Now Reading
New Dubai School Opening as Demand for Places Rockets – Second Victory Heights Primary School to Open in City of Arabia. Full Official Interview. EXCLUSIVE.
Victory Heights Primary school City of Arabia Founding Principal Ben Rothwell
1657 0

New Dubai School Opening as Demand for Places Rockets – Second Victory Heights Primary School to Open in City of Arabia. Full Official Interview. EXCLUSIVE.

by Tabitha BardaJune 25, 2024

Background: New Victory Heights Primary School City of Arabia Launching…

When Victory Heights Primary School (VHPS) – the much-loved, Outstanding-rated British primary school in Sports City led by award-winning Principal Sasha Crabb – told SchoolsCompared.com that it was planning to open a second branch in City of Arabia, Dubai, we knew it would be big news. VHPS has become a Dubai parent favourite as the emirate’s most affordable British primary school rated Outstanding by the KHDA, so the fact that its unique offering is going to be available to more parents was something we needed to hear more about.

Named Victory Heights Primary School: City of Arabia (VHPS COA), the new UK-curriculum school is currently under construction at a site located within a 15-minute drive from popular neighbourhoods such as Al Furjan, Al Barari, and The Villa. The school will open in August 2025, subject to KHDA approval, and admissions are expected to open in October 2024.

Renders of the new VHPS City of Arabia, which is due to open in 2025, subject to KHDA approval

Taking the helm as Founding Principal of VHPS COA is the inspirational (and award-winning) Mr Ben Rothwell – already a familiar face for the VHPS community as the current Headteacher and a founding staff member of the 11-year-old flagship school – who promises to preserve the down-to-earth values and family feel of the original VHPS. Independent feedback to SchoolsCompared.com for Mr Rothwell has been consistently outstanding with parents and staff praising his “ambition for every child”, “compassion”, “huge heart” and “ability inspire parents, children and teachers with the belief that everything is possible – and more.”

The new Victory Heights Primary School City of Arabia will educate the same age range of children aged 3-11 (FS1-Year 6), while maintaining the same commitment to high academic standards, community spirit and student and staff wellbeing that won the original school both the SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Awards for Happiest School in the UAE and Best Primary School in the UAE.  

Pictured: Mr Ben Rothwell, the award-winning and much-loved Founding Principal of Victory Heights Primary School, City of Arabia

Mrs Sasha Crabb, assuming the role of Director of Academics, will assist with the development of the new campus, while maintaining her role as Principal of what will now become known as Victory Heights Primary School: Sports City. Both education leaders will collaborate to play a pivotal role in shaping the new school. As Ben Rothwell, Founding Principal of VHPS COA says:

‘Our vision is to ensure that both schools maintain their unique characteristics and continue to thrive independently, while working closely together in key areas.’

GEMS_INARTICLE  

Photograph of Sasha Crabb at the SchoolsCompared Top School Awards held at the Raj Mahal Theatre in Dubai accepting her Award for the 2019 and 20 Best Principal in the UAE.

Photograph of Sasha Crabb at the SchoolsCompared.com Top School Awards held at the Raj Mahal Theatre in Dubai accepting her Award for the 2019 and 2020 Best Principal in the UAE.

The new school promises to safeguard the VHPS commitment to affordable excellence (2024/25 fees range from Dh39,216 for FS1 to Dh53,476 for Year 6 in VHPS Sports City), while offering an even more personalised approach: it will have a maximum capacity of 850 students when full, compared to 1,075 at VHPS Sports City.

SchoolsCompared.com was lucky enough to sit down with VHPS Sports City Principal Sasha Crabb, the inspirational VHPS City of Arabia Founding Principal Ben Rothwell, and Founder and Chief Executive of VHPS-owners Interstar Education, Dinesh Kothari, for an exclusive discussion about the new school ahead of the expansion announcement…

Pictured: The SchoolsCompared.com team met with VHPS Principal and Group Director of Academics Sasha Crabb (right) and VHPS City of Arabia Founding Principal Ben Rothwell (middle) to discuss the new branch of the much-loved school. Mr Rothwell has some of the best feedback from parents and teachers we have received on SchoolsCompared.com and Which Media in the last decade.

Touching hearts and minds

It is a testament to the genuine warmth and kindness of Mrs Crabb that when we arrive in the school for our interview, we hear her before we see her; her voice reverberates in the hallway as she exclaims with delight, enthusiastically thanking the Year 5 student who has just gifted her a wooden sign featuring the school mantra ‘All you need is love’. How many Principals are the kind of school leaders that primary-school children feel are approachable enough to go into their office for a chat, let alone one that inspires enough affection for a ten-year-old to want to give them impromptu, sentimental gifts?

On entering her office, it’s clear that this particular student is not alone in his fondness for his school Principal; his token joins several other gifted items, all emblazoned with the Beatles-inspired school slogan.

Pictured: VHPS Principal Sasha Crabb in her office, with the ‘All you need is love’ mantra in the background

Mrs Crabb’s ability to lead with authority and vision, while still wearing her heart on her sleeve, is rare. But it’s a quality that is reflected in the equally popular current VHPS Headteacher Ben Rothwell. Both leaders are passionate about putting staff and child wellbeing and happiness first and are always willing to pitch in and get their hands dirty if help is needed; we learn that recently Mrs Crabb took over Art lessons for the week when the specialist teacher was away, while Mr Rothwell was, literally, elbow-deep in flour, helping students make pizzas when the need arose.

But all of this is made possible by the benevolence and genuine belief in quality education of the owner-operator Interstar Education’s founder and CEO, Mr Dinesh Kothari, who Mrs Crabb and Mr Rothwell say gives them the freedom to lead in their own way. Unburdened by the strictures of a more aggressively corporate environment, Victory Heights has developed into a child-centric, progressive and happy school, which values compassion over polish, and friendliness over flashiness. This authenticity is what has kept both leaders, and a significant proportion of the VHPS staff members, enjoying their roles at the school for more than a decade – something almost unheard of in the transient UAE education sector. Expanding into a new branch is a natural next step for a brand that invests in its staff’s progression, while engendering such loyalty.

Sasha Crabb, Principal, Victory Heights Primary School, pictured with Dinesh Kothari, Chairman, at the tenth anniversary celebrations of the newly ranked KHDA Outstanding school (2023).

Spreading the love

Mr Rothwell is adamant that the welcoming, close-knit feel of VHPS Sports City will be wholly retained in the City Of Arabia branch, where he will be taking on the role of Founding Principal when it opens in August 2025 (subject to KHDA approval). Mr Rothwell says:

“We want to keep that personal touch. We don’t want to be a mega school. I want to be able to go into any classroom and know the name and story of every child in there.’’

VHPS COA will have a maximum capacity of 850 students (compared to 1,075 at VHPS Sports City), with four forms per year, capped at a maximum of 25 students per class.

In an education market where demand for spaces is high and growing in line with Dubai’s expanding population, why did Interstar Education choose to build another boutique British primary school, when a school with triple the capacity or more could have been an alternative?

CEO and Founder of InterStar Education, Mr Dinesh Kothari, explains that this is the model that suits the VHPS style; anything different, and it would no longer be true to the values of VHPS. Mr Kothari explains:

‘Victory Heights Primary School has proven its success as an outstanding school. It has an equally outstanding team behind it, who always strive to do things differently. We wanted to maintain all of this in the new school.’

Mrs Crabb is keen to point out that the launch of Victory Heights Primary School COA is all about creating something that best serves children and families, over and above the profitability of bums on seats. Rather than accepting more children and losing that intimate feel, Mrs Crabb says this is the right time to expand to a new area and be able to ‘spread the love’:

‘‘Our commitment is to bring the high standards of education and the nurturing environment that Victory Heights Primary School is known for to a wider community.’

Principal Sasha Crabb, Dr Abdulla Al Karam and Dinesh Kothari stand by the larger-than-life cake created in honour of the Victory Heights Primary School 10th anniversary celebrations

VHPS Principal Sasha Crabb, former DG of the KHDA Dr Abdulla Al Karam and CEO of Interstar Education Dinesh Kothari stand by the larger-than-life cake created in honour of the Victory Heights Primary School 10th anniversary celebrations

Why another Primary School?

Standalone Primary Schools are rare in Dubai, with the vast majority of schools choosing the all-through model that blends primary and secondary on the same campus, which can be more cost effective.

But there is a great deal of research highlighting the benefits of standalone Primary schooling, with the skills and depth of knowledge needed to oversee true excellence in Early Years versus the same for Sixth Form being starkly different.

Parents vary in their preference, Mrs Crabb says:

‘Our parents like the fact it is a primary school, and that there is that separation from secondary. It gives a real family feel and is more along the lines of how schools in the UK are traditionally set up; parents often say that we feel familiar and remind them of their old school.

‘We have also worked hard to forge strong relationships with many feeder secondary schools, and we have the capacity to be able to give really detailed, tailored advice and attention to every child in year 5 and 6 when helping them with their transition to secondary.’

Mr Rothwell agrees, adding:

‘It also means that families are able to choose a secondary school that is really suited to their child at age 11, which is not something you can necessarily predict when they first start in FS1 or FS2.’

However, he emphasizes that the school will remain agile and responsive to the needs of the families in its new environment:

‘To start with we really want to replicate what we know works so well at VHPS currently, but we will likely have to adapt to the new community we are going into and see what works for our parents. Flexibility has always worked well for us at VHPS Sports City, and we will do the same in City of Arabia.’

Nevertheless, growth could be on the horizon: Mr Kothari does not discount the idea of a Victory Heights Secondary School at some point down the line. He says that the company has rethought its previous plan to bring an all-girls school to the UAE after multiple discussions, including with regulators, and hints at plans for InterStar Education’s further expansion:

‘We wanted to build on the outstanding legacy, reputation and quality of VHPS with another primary school. But, yes, we might think of doing a secondary school of this brand in the future.’

Ben Rothwell, Founding Principal of Victory Heights Primary School City of Arabia and Sasha Crabb, Group Director of Academics and Principal at Victory Heights Primary School Sports City, will both play a pivotal role in shaping the new school

Doing things differently

Of course no school is perfect, and the VHPS team is keen not to airbrush out the inevitable challenges that come with leading a school in a diverse and swiftly developing environment.

They set out to tackle these challenges in two main ways: first, by trying to ensure that every child who starts at VHPS has parents who share the school’s values and are ‘willing to come along for the ride’; after all, a healthy home-school relationship is key to a child thriving in their education.

And secondly, by empowering staff, and radically safeguarding staff wellbeing in a way that means the school does things a little bit differently. For example, marking tends to be one of the biggest drains on teachers’ time outside of classroom hours. Rather than perpetuating this demand on teacher resources, VHPS has taken inspiration from world-class, evidence-based research and instead emphasizes purposeful verbal feedback – which tends to be much more time efficient, and just as effective.

Similarly, writing school reports is notorious for sapping a significant amount of time away from teachers at the end of the school year – a crucial period for learning consolidation and to ensure any gaps are filled before the end of term. VHPS has revamped its approach to writing reports, streamlining it and making it much more concise and time efficient.

While traditionalists might raise eyebrows at these innovations, Mr Rothwell says that the VHPS team were especially delighted that they managed to achieve the KHDA Outstanding rating for the first time in April 2023, while refusing to compromise on their staff wellbeing initiatives:

‘Becoming Outstanding-rated while still doing things our own way made it all the more special, and it’s something we are really proud of.’

However, Mrs Crabb is careful to emphasise that achieving the KHDA Outstanding rating does not mean they can rest on their laurels, and continually evolving – both in terms of pedagogy and physical growth with the new school – is part of this:

‘The grass is greener where you water it. We are not complacent about being Outstanding; we’re grounded enough to continue to grow.’

Mr Kothari agrees, adding:

‘The VHPS Outstanding rating is down to the exceptional team that has put in so much hard work, commitment and passion towards the institution, parents and students. But the tough part starts now; we have to retain it.’

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Schools Compared (@schoolscompared)

Bottling the magic

Mrs Crabb still has the ‘little brown book’ that she used to sketch designs and ideas for the original VHPS – a well-thumbed Harry-Potter-style leatherbound tome that looks as if it must contain secret recipes or magic spells. And in a way it does – it’s these first formative thoughts that ignited the special spark that burns so brightly at VHPS today.

VHPA Principal Sasha Crabb’s ‘little brown book’ filled with the plans and dream she had for the original Victory Heights Primary School before it existed, more than a decade ago

If Outstanding schools had recipes for success, Victory Heights Primary School’s would be a much-loved family favourite, passed down and improved through the generations. It’s this prized formula that Mrs Crabb says will be carefully preserved and developed in the new school:

‘11 years ago we had no brand here – there was nothing. And we grew it from scratch not in a corporate boardroom, but by hand, with a lot of love.’

‘VHPS is a tried and tested recipe that we know will work, and we trust it will work.’

More than a decade since Mrs Crabb first put pen to paper between the covers of that first notebook – which was bought in haste in an airport in Cairo airport as she boarded the plane to take up the VHPS Principalship in Dubai – and she has now bought a fresh notepad for her thoughts and ideas on VHPS City of Arabia. With the most affordable Outstanding-rated British school in Dubai as its model, the exceptionally gifted leadership of Founding Principal Ben Rothwell at the helm, there’s no doubt that this new school is sure to be an exciting new chapter for a school that has set the UAE benchmark for outstanding Primary education built ground-up, and without compromise, on the happiness and success of children and teachers.

Watch this space.

Further information

Read our review of Victory Heights Primary School Sports City here.

Read our First Look Review of the new VHPS City of Arabia here.

Read our full interview with Dinesh Kothari here.

Visit the official web site of Victory Heights Primary School in Dubai here.

© SchoolsCompared.com. A WhichMedia Group publication. 2024 – 2025. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of SchoolsCompared.com. Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

Leave a Response