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Safa Community School, Arjan, Al Barsha South – The Review
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Review

Safa Community School, Arjan, Al Barsha South – The Review

by November 15, 2018
Details to consider
2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Very Good with Outstanding features

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Good
Notes
(1) This is, in all but exceptional circumstances, the highest rating that is awarded to a school in its first inspection as insufficient flight path, progress and attainment data is available to calculate values over time to ascertain higher scoring.

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

New School

Rating FS

Very Good

Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good

Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good

Rating Post 16 / High

Phased launch

Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 48,692
FS2: 48,692
YEAR 1: 50,764
YEAR 2: 50,764
YEAR 3: 50,764
YEAR 4: 52,836
YEAR 5: 54,908
YEAR 6: 56,980
YEAR 7: 67,340
YEAR 8: 67,340
YEAR 9: 71,484
YEAR 10: 72,000
YEAR 11: 74,000
YEAR 12: 76,000
YEAR 13: 80,000

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

Total capacity: 1800
Roles:
2018: 1580 children
2016-17: 750 children
2015-16: 520 children
2014-15: 120 children

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:12
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

4% (Very low)

Year opened

2014-15

Location

Dubai Motor City, Al Barsha South, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest nationality): 38%+
Total nationalities: 30
Expat: 95%
Emirati: 30 children
SEND: 69 children

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
Attainment Nur SEM

66.6%

Attainment Pri SEM

60%

Attainment Sec SEM

60%

Attainment Post-16 SEM

Phased launch

Progress Nur SEM

80%

Progress Pri SEM

80%

Progress Sec SEM

73.3%

Progress Post-16 SEM

Phased launch 2017-

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

Phased launch

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

40%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

40%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

Phased launch

Islamic St. Primary Results

50%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

40%

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

Phased launch

Leadership

80%

Community

80%

Facilities

80%

Quality of teaching

73.3%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

80%

School Governance

80%

SEN Provision

80%

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 heavily investing in staff
• Outstanding recognition of the value of all teachers on-line
• Excellent school transparency
• Outstanding enrichment and personalised learning provision with stand-out ECA breadth integrated within the curriculum and available to all children without further costs
• For our Inspectors, a Dubai Best School in the making

Weaknesses

• No published bursary or scholarship provision
• The school remains in phased launch and we do not know yet the detail of Sixth Form provision including the breadth of BTEC and A Levels options
• Safa Community School is heavily over-subscribed with demand outstripping availability of places in many years

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

Clever, exciting, professional, innovative - and warm – Safa Community has all the makings of an Outstanding school. Yes, we do still need to see the shape of Sixth Form provision. But what has been achieved thus far is beyond legitimate expectation, and already, in places, outstanding. We would not bet against the commitment, passion and integrity of the owners, their hugely driven Principal, leadership team, teachers - and children - in delivering a benchmark all through British school in the years to come. Very highly recommended.

A
Our Rating
A
User Rating
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Is this school on your shortlist?
Top of shortlist
66%
In my Top 5
20%
Shortlisted
12%
A possibility
10%
Pass
0%
No way
5%

Updated November 2018 – Safa Community School 2018 SchoolsCompared.com visit exclusive

What is my genuine take on Safa Community School?

Before coming to Safa Community School I taught at [a large schools group, name redacted, Ed.]

Safa Community School is so, so different.

Safa Community School has a small community school feel. I know all my children’s names. This is incredible given that it took my fellow teachers to even try and do this at my last school such a long time. It was just too big a school.

Children at Safa Community School are just lovely, exceptional. They are extremely able, filled with potential, personable and friendly. Children here are inspiring to teach.

Investment in teachers at Safa Community School through Professional Development is also fantastic and meaningful.

Every Thursday we have time set aside properly for Personal Development. We choose the areas we want to specialise in. This week, for example, we had a choice between data tracking (focused on how we look after each child’s development), inspiring critical thinking in students – and technology in the classroom.

Salaries also reflect our roles and responsibilities well. This is important because the school genuinely invests in teachers, cares about us and wants us to stay. It always disrupts children when teachers leave during their education. Here we feel valued.  The result is that staff retention is excellent -and the school actively sets out to attract the very best teachers who are committed to children and teach for a vocation not just a job.

As a teacher, I am looking for a home. I want a school that I can stay in, a school that gives children the absolutely best education.

This is why I moved to Safa Community School.

I believe you can have more of an impact in outstanding smaller schools – you are not lost in a massive ship of teachers and students. In the very best smaller schools it is much easier for children to find and develop their own voices. There is a much better chance of them receiving a personalised, genuinely caring education.

It wasn’t bad at my previous school at all. But the scale of the school – 1600 children in the secondary school and 130 teachers, simply did not afford me the time to interact with children as I am now able to. These schools cannot deliver a personalised education meaningfully because of their size. As a smaller school Safa can do this – and does.

Here, Stephen [Stephen Duckitt, Principal. Ed.] knows my name when I walk in the door…..

Do I feel supported here? Oh gosh yes! The biggest thing for me is that when I do not know something or need some help, I just have to ask. We all work together. It is like a family. At my last school teachers were intimidated to ask anything. It was a culture based on hierarchy. That cannot be right for children or teachers. Here everyone is kind and approachable – because the education of children is put absolutely centre stage – it’s everything.

This is the truth: when I left my last school I was so disillusioned. I decided to give teaching one more year. If it did not change, I was going to leave the teaching profession.

It would have been so sad. Safa Community School was my last shot.

Here I have regained my love of teaching. I am back in the game here.

This is a school that cares and delivers for children. It gives me everything I came into teaching for – the ability to help children be the very best they can be.

Safa Community School saved one very good teacher from leaving the profession.

Teaching is a vocation. The life of a teacher is built around enabling every child to develop and shine. Safa Community School is a school for genuine teachers – and one that is at its very heart built around the needs of children. When I imagined the perfect school all those years ago that I wanted to teach in, as I trained professionally over many years to enter the teaching profession for, this is as near as that school as I hoped for.”

I am so grateful to be here.

I love this school.”

Teacher (name withheld). Safa Community School in conversation with the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com October 2018.

Background

Photograph of children learning outside at Safa Community School in Dubai

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, English National Curriculum School currently offering provision to 1580 children between FS1 and Year 10, with Years 11 – 12/ Sixth Form opening in phased launch from 2019-21.

FS classes are available on a flexible basis to families over 3 days, 4 days or 5 days because “not all children are ready for school and many parents, rightly, for their individual child want to be able to balance these years between school and home. As a school we are responsive to the needs of our families and children.”

Safa Community School is rated by the Dubai Inspectorate of Schools, in our view deservedly, as Very Good with Outstanding features. This is an exceptional rating given the age of the school, given its opening in 2014. The school is, in our view, operating at an outstanding level for children well beyond that which you could legitimately expect from its age.

The quotation above, which arose from an independent conversation with a member of the school’s teaching faculty, provides a snapshot of what makes this extremely impressive school stand out – there is a steadfast focus at Safa Community School on building a school that delivers for children. The uncompromising commitment is that whatever it takes to achieve this will be made to happen.

Safa Community School welcomes children of all nationalities, and aims to be engaging and genuinely inclusive. This is resolutely not a school that stacks the decks with only bright children to secure results in exam league tables. Abilities stretch throughout the spectrum to the most gifted and talented and the belief is that every child shines and has the potential to excel.

 

Atmosphere

There is a buzz about the school – and a really lovely, warm atmosphere. This is a school that exudes happiness in a very rare, and actually quite moving way.

Children at Safa Community School are a delight, demonstrating a curiosity to learn, a sense of fair play and smiles to boot. It’s something to behold. Their engagement with each other and adults is extraordinarily mature, and clearly the school has empowered its children with confidence in themselves and the emotional intelligence to engage with both sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

We have visited too many schools in which children do not look up, seem scared of authority and simply lack the confidence of their own voices. This is absolutely not the case here. Children should feel very proud – they are an absolute credit to their families, teachers and the school.

 

School Design

An aerial view of Safa Community School in Dubai highlighting the Antoni Gaudi inspired architectural curves and the importance of design to the school's vision for children

The design of Safa Community School is stand-out.

Safa shines a light on the importance of school design. Design can create an environment in schools that in its own right inspires children to excel. It is expensive to produce this. Too many schools put up mundane boxes and somehow expect these to inspire the best from children.

Buildings matter. Large and colourful terraces, outdoor race tracks for little ones, complete with scooters – and an excellent, well thought out range of play equipment, are real show-stoppers.

As of 2018, under the leadership of the hugely inspirational Safa Community School Principal Stephen Duckitt, the roads around the site have been replaced by themed gardens and playgrounds, extending educational space in the school by a fifth. These are a work in progress with new facilities, landscaping and surfacing planned for the years ahead. Again, too many schools we have visited treat their grounds as an after-thought. Barren sand and roads are hardly telling of a school investing in children and Safa strongly evidences its commitment to deliver here for children on an ongoing basis.

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 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.

Parents, owners and community

Image showing children within one of the many outdoor water features for play and learning at Safa Community School in Dubai

Safa lives up to its name as being a community school. The sense you get visiting Safa Community School is authentically one of collaboration, engagement and enthusiasm from the moment parents drop off their children, to the energy of the children as they rush to class.

Teachers are evidently valued and looked after (see quote above) and this clearly impacts on the atmosphere in the school, and the classrooms – there is a lively, lovely energy and dynamic throughout.  It’s no surprise that Safa Community School came top of an independent Mystery Shopper Survey recently conducted at the school with a focus on the entire enrollment process from a parental perspective.

Young children have a race on air hoppers at Safa Community School in Dubai

A note on the owners of Safa Community School. Sameer Merchant and Louay Khatib work from modest offices to be found at the entrance of the school and are deliberately accessible.

They both have children at the school.

Stephen Duckitt, made no secret of the fact that the owners are creating something they wish to hand down through their family as a legacy.

Tellingly, Mr Merchant and Mr Khatib, own another alternative curriculum school in Dubai, one very deeply rooted in community, which has a reputation for looking after families in distress, making sure that in hard times children are never prevented from going to school by financial worries.

These sort of details, not usually publicised, are the types of information we think parents will appreciate being made aware of.

Teachers during one of our visits to the school had returned from a fact finding trip to Finland to learn from the many successes achieved within the Finnish system – one known for its child-centred approach to creative learning and deep structural commitments to community and the interlinked role of parents in the life of schools.

It’s an approach that, at Safa Community School, finds particular voice in the emphasis on ensuring inspirational lessons with an exploratory style, rather than imposed, top-down, style of learning.

Equally, it is a school promise that teachers and leadership will always be available to parents, whatever the issue, no exceptions.

The Senior Leadership Team are present at the school gates in the mornings to meet and greet families and regular coffee mornings both build links and ensure the open door for effective communication. Workshops are run for parents, which have included those on Emotional Resilience. On this note, innovative GRIT Awards are run in school for students and teachers who have been determined and overcome odds stacked against them (big and small).

Parents at Safa Community School also engage in classes including Pilates and there is a Parents’ Cafe with its own access from outside which sits adjacent to the school dining room. Arabic lessons are also offered to parents during the school day and an application has been made for Eco School accreditation with community and school Eco Promises based on conserving water and the use of plastics.  Sibling club allows for parents to bridge the gap between pick up times for different ages. Children themselves have led the decision of the school to ban many plastics in the school altogether (October 2018).

Leadership, Breadth of Subject Choice, Equality and Sixth Form

A quote used by Safa Community School to celebrate its fundamental ethic of kindness. The quote is from the Dalai Lama and asks people to always be kind whenever possible and that it is always possible.

It’s also worth noting that considerable thought has been invested by the school’s owners in recruitment of Safa Community School Principal, Stephen Duckitt.

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 the school to date, but with a Sixth Form still to launch there is still time to address this.

Mr Duckitt, in our conversation with him, explained his ethics, to ensure that the school celebrates failure and success equally (“we all cannot learn without trying and failing and the courage of endeavour in children must always be celebrated and nurtured on that basis”), is at the heart of what he is trying to achieve for children at Safa.

“We do not like the word fail.

We do not allow a fear of failure in children.

Safa Community school is focused on celebrating the success of our children.

We confront this head on from their first day at school.”

Stephen Duckitt. Principal. Safa Community School.

Discussing the need to inspire more young women to enter careers in engineering he continued:

“We do need as a society to inspire girls in Science and Engineering.

At Safa Community School we treat all children the same – we have no gender differentiation. Both genders are equally as talented and we should have an equal number of boys and girls who will proceed to be the engineers of tomorrow.

I do not believe we should make an issue of gender – but we should in action make sure we emphasise the equality of both ability and potential.”

Stephen Duckitt. Principal. Safa Community School.

Tellingly, he sees the greatest synergy between what he is achieving at Safa Community School in the many shared aspirations and strategies he sees as taking place in (the outstanding) Kings’ Schools in Dubai. It is rare for a Principal to speak so openly about other schools they admire, but it highlights the openness of the school to absorbing the best in educational practice and celebrating success for children wherever it is found. Impressive stuff.

Mr Duckitt is also deeply committed to innovation in the classroom and discussed with us at length his ambitions for the school moving forward.

Central to this is current planning for Sixth Form. BTEC Sport is already up and running and he is exploring further BTEC options to bring on stream including Business, Tourism and Design and Technology.

The aim is that half of the Sixth Form curriculum will focus on A Levels and half on BTEC (“Outstanding schools must be offering this sort of choice and balance.”) These will be run through 3 pathways:

  1. Academic
  2. Academic with BTEC
  3. BTEC only

Mr Duckitt is passionate about ensuring that all children leaving Safa will be equipped powerfully for their lives ahead and Tony Beadle, Safa Community School Head of Careers is vocal on the challenges:

“Students are entering a very different world of employment and education when they leave school.

One key element of our responsibility at Sixth Form is to inspire recognition that BTEC has just the same qualification rating as A Level or IB. Parents are increasingly understanding that children, in terms of career or university pathways, are not losing out – and in many cases gaining from BTEC, particularly in later employability ratings.

BTEC is much more expensive to provide than A’ level but we think that for inclusive, outstanding schools- and schools that want to genuinely deliver choice for children to meet their needs and abilities – BTEC  must be provided with A Level.”

Tony Beadle. Head of Careers and Examinations. Safa Community School.

A Level psychology too, will be provided, a critical bridging subject between the Arts and Sciences and a subject favoured by top tier universities including Oxbridge and the Russell Group. IGCSE Psychology is already a core element of IGCSE provision. We think provision of psychology is a good way for parents to judge the commitment of schools to genuine subject breadth and meeting the needs, ambitions and abilities of children. Too many schools constrict the curriculum to a limited range of core subjects – and the inevitable price is that children have to be squashed into boxes that may well not provide a good fit.

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. If Safa Community School meets its promise here it will equal or exceed provision at the benchmark British school for subject choice, Jumeirah College. Quite something.

Academics

Photograph showcasing the scientific labs provision at Safa Community School Dubai

During our October 2018 visit we looked at eight lessons across poetry, music, sport, mathematics, Arabic, technology, psychology and secondary Chinese/Manadarin. All lessons evidenced significant debate and student interaction. Modern language provision is stand-out and all languages are available from Year 1 including Mandarin. Each can also be taught as a major language for native speakers. Mandarin, surprisingly (and impressively) has a large take-up amongst students. There is growing recognition of its importance in the modern world amongst parents. Stephen Duckitt celebrates its teaching too because, as a pictorial language, dyslexic children have every opportunity to excel in its learning.

Showcasing the school’s commitment to enabling every child to explore, discover and excel in their own gifts the last hour and a half on a Thursday is set aside for children to choose a subject area they are passionate about – whether academic , sporting, mathematical, dramatic, charitable or social – the last hour and a half is set aside for children to delve into what they want to do and find fascinating supported by teachers with expertise in that area. More on this below.

A musician at Safa Community School in Dubai showcasing the extensive ECA and whole child provision at the school

“If we say we are going to meet the needs of every individual child – then that has to mean something. This is why we dedicate 1.5 hours of valuable lesson time every week to a child’s individuals, abilities, passions and interests. That is really putting weight to building the curriculum around the child …..”

Stephen Duckitt. Principal. Safa Community School.

 

Facilities and Sport

A photograph of a child competing in swimming at Safa Community School in Dubai

Facilities at Safa Community School are Tier 1. The new shared third building mirrors the architectural curves of the 4-tier “upper” and “lower” schools. The Global Learning Centre contains 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. The Safa Community School Sports Hall is light and large, there is an additional Dance Studio with a very active program for boys and girls in a lovely Dance Studio.  There is a small pool, and 8-lane 25M pool for swimming and related sports – see below.

The ambition is shortly for the grass pitches at the adjacent Miracle Garden to come on stream for the children. The result when they do will be football and rugby provision at the school to match the best of any UAE school.

Underlying sports provision at Safa Community school is the same commitment to inclusiveness that founds all other areas of school life:

“I don’t want children to hate sport. We must look after all children – and focus on them as individuals. We are not a school that has just A Teams and leaves the remaining children in the shadows. We have B Teams, C Teams – and choice of sport is designed to find something for all children in which they can be inspired and achieve. Sport at Safa Community School is fundamentally enjoyable.

We ensure that every single child from FS1 gets access to a top qualified sports teacher and coach.

We do not divide children.

Too many schools celebrate only the A Teams – they are the ones that get to go on the buses and build up the camaraderie and life skills that come from the best examples of team sports.  Too often at other school sport instead of being used for good is instead, unintentionally, an activity that knocks children’s confidence and establishes “outsiders.”

What we do at Safa Community School is to celebrate all children in sport regardless of ability.”

Stephen Duckitt. Principal. Safa Community School.

This takes the form of a hugely adventurous choice of sporting options including water polo from Year 1. Synchronized swimming is being planned for girls (and boys if there is the demand). Dance plays a powerful role in the school and individual activities are being invested including spinning bikes for children to build up fitness cycling around the world.  These enable children who feel less secure in sport to build up resilience and fitness quickly whilst learning – and that fitness quickly opens doors to new sports.

The thought that is invested in sports delivery at Safa Community School is genuinely impressive.

“Sport is important. Good schools always have an extremely high calibre sports teaching staff. It builds the heart of a school.”

Stephen Duckitt. Principal. Safa Community School.

 

School organisation and other features

Children at Safa Community School in Dubai celebrating their end of year in one of the many shaded areas within the school's gardens

We particularly like the clustered approach to learning which Safa Community 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. As children move through the school, they also move physically upwards onto the higher levels with Secondary provision on the third floor.

The classrooms at Safa Community School 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 school has three existing buildings and the fourth has a foot print larger than the existing three combined.  To create a small school feel, in a big campus, the classes have been paired very effectively into ‘mini school’ spaces by pairing year groups.  FS1 and FS2 have their own areas with fabulous outdoor play space, both with equipment, and really imaginative landscaping features for them to explore (including The Avenue of Trees and The Shallow Wadi (brook).

The new Safa Community School building has minimal corridors, favouring instead open access areas where the theme of paired year groups will continue with Years 1 and 2 in the ground floor, Years 5 and 6, Years 7 and 8, Years 9 and 10 all occupying the additional 3 levels.  Secondary class size is deliberately capped at 18.

The existing dining room at Safa Community School is bright and functional with a good range of hot and cold meals available for children from Year 1 if they chose it over a packed lunch. FS children can have packed lunches or elect to have meals from the canteen but, thoughtfully and tellingly of the care of the school, they are delivered to the classrooms to avoid the little ones being ‘Little Ones’ in the dining room.

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 (above), 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.

Teaching

“At Safa Community School our core philosophy is founded in our absolute care for the individual progress each and every child makes from the moment they join us.

We always say, every time a new child joins our school, we have to think differently about what we do.

Education is wrapped around the individual needs of every child. Theres is never a one catch all solution.

That must be the basis of any outstanding school.”

Leanne Fridd, Headteacher, Primary and Foundation Stage

As above one of the stand-out features of Safa Community School is the focus on individualised learning. Too often schools pay lip service to this – but, when you bury into the detail, few can come up with substantive examples of how they achieve this.

The introduction by Ms Fridd of what she calls “personal choice and reflection time” across Year 4 – 6 broadens the Free Flow approach in the earlier years  to give all children on Thursday between 11:45am and 1:10pm dedicated time to focus on their own talents.

This followed each child completing a survey identifying their own interests and passions which are being delivered in 6 week discrete courses throughout the year.

Areas developed by the children stretch across all subject areas from water polo; drama; fitness and specialist art to programmes on developing a rock band; choir; Arabic dance; drama; exploratory Science and Coding.

These are the sorts of areas which other schools push into (often expensive) ECAs outside the school day – in these schools resulting in many children simply not ever accessing the breadth of curriculum that Ms Fridd believes must be available to all children.

This example of how Safa Community School focuses on individualised learning runs in parallel with the mapping of each child’s progress in all subjects. No child will be left behind.

Ms Fridd spoke with us about how this has particularly impacted in the teaching of Science – an area in which the progress made by children – and their attainment – has really shone. Over the last two years lesson time apportioned to Science has doubled across Years 1 – 6 and children in Years 3 – 6 complete this in their own dedicated Labs.

“Safa’s name has been rightly built upon our reputation for the happiness of our children and caring family culture. However, this should not be seen in isolation of the academic achievements of children. In 207-18 our primary children in Science, for example, attained academically well above International Expectations.

Leanne Fridd, Headteacher, Primary and Foundation Stage

In our view there is a real integrity about the staff and their aims which permeates the school and heavily contributes to the atmosphere and sense of a school that brims with purpose.

There is a clear culture of listening and valuing the thoughts of others throughout lessons. It’s not seen by parents, but there is also very active Continuing Professional Development (CPD)  at Safa which reflects in the attitudes and energy of the staff we met. Too few schools properly invest in their most important resource – teachers. It is worth reading our opening quote in this light and the following:

“At Safa Community School we feel very strongly about the wellbeing of both staff and our student. Over the last two years our staff retention is exceptionally high and will be again next year. Why? It is because we recognise it is not bells and whistles that make a school but our teachers and our children.  We invest in our teachers, and as a result they invest in our children. The feedback from teachers that join us always highlight that we are an amazing learning school that continuously seeks out and celebrates changes that will have the greatest impact on the welfare and learning of children.”

Leanne Fridd, Headteacher, Primary and Foundation Stage

 

Communication with parents

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 on-line 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.

Communication is outstanding.

 

KHDA 2018

Key features of the school identified by KHDA Inspectors include:

  • Genuine and highly inclusive school welcome to the broadest range of children, delivering rapid progress for children to ensure that every child is on course to meet or exceed their predicted attainment flight paths
  • Outstanding child personal development
  • Highly effective and inspirational teaching
  • Imaginative curriculum designed around the needs of children at the school rather than being imposed arbitrarily top-down
  • Clever and innovative interrelating of UAE culture and history across the broad curriculum
  • Whole school culture of innovation
  • Very effective provision for SEND with no child left behind
  • Overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers, parents and children

With the exception of aspirations for improved provision in Arabic subjects, a near universal issue in English-language schools across the emirates, KHDA inspectors view of the school is hugely positive and warm.

On this note, it should be said that we found outstanding provision of Arabic reading resources with children clutching Arabic books in our November 2018 visit. Safa Community School has clearly responded to the KHDA in its investment in inspiring Arabic books – too many schools expect children to be excited by Arabic books devoid of pictures and with poor production.

Arabic iconography and inspirational quotes too, are used throughout the buildings to bring life to the language and culture. It is also worth noting that Arabic books are not siloed as in so many schools – but, instead, placed centre stage in the library.

Equally too, Arabic teaching is conducted in classrooms clearly signposted as part of the school brimming with life. In many schools we visit, Arabic classrooms are treated differently and give the impression of not being a part of, let alone a celebrated part of, school academic and cultural life.

Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict for parents 2018

 

It is worth repeating the results of the first whichschooladvisor.com 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.”

Our own SchoolsCompared.com Inspector noted:

“An absolutely gorgeous school, genuine to its core and with an integrity that shines throughout school life. The willingness to listen to parents,  teaching staff – and the children – is not skin deep but built into the school’s vision to excel for children and families. There’s a real ‘can do’ pioneering spirit at Safa Community School – no wonder our feedback has been so warm and complimentary. An amazing school across the board. This is a best school in Dubai in the making.”

A school adored by its teachers, parents, children and community.

Very highly recommended.

© SchoolsCompared.com 2018

 

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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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