with SEND are 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 is no better evidenced than in main hallway of the Administration offices leading to the classrooms. These are now treated as a gallery and showcase for the children’s work and the intention is to have examples of attainment of every child in the school individually at some point in the year – the standard of work we noted was high, and in some cases outstanding.
Another stand out feature of the school is in 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. There is 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, is the new “Vacancies Board”, which advertises 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!). This, amongst a plethora of other initiatives, may represent a small shift in the approach from the school but it is hugely impressive in its impacts – and more importantly, has inspired the children.
Core academics are kindly taught with a strategy that ensures each child is given individual attention. This is not a hot house school. For parents seeking academic attainment at all cost, there are certainly better schools. However, the approach at Safa is a balanced one. We believe that, for parents who believe that a child’s happiness and being inspired with a genuine love of learning rather than its being seen it as a chore at an early age is the key priority, will find much in this softer, more balanced approach to inspire them.
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 and inclusive.”
It is worth noting noting for parents that it is important in understanding KHDA reports to focus less on initial attainment scoring than progress. 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 that would normally be expected. Safa is rated “Very Good” for child progress at primary 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.
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.
In all these areas 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 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 of her in glowing terms of 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 modeling 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 instills. 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.
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2019
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 school in the making in its child focus and the ways in which the new Head is seeking to inspire community within the school – and to building bridges with parents and the broader Arabic context outside. Ms Harrington brings with her an outstanding record of school leadership that mirrors our own, and that of our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, positive experience in meeting her in 2019.
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 – and then making everything link back to that.
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.
Look beyond bells and whistles and we think there is much to discover and admire.