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Safa Community School, Arjan, Al Barsha South – The Review 2023
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Back Story

Award-winning, sister school to Safa (British) School in Jumeirah, founded in 2014 and originally named Safa British Academy, Safa Community School is an all-through, British, English National Curriculum School currently offering provision to 2198 students between FS1 and Year 13 British Sixth Form. Safa Secondary opened in 2017. The school’s new dedicated Sixth Form Centre, which opened in 2022, is a tour de force, matching significant investment in high technology infrastructure and specialist teaching faculty with breadth of subject and qualification pathways.

Traditional schooling to GCSE reflects a powerful focus on individualised learning and achievement with an unflinching commitment to child happiness. The quality of facilities, matched by exceptionally good and inspired teaching between FS and Year 9, is stand-out.

The result is an extraordinary school achieving something rare in UAE education – a school that unambiguously succeeds in meeting the very different needs of children and students at each different phase of their education, and within the context of an all-school ethical commitment to putting children, collectively and individually, first. Resolutely inclusive and welcoming, the school showers children with opportunity from the moment they join the school – with breadth of subject and qualification pathways matched by an equally inspirational breadth of investment in the whole child.

We rank the school in the top-10 of all schools in Dubai for the outstanding quality of its provision and value-add outcomes for students. Parents agree, with 96% of parents actively recommending the school according to the leading educational school data hub EDSTATICATM based on independent feedback from parents.

Photograph of children learning outside at Safa Community School in Dubai

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.” The 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.

BSO Outstanding Safa Community School

Safa Community School is rated by the Dubai Inspectorate of Schools as Very Good with Outstanding features and by BSO as Outstanding, its highest award. Opened in 2014, this is an exceptional rating given the age of the school and its now completed phased opening to full all-through provision at British Sixth Form.

GEMS_INARTICLE  

The school is, in our view, operating at an outstanding plus level for its students at all phases of provision.

What Makes this School Different

Extraordinary inspirational architecture is a stand-out feature of this high investing school in students - here we see multi-layered architecture and glass use to create interest in the landmark new AED 52M Sixth Form Centre and home to study in automotive engineering

Extraordinary inspirational architecture is a stand-out feature of this high investing school in students

  • Top Schools Awards-winning school
  • Outstanding school leadership
  • Landmark Sixth Form Centre to A Level and BTEC – makings of one of the best in the UAE.
  • Exceptional happy school dynamics and Commitment to individualised learning to meet the needs of every child
  • BSO across-the-board ranked “Outstanding”

Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict for Parents 2023

 

Our 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. Child happiness is infectious and palpable. The Sixth Form Centre is a model showcase for what a British Sixth Form of the Future could look like.  An amazing school across the board. ”

A photograph of the new Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre with a view through the glass facade to its Museum of the Future

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

Very highly recommended.

Location

Safa Community School is located just off the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road (E311) in Al Barsha South near to Dubai Butterfly Garden.

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The new AED 50M Sixth Form Centre is adjacent to the now iconic replica Space Shuttle which towers above it, the landmark still standing at the edge of the planned AED multi-billion Dubailand theme park.

Image showing a map of Dubai identifying the location of Safa Community School and directions.

The school attracts families from across Dubai, but is strongly represented by families in Arabian Ranches, the Green Community/Motor City, Jumeirah Village Circle, Al Barsha, Jumeirah and Emirates Hills/The Springs.

Design and Architecture

Safa Community School Lower and Middle School 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 new hugely professional Sixth Form Centre, which works differently with formalised layered glass adorned formality gives the sense of ships and land sharing meeting on a dynamic journey – the horizon filled with the etching of the sea and the peaks of Dubai’s not too distant skyline.

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. Themed gardens and playgrounds around the site of the main school buildings extend educational space in the school by a fifth – and bring learning alive for students. 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 here by rejecting these for an oasis of planting, and outdoor learning centres.

As is probably clear, we think the architecture just works, and does so quite magically. It achieves this too without any need of too much glass and steel, choosing instead to nod to its nautical theme, the wonders of the natural world and the journey children make as they grow to adulthood. It feels rooted, directed and inspired.

For us, the design of Safa Community School is stand-out in a sector for the most part characterised by lesser imagination and a concentration on function and lowering the cost of build over form. Overall investment of AED 170M shows – and is telling of owners committed to delivering an outstanding level of facilities and school provision.

Safa shines a light on the importance of architecture in education. 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 throw up inexpensive and mundane boxes and somehow expect these to inspire the best from children.

The Safa Sixth Form Centre delivers a model for what an outstanding centre for Post-16 education could very well look like in the years to come, with its positioning of learning spaces around a showcase museum of the future celebrating school projects. Automotive engineering and related technologies are particularly outstanding.

The design philosophy, to build a school around the needs and happiness of children, one that travels between inside and outside seamlessly, and represents cutting-edge innovation to inspire, is very evident, impressive and met in full.

Facilities

The state-of-the-art new Sixth Form Centre is just the crown jewels on an outstanding plus school across the board for the breadth and depth of its facility provision and learning resources for students. That these are phased across what are, to all intents and purposes, independent schools operating at age-appropriate levels for children at each phase of education is the icing on the cake. From what we would describe as a Museum of the Future in its new Sixth Form Centre, to the most happiness-focused design philosophy we have seen at FS-Primary phase – one that permeates across the campus, every possible facility is here – and to a very high, Tier 1 standard. From multiple swimming pools to state-of-the-art theatre auditorium, and from an automotive electric battery hub to a an engineering facility seeing the production of vehicles, this school is absolutely stand-out. Five stars plus and recommended, prepare to be wowed.

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.

Facilities include:
Independently situated, state-of-the-art, Sixth Form Centre
4 Libraries
8 Art Rooms
2 STEAM Labs
550 seat landmark auditorium with full theatre production capacity
14 Science Labs
Dance Studio
3 Drama Rooms
7 Music Rooms
6 Design and Technology Rooms
5 Computer Science Labs
2 Food Technology Labs
2 25M Swimming Pools
4G Rugby Pitch
2 Indoor Sports Halls
4 Netball Courts
2 Basketball Courts
Crossfit Outdoor Conditioning Zone
7-aside Football Field (astroturf)
2 Duplex Strength and Conditioning Suites
Parent and Visitors Centre

Investment

In excess of AED 170M has been invested in the school’s buildings and facilities. The new Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre cost in excess of AED 50M. The investment is substantial and it shows. We rank the school outstanding plus for facilities and architecture.

An average 9% of the school budget annually is invested in professional development of teaching faculty, significantly above the average. Teacher turnover averages 3%, around 9 times lower than the average in UAE schools. This extraordinary level of staff retention is supported by independently reported teacher salaries exceeding the Tier 1 average.

Investment in outstanding teachers is significant. Worth quoting in full a comment we received from one teacher:

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. Here, other teachers and the school Principal know my name when I walk in the door, actually care…

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.

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 Johnathan Westley, Managing Editor of SchoolsCompared.com.

Academics

GCSE Results 2019 – 2022

2022 2021 2019
Number of students in GCSE cohort 54 68 17
Number of GCSE entries 371 431 135
% of Examination entries graded 9 23.2% 26.9% 5.2%
% of Examination entries graded 9-8 43.7% 43.9% 19.3%
% of Examination entries graded 9-7 66.3% 58.7% 35.6%
% of Examination entries graded 9-6 80.1% 77.0% 57.8%
% of student achieving 5 GCSEs at Grades 9 – 4 including English and Mathematics 66.7% 47.1% 88.2%
Overall Pass Rate 99.5% 100% 100%
Value add +2.0 +1.79

A Level Results

2022 A Level Grades achieved at AA: 39%
2022 A Level Grades achieved at A
B: 47%

Highlights

2022 A Level Results

● 79% of all A Level grades received A-C

2021 A Level Results

● 39% of all grades achieved A– A
● Mathematics students achieved 75% A
– A
● Psychology students achieved 60% at Grade C or above
● Business students achieved 43% A* – A
● French students achieved 100% A– A
● History students achieved 100% A
– B
● Arabic students achieved 100% A– A
● Chemistry students achieved 100% A
– C
● Chemistry students achieved 50% A*
● Biology students achieved 40% A* – A
● PE students achieved 100% A*- C
AS Levels
❖ 46% of all grades achieved A’s
❖ Mathematics students achieved 73% A – B
❖ Mathematics students achieved 60% Grade A
❖ History students achieved 100% Grade A
❖ Chemistry students achieved 100% Grade A – B
❖ Chemistry students achieved 83% Grade A

2022 BTEC

● 83% of all BTEC Grades achieved are Distinction* – Distinction
● 100% of all BTEC Grades achieved are Distinction* – Merit
● 25% of all BTEC Grades achieved are Distinction*

University destinations

  • University of Lancaster, Economics
  • University of Amsterdam, Finance
  • University of Leicester, Criminology
  • The Hague University of Applied Science, Finance & Control
  • Eindhoven University of Technology, Aeronautical Engineering
  • University of Padova, Medicine
  • VU Vrije University of Amsterdam, Computer Science
  • Cardiff University, Warwick University, University of Bath, University of Leeds, Exeter University

Key metrics
Value Add:
GCSE Value Add 2021:  +1.79 grades per child against an international schools average of +0.8 grades per child and a UK average of +0.0 grades per child
GCSE Value Add 2022: +2.0 grades per child
Number of GCSE and BTEC options: 40+
A Level and BTEC Value Add 2021: 0.8 grades per child
A Level and BTEC Value Add 2022: +1.2 grades per child
GCSE Examination Results:
2022 Pass Rate of 99.5% with 23.2% AA
A Level Examination Results:
2022 A
A: 39%

Our view
Safa Community School is a genuinely, unambiguously, fully inclusive school. Owners, school leadership and teachers are absolutely as one on the fundamental importance of welcoming children of all abilities to the school; there is a deeply felt belief here that no child should be left behind or excluded from accessing an outstanding British education. In this context, the key metric here to understand just how successful this school is, is value add. This is a measure that few schools publicise. Over the last two years Safa Community School has seen Value added running between +1.79 and + 2.0 for students at GCSE and +1.2 at gold standard A Level. This means that children are not only meeting their potential, but very very significantly exceeding it. 40 plus GCSE and BTEC options saw students achieving a 2022 Pass Rate of 99.5% with 23.2% AA and an impressive 39% AA at A Level and 83% of all BTEC Grades achieved Distinction* – Distinction. As an academically and Children of Determination inclusive school we rank these results as Outstanding plus.

Curriculum

A mesmerised and entranced Johnathan Westley, Managing Editor of SchoolsCompared, discussing with SAFA Community School student Lottie the development of a Jet Pack enabling children to fly as part of the 2023 Top Schools Awards. The student eloquently and inspirationally represented the significant investment by Safa School in young women and Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Safa Community School is an all-through British school offering a full English National Curriculum education for children between 3 years and 18 years of age. A powerful focus on inter-disciplinary learning is evident across the curriculum from the moment children join the school. The school curriculum runs through EYFS to GCSE and offers both technical/vocational (Level 3 National BTEC) and academic stream (Gold standard academic A Level) pathways for post-16 students at its new (2022-2023) Landmark Sixth Form Centre. We rank the breadth of subject and qualification pathways in both streams outstanding.

Amazing and brave student Lottie firing the engines of the Jet Pack and preparing for flight during our 2023 visit to Safa Community School in which we explored our shared belief in the vital importance of STEAM in education to set up children for the challenges of the 21st century and their lives on graduating the school.

Further information can be found under the Technical and Vocational, and Post-16 tabs.

Technical Stream and Vocational Pathways

Pictured left to right Michael Davies, Head of Secondary Safa Community School; Johnathan Westley, Managing Editor SchoolsCompared; Sameer Marchant, Managing Partner Safa Community School; and Michael Larkin, Head Boy Safa Community School, discussing automotive engineering, the power of Ford engines, building a Westfield and the future of education in the new Museum of the Future at Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre in Dubai

Further / alternative BTEC pathways are considered annually according to the needs, potential, ambition and wishes of students. The school has confirmed that it is monitoring the current rollout of T Levels in the United Kingdom. The Sixth Form Centre has been designed to allow transition to, or addition of, one or more T Level pathways in future years subject to their being made available internationally and the agreement of the school regulator.

Standout technical stream projects we noted in 2023 include:

Automotive engineering: The Westfield Sports Car Project is seeing students build a fully road ready car. Based on the Westfield Sport 250, the vehicle is being build around Ford’s ST Focus engine delivering 252 BHP @ 5500RPM and 366Nm @ 2500RPM and a 5 speed gearbox and differential from Mazda’s MX5.

Automotive engineering at Safa Community School in Dubai

Sustainability/automotive engineering: students are working on an electric car assembly to understand the move away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable forms of power.

Study of electric automotive power trains at Safa Community School in Dubai

Key infrastructure

Safa College’s Design and Technology Lab within the Safa Sixth Form Centre is one of the most advanced DT labs in the UAE education sector. The aim is to expose students to real world manufacturing and engineering, replicating as far as possible the environment students will experience in industry. The school has industrial-spec CNC machining infrastructure, used to manufacture complex machine parts using wood, metal or plastic in a fully secured environment.

Art, Design and Technology at Safa Community School in Dubai. Here we see an extraordinary chair after Modernist Bauhaus in early stages of prototyping

Early stage prototyping of a Bauhaus inspired Modernist chair manufactured using high technology CN machining, showcasing the bringing together of inter-disciplinary study of History, Art, Design, Technology, IT, Mathematics and Engineering at Safa Sixth Form Centre in Dubai

On our recent visit we saw quite remarkable examples of student work including a sleigh to transport Elves across the North Pole and quite beautiful examples of modernist Bauhaus furniture.

Bauhaus Design is one focus of industrial engineering, design and technology using state of the art CNC machining at Safa Community School in Dubai

The landmark and independently situated Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre opened in September 2022. BTEC qualification and subject pathways include:

  • Applied Science (Level 3 Higher)
  • Business Studies (Level 3 Higher)
  • Hospitality (Level 3 Higher)
  • Information Technology (Level 3 Higher)
  • Travel and Tourism (Level 3 Higher)
  • Sport (Level 3 Higher)

This breadth of technical stream options we rank outstanding plus. In terms of future development, we would, however, like to see the school delivering a Level 3 BTEC in Engineering – a significant gap in available provision in Dubai and one well suited to s school with such significant investment in Engineering already in place. This is a qualification only currently available at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

Post-16

A Level options include:

  • Arabic
  • Art and Design
  • Business Studies
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Design and Technology
  • English Literature
  • French
  • Geography
  • German
  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Education
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Spanish

Mrs Fridd is passionate about ensuring that all children leaving Safa will be equipped powerfully with qualification pathways that meet head on their lives on graduating school 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 gold standard academic A Level.”

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

During our recent visit we looked at nine lessons across Art, Poetry, Music, Sport, Mathematics, Arabic, Design and Technology, Psychology and secondary Chinese/Mandarin. 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. The school celebrates its teaching too because, as a pictorial language, dyslexic children have every opportunity to excel in its learning.

The Arts and Fine Art are celebrated at Safa Community School in Dubai

Fine Art and the broader Arts are richly celebrated at the school. Pictured we see a student testing colour palettes within one of the Fine Art Labs positioned within every phase of learning as students progress through their education.

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.

Photograph showcasing the scientific labs provision at Safa Community School Dubai

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 …..”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School.

The combination and breadth of BTEC National and A Level subject and qualification pathways offered by Safa Community School is generally only provided in Tier 1s looking to provide the most extensive academic and technical subject – and is telling of the school’s commitment to meeting the gifts and talents of all children. The school currently exceeds provision by our benchmark British school for subject and qualification choice.

Information on the (outstanding) new Safa Community School Sixth Form can be read here.

Sixth Form Prospectus

Click to access Safa-Community-School-Sixth-Form-Prospectus-2023-24.pdf

The landmark and independently situated Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre opened in September 2022. An impressive breadth of National BTEC Level 3 subject pathways cover a spectrum of disciplines from Business, IT, Tourism and Sport to Hospitality and Science – the latter a rare option in technical stream pathways for students. At Safa Community School 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 are run through 3 pathways:

Academic
Academic with BTEC
BTEC only

Breadth of A Level options has strength including all standard option with outliers in Business, Art and Design and Psychology. A Level Psychology, a subject demonstrative of outstanding breadth of subject choice for students, is integral to options and we view as a critical bridging subject between the Arts and Sciences. It is a subject favoured by top tier universities including Oxbridge and the Russell Group. IGCSE Psychology is already a core element of IGCSE provision.

Leadership

Pictured in 2023, Leanne Fridd, Principal of Safa Community School in Dubai - a leading British curriculum school she has played an instrumental role in leading to BSO Outstanding school status over the last seven years.

Leanne Fridd brings to Safa Community School more than 15 years in education. Specialising in Primary education, Mrs Fridd secured her Bachelors degree in education and learning from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand where she developed her teaching career, latterly leading on the teaching of Mathematics and Gifted and Talented students at Meadowbank. Mrs Fridd’s experience in the Middle East saw her accept the role as Head of Learning and Teaching Innovation for the KHDA Outstanding Gems Wellington Primary School before joining Safa Community School as Vice Principal and Headteacher in 2016. Promoted from within, following outstanding feedback from teachers and parents, Mrs Fridd was made Principal of Safa Community School in August 2021 following the departure of Founding Principal Stephen Duckitt.

Over our inspections of Safa Community School throughout the last seven years we have found Mrs Fridd to be hugely warm and engaging, a conviction-led educationalist and an accomplished school leader. Fiercely intelligent, and with a sharply mathematical mind and interest in Science, she has played an instrumental and pivotal role in the evolution of Safa Community School through to the opening of its Sixth Form Centre in 2022. Exceptionally, Mrs Fridd has become a role model for those who argue that we should have far more school principals drawn from the Primary sector leading our top tier all-through schools, together with a much greater appreciation of the centrifugal role played by the Early Years in educating our children.

An animated Leanne Fridd, Principal of Safa Community School, discusses the extraordinary capacity of children to inspire positive change in the world in the Safa Community School boardroom. Pictured, left to right, Johnathan Westley, Managing Editor SchoolsCompared, Sameer Merchant, Managing Partner Safa Community School, Michael Davies, Head of Secondary Safa Community School and Leanne Fridd, Principal of Safa Community School.

We think it is telling that on all our visits to the school, Mrs Fridd has known every child by name and the positive relationship she enjoys with students and teachers is evident and inspiring. Staff turnover of less than 3%, set against an average of some 23% across UAE school in 2023 is indicative of a school that nurtures its talent, this further evidenced by her decision to see around 9% of her annual budget re-invested in the professional development of teachers each year.

On our last meeting with Mrs Fridd we asked her about what she values most in a school:

“The single most important thing we can, and must, deliver for our students is a happy school. The welfare, and joy of coming to school and engaging in learning matters; it matters to everyone at this school – and it matters to me.

A happy school, backed with outstanding teaching and teachers and the sort of investment we shower on every child at Safa, enables us to deliver everything that is important in education, from academic and technical child achievement to a whole child curriculum that builds depth and context in relating to and understanding our world.

So yes, I want to be unashamedly recognised for being an extraordinarily happy school for every child. I believe that we deliver this – and it is the bedrock, the foundations, of the extraordinary education that flows from this at my school.”

Passionate about Sport, Mrs Fridd is accomplished in netball and a keen follower of Rugby and F1. She has one son.

Happiness

There is a fascinating difference between both the the look and feel of the FS/Primary and senior schools with that of the new, independently situated Safa Sixth Form Centre. The school listened closely to its families who wanted to maintain the hugely warm, family dynamics of the main school, but have a very highly polished, professional, business and industry focused university feel for older students. The individual student-centred personalised focus is carried between both the FS/Primary, Senior and Sixth Form centre,  the latter designed to bridge a student’s journey from school to university or industry. The new Sixth Form Centre is extraordinarily inspiring and state-of-the-art with areas showcasing contemporary innovation across various sectors; more on this below.

The common denominator and underpinning between all phases of learning is child happiness.

The inclusive dynamics, culture of care for students (and teachers), breadth of subject choice and pathways for students, commitment of its absolutely amazing owners – and the exceptional happiness of children across every phase of school life school (it really is something to behold) are just some of the many features of this ground-breaking member of the Safa Schools family.

The happiness and culture of care for children at this school is something you do not forget – and one proven over more than fifteen independent visits to the school by SchoolsCompared over the last five years.

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. On our 2022-23 visit to the school one of our inspectors noted on our tour that “this school absolutely thrills.”

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.

Safa Community School is a Top Schools Awards shortlisted for happiest school in the UAE 2021.

Culture

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 and there is a lively, absolutely 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 enrolment 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.

Leanne Fridd, speaking with us, made no secret of the fact that the owners are creating something they wish to hand down through their family as a legacy. They believe in education and building something that will both stand the test of time and set up graduating Safa Community School students for happy, ethically grounded and high achieving lives beyond school.

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

These sort of details, not usually publicised, helps bring to life a school that wears its heart on its sleeve and invests where it matters most – children.

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. Deeply intelligent and thought provoking creative learning defines this school.

Equally, it is a school promise that teachers and leadership will always be available to parents, whatever the issue, no exceptions. You will not find leadership closed off in offices here – the school is in many ways better understood as a giant, wall-less classroom.

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.

Inclusion

Applying to the school is simple and conducted on-line. There is a follow-on meeting with both parents and child(ren) before an offer of a place is given, the only exception to this being where a child is overseas and a physical meeting impossible.

For FS1 – FS2 the school does prefer a previous report from a Nursery/ECC, but understands that may not always be available. Children attend a playdate prior to entry as much to see how much they enjoy being at the school, but also to ensure they are placed in the class in which they are likely to fit best.

For entry to the school between Year 1 and Year 6, the school does run basic assessments in mathematics, reading, writing and conversation. If the child has any gifts or abilities the school asks that they are made aware of these to ensure the best fit and placement.

For Secondary, the school runs a computer based assessment. This is to set a baseline which helps to understand child progress and value-add as the child moves through each school year.

The following table is indicative of outstanding progress achievement at Safa Community School following this inclusive approach to admissions.

The following table is indicative of progress achievement at Safa Community School.

 

English

2019 2021
Stanine +5 (at/above UK Avg) Stanine +6 (at/above Dubai Avg) Implied KHDA Rating Stanine +5 (at/above UK Avg) Stanine +6 (at/above Dubai Avg) Implied KHDA Rating
Year 2 82% 62% Very Good 92% 83% Outstanding
Year 3 83% 75% Outstanding 83% 73% Very Good
Year 4 90% 77% Outstanding 94% 83% Outstanding
Year 5 89% 78% Outstanding 82% 60% Good
Year 6 87% 71% Very Good 93% 83% Outstanding
Year 7 80% 67% Very Good 78% 53% Good
Year 8 95% 75% Outstanding 86% 72% Very Good
Year 9 83% 64% Very Good 76% 56% Good
 

Year 10

86% 77% Outstanding 81% 63% Very Good

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 for an individual child – their needs, potential, ambition at each stage of learning, this will be recognised, responded to and delivered on. The underlying ethic is that no child will be or should be left behind. High investment in the professional development of teachers is designed to ensure that faculty remain at the cutting edge of innovation in education. Value add scoring in recent year ranges between +1.2 at A Level and +2.0 at GCSE, impressive by any standards. Subject breadth and qualification pathways reflect this commitment to inclusion, with high quality, richly populated opportunities within both technical and academic stream pathways.
Visits to the school and assessments are designed to be fun, inspiring and stress free for children and parents – and children of determination are welcomed to apply at all phases. In all applications, the school explores with parents the fit and needs of each child.

Transparency and Openness

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, and meaningful engagement, with, and parents we rate outstanding plus.

Sport

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

Underlying sports provision at Safa demonstrates the same commitment to inclusiveness we found across 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.”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School.

This takes the form of a hugely adventurous choice of sporting options including water polo from Year 1 and synchronised swimming. All sports are available to boys and girls. Dance plays a powerful role in the school and bridges Performing Arts and Sports departments. Individual activities are too many to list, but include investments in spin 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.

Photograph of Safa Community School highlighting the new Sixth Centre with Sports fields in the foreground.

Photograph of the new Safa Community School Sixth Form Centre – an AED52M investment in premium high tech post-16 education with a strong industrial focus on Design and Engineering

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

“Sport is important. Outstanding schools invest in extremely high calibre sports teaching staff. It builds the heart of a school.

Over 90% of all children at Safa Community School take part in a sporting ECA each week. We have over 130 teams (A-D in each age group) and Physical Education lessons are varied, vibrant – and we make sure that they are enjoyable by all our students.

The range of sporting and physical activities on offer is exceptional.”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School.

We rank Safa Community School sporting facilities outstanding. The Sporting Centre includes 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 tennis courts. The Centre is a hub for enrichment and self-guided learning across the spectrum of sport this extending to Science, the Arts and Performing Arts, that reaches out and infuses across the whole campus. The facility is light-filled, of scale and facilities extend to a broad spectrum of activities including Dance with a very active program for boys and girls.  There is both a Learner Pool, and 8-lane 25M pool for swimming and related sports. 2 25M Swimming Pools. The range of Sports facilities extends from a dedicated 4G Rugby pitch, CrossFit fitness and a 7-aside football pitch to particularly notable indoor facilities across Netball, Basketball, Dance and conditioning suites. The school fields over 130 squads across Rugby, Netball, Football, Athletics, Swimming, Basketball, Dance, Touch Rugby, Volleyball, Cricket, Rounders, X-Country and Aquathlon.

The Arts and Music

Unaware students dazzled us during our 2023 Visit as we watched band practice one one of the Safa Community School band and performance stages

Core instrument specialisms include Piano, Guitar, Cello, Drums, Violin, Bass, Trumpet, Ukulele and Harmonica. Student engagement covers the Performing Arts spectrum from Music and Dance to full Theatre Production and Drama.

Performing Arts Facilities at Safa Community School include:

  • Full Ensemble Classroom and Rehearsal Space equipped with breadth of contemporary instruments and sound production facilities. The space is used for the spectrum of Music and Performing Arts activities ranging from use by class bands and drumming ensembles to choir and ECAs in the broader Dramatic Arts.
  • 4 Dedicated FS/Primary Music Rooms dedicated to use by FS & Primary phase students
  • Dedicated primary Auditorium for shows and concerts
  • Dedicated Primary Peripatetic Rooms for individual lessons in the Arts and Music
  • 2 Practice Rooms for peripatetic lessons equipped with piano, drum kit and sound production used for small group practice, performance and instrument lessons.
  • 550 Capacity landmark Auditorium equipped with ‘end on’ stage, tiered seating and theatre curtain for full production concerts and shows.
  • Music Space including mini stage equipped with state of the art audio and visual technology used for whole-class bands, solo recitals and lessons.
  • 200-capacity Event Space with removable stage equipped with state of the art audio and visual technology used for live gigs, battle of the bands and major events.
  • 2 Rehearsal Pods for solo instrumental lessons with piano and drum kit for individual lessons and practice time.
  • Music Technology Suite equipped with iMacs/Logic Pro X software, Numark DJ controllers and midi keyboards used for GCSE composition and DJ ECA’s.

Fees and Value

  • FS1: AED 49,700
  • FS2: AED 49,700
  • Year 1: AED 51,815
  • Year 2: AED 51,815
  • Year 3: AED 51,815
  • Year 4: AED 53,930
  • Year 5: AED 56,045
  • Year 6: AED 58,160
  • Year 7: AED 68,734
  • Year 8: AED 68,734
  • Year 9: AED 72,964
  • Year 10: AED73,490
  • Year 11: AED 75,532
  • Year 12: AED 77,573
  • Year 13: AED 81,656

Against this structure we rank Safa Community School as follows:

Quality Rank: Tier 1
Staff:student ratio average: 9:1

Value added: High

Fee Level: Low premium
ROI: Very high
Overall ranking: Outstanding plus

Top Schools Awards

Safa Community School was the recipient of:

  • Winner: The Top Schools Award for Best Architecture Environment, Design and Sustainability in a UAE School 2017-18
  • Winner: The Top Schools Award for Best New School in the United Arab Emirates 2019 – 2020
  • Winner The Top Schools Award for Value-add and Leaving No Child Behind 2021 – 2022
  • Shortlisted: The Top Schools Award for Happiest School in the United Arab Emirates 2021 -2022

School Accreditation

Safa Community School is ranked an across-the-board “Outstanding School” by British Schools Overseas (BSO) – see below for full report.

Safa Community School Dubai BSO ranked Outstanding across-the-board

A rare glimpse of one of the early designs for the Safa Sixth Form Centre. The final evolution, below, saw modifications to increase space for the extraordinary evolving showcase “Museum of the Future” that you witness on entering the school which showcases student work and projects, including automotive engineering.

The final building – note the change to the prow of the boat, this now better representing the architectural shaping of the ship as it cuts through water steering Sixth Form students through the complex waters of 21st century post industrial learning

Safa-Community-School_Feb-2022_BSO-Report-

Independent Reports

Key features of the school identified by KHDA Inspectors in their latest inspection 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.

© SchoolsCompared.com 2023

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Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating

Very Good with Outstanding features

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

NA

Rating FS

Very Good

Rating Primary / Elementary

Very Good

Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good

Rating Post 16 / High

Very Good

Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Yes

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 49,700
FS2: 49,700
YEAR 1: 51,815
YEAR 2: 51,815
YEAR 3: 51,815
YEAR 4: 53,930
YEAR 5: 56,045
YEAR 6: 58,160
YEAR 7: 68,734
YEAR 8: 68,734
YEAR 9: 72,964
YEAR 10: 73,490
YEAR 11: 75,532
YEAR 12: 77,573
YEAR 13: 81,656

Curriculum

National Curriculum for England
GCSE
BTEC
A' Level

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

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

Yes, in some years

Value Added

High

Number of Students

Total capacity: 2500 students
Sixth Form capacity: 200 students
Roles:
2023: 2198 students (Sixth Form: 67 students)
2018: 1580 students
2016-17: 750 students
2015-16: 520 students
2014-15: 120 students

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
• The making of one of the best British Sixth Forms in the region

Weaknesses

• No published bursary or scholarship provision
• 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
A-
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 dynamic - and warm – Safa Community is an Outstanding plus school. The school divides provision across year groups to brilliantly match the needs of children at different ages - and the result is an extraordinary, happy, very high achieving and inspirational school for every child. The new Sixth Form is world class and the first in the region with vehicle manufacturing, advanced CNC machining and some of the most innovative and breath-taking Art and technical design studios we have seen in the UAE to date. School leadership, in the shape of Leanne Fridd, is hugely warm, child and parent-centric - and she is rightfully proud of her school - one she has played an instrumental role in shaping over the last seven years. What has been achieved at this school in such a relatively short period of time is beyond legitimate expectation, and in key areas beyond the provision of some of our region's most outstanding schools. The commitment, passion and integrity of the owners, their hugely driven Principal, leadership team, teachers, parents - and children - in delivering a benchmark all through British school deserves significant praise. Very highly recommended.

A
Our Rating
A-
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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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