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The Ship has Set Sail. Landmark New SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre, four years in the making, to Launch at Safa Community School in Dubai 2022.
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Background – New SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre at Safa Community School, Al Barsha, Dubai.

Safa Community School has today confirmed the opening of an AED multi-million landmark, state-of-the-art, new secondary sixth form school project for Dubai. The new bespoke project, designed A to Z around the specific and very different needs of older students, will be purpose built to deliver a number of firsts for the region and to provide a qualitative benchmark for outstanding British Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 provision in the UAE.

The radical architectural design builds on Dubai history with its angular lines culminating in the razor sharp dynamics of a prow of a ship cutting into the landscape of the future. In turn, this nod to the history of Dubai picks up on the many nautical themes encapsulated in the original Safa Community School architecture, this much softer and more curved to represent the protective, caring dynamics of the school that will eventually evolve to house the younger SCS FS and Middle School children only.

Geomteric architectural fresco at SCS Secondary School and Sixth Form Centre Safa Community School Dubai opening in October 2022

The project will deliver a world-class secondary phase and Sixth Form at Safa Community School and will be known at The SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre. The building will on launch educate up to 500 students from GCSE through to a dramatically extended Sixth Form programme, one delivering every possible combination of core academic and technical stream pathway options for students across gold-standard A Level, BTEC and ASDAN pathways.

Whilst the Centre will have a distinct identity, with enrolling students having distinct uniforms, and, whilst the centre will maintain both physical separation from Safa Community School and will be designed around a serious, pre-university and industry-preparatory ethic and focus, the site chosen for the Centre will be architecturally integrated within the extended grounds of the current, award-winning, Safa Community School.

Through clever architectural design and landscaping, the existing Safa Community School, and new Safa Sixth Form Senior School and Sixth Form Centre, will be linked by facing vistas to ensure that the fundamental linkages (the reputational-prestige, values-rich identity, commitment to inclusion and community) shared by both, will be maintained and strengthened.

Worth noting that both Safa Community School (in Al Barsha), and its sister, Safa British School (in JUmeirah), have consistently delivered exceptionally inspirational, architecturally significant, environments for the education of students at every phase of their studies. We expect, on the basis of this proven history, and the exclusive architectural renders released today (see above and below), the same level of investment and acclaim to follow the opening of the new Centre. The owners of the Safa schools are deeply committed to inspirational design as being an absolutely integral part of delivering an outstanding education for students. Do not expect the dull functional boxes characteristic of so many schools built in the UAE to an obvious budget.

GEMS_INARTICLE  

Both Safa schools we currently rank as Outstanding Plus.

Click here to read our independent review for parents of Safa Commity School.

Click here to read our review of its sister, Safa British school.

Students at Safa Community School will be guaranteed, automatic entry to the new Senior School and Sixth Form Centre. The Safa Sixth Form Centre will, however, welcome applications too from families for external students, those currently being educated at other UAE schools, that require access to the outstanding plus curriculum and pathways choices that will be available at the dedicated GCSE and Sixth Form development. Subject choices and curriculum pathways at the new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre are expected to be some of the most wide-ranging available at any educational institution in the UAE – more on this below.

One of the core arguments shared by the owners with us consistently is that outstanding schools do and can be built in the UAE without needing imported “brands.” Actions, they say, speak louder than words, and both Safa schools have proven themselves integral to the landscape of outstanding UAE schools – and, as a result, are consistently over-subscribed such is the demand for places from families.

 

Timeline at a glance 

  • May 2018: concept for world class new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre opens consultation
  • January 2019 – September 2020: First phases architectural consultancy and planning
  • October 2020: formal planning with architects for the new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre begins.
  • June 2020 – present: Consultation with parents, students and Safa community
  • January 2020: Final architectural design brief accepted
  • April 2021: Ground broken on new site
  • March 2021: First details confirmed officially to SchoolsCompared.com
  • May 2021: Exclusive first announcement to media by SchoolsCompared.com including architectural renders
  • June 2021:  Building commences
  • June 2022: Main phase building completion
  • September 2022: – Safa Community School Senior School and Sixth Form Centre opens for older students. Safa Community School focuses on EYFS Primary and Middle School provision for students.

 

The SCS Curriculum: Meeting the needs of every child. Without exception. The SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre promise to parents.

A photograph of SCS Secondary School and Sixth Form Centre opening in the grounds of Safa Community School Dubai in September 2022

The new SCS Secondary School and Sixth Form will focus exclusively on the needs of GCSE (KS4) and Sixth Form A Level, BTEC and ASDAN (KS5) pathways and students. As such, the brief is for a cutting edge school focused on older students. By providing older students at Safa Community School with an independent Centre of learning, the aim is to do what few schools in Dubai can: provide learning environments exactly suited to the needs of students at different phases of their education. Currently, older students at Safa Community School are educated on their own (third) floor of the existing school. When the new Centre opens, radical changes will flow through the existing school as it transforms to its own exclusive focus on the very youngest FS children and their Middle School peers. Parents in the UAE consistently call for independent primaries to protect childhood, but also for “grown up” independent Secondary schools focused on higher level examinations and preparation for university and industry. The owners of Safa Community School  realised that the only way to meet this call from parents was to separate off provision. It’s a hugely ambitious (and expensive) response to the call from parents – but the Safa owners are educationalists, with a deep committment to building schools that can compete with the best in the world in their delivery of what matters for students:

“In many schools, the Sixth Form seems to be just some ad-on extension of Primary and Middle School. But that is simply not good enough. Older children, both at KS4 and KS5 have very different needs. These are, after all, young adults.

The new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre will deliver a graduating institution for Middle School students to rise to the next step in their career and their study of GCSE, Pre University A Levels and BTEC – and act as a dedicated preparatory for the many demands of business and industry.

We are, and will steadfastly remain, a through school – but we will become one that will now have an identifiable and highly targeted, university feel Secondary school environment for older students, this not only for Safa students, but also for older students across the UAE seeking the very best Secondary education available.

Students at the SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre will have a new uniform, new tie, new crest, new blazer… this will be a very distinct school focused on older students and their future.

Our ambition? A pre-university education in Dubai second to none that will prepare students for college, university and industry.”

Michael Davies. Head of Secondary. Safa Community School Dubai.

Currently, KS4 GCSE and KS5 A’ Level options at Safa Community School are strongly focused on Science, Business and Mathematics, these supported by a “flood” of GCSE, A Level and BTEC technical stream options.

The SCS approach is, however, unique in Dubai, in building the curriculum each year around the needs, ambitions, interests and potential of every child. Standard practice in schools is to present children with a fait accompli list of subjects from which they must choose, with no guarantee that any subject will be offered without significant numbers declaring an interest in that subject. Even in the best UAE schools, class sizes for a subject to proceed must be above five students – and many schools double this. Other schools limit choices through restricting subject choices completely to a limited number of subjects, thereby reducing their need to invest in teachers. Even in schools with significant choice of subject options, often children can find subjects disallowed because they do not fit within the structure of the curriculum. The net result, in far too many schools, is what can look like choices for students are completely illusory, students in fact choosing from a fixed deck of options and squashed into boxes that ill-fit their needs and talents.

The Safa Community School approach turns these models on their head. The school clarifies the wishes of students long before the time table is built. No limit is placed on what students can declare an interest in. It is only following these decisions by students that the timetable is assembled, always with the ambition that every choice can be honoured:

“We have always offered a curriculum based on student choices, not the dictated choices we see in the majority of schools in which children’s choices are limited to a fixed number of subjects.

It is not about what we want, what is easier for us as a school to deliver, but, quite rightly, what our children want and need.

Safa Community School is designed ground up to deliver flexibility and options – and these will change between different cohorts and years. Each year, inevitably, different students will have different interests and gifts – and our job is to meet these with a curriculum built around them. Only when you do that can you make the concept of a personalised education meaningful rather than marketing speak.

The needs of a Secondary student are personalised at Safa schools.

Throughout the world, the very best schools too recognise the very different needs of older students. Very very few schools in the UAE deliver the sort of bespoke Secondary and Sixth Form provision that Safa Community does, and will continue to, offer through our new Secondary campus and Sixth Form Centre.”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School Dubai.

 

The SCS Curriculum will be 100% based on student choice – and we will have the flexibility to offer different options as students come through the school.

We have a very deep commitment to inclusive education – we will always meet the need of every child. For a school to do this properly, it must have the full range of pathways, technical, whole child, inclusive and academic.

The SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre is all about, and will deliver to, the needs of Secondary Students.”

Michael Davies. Head of Secondary. Safa Community School Dubai.

 

Sixth Form Options – The Detail

As above, the traditional model for schools is to provide a list of options from which children choose their GCSE, A Level and BTEC pathways. In the best schools, the pathways are more wide-ranging and the subject breadth more extensive. In the best schools, the time tabling makes sure that as many of those options that are made theoretically possible, are made actually possible too. That means significant investment in teachers.

Safa Community School takes this commitment of teh most outstanding schools to an even higher level – it builds subject options from scratch each year to deliver to the expressed wants, needs, ambitions and potential of every child. If that means recruiting expert teachers, so be it. What they recognise is that a truly personalised education, one beyond the clever marketing peak thrown out by so many schools, requires this level of investment.

To put context to this, Safa Community School currently offers 20 A Levels to just 37 students. Unlike other schools, there is no minimum class size or minimum number of students to run an A’ Level programme. A number of current A’ Level programmes currently run with a single child.

Currently the focus of the school is on Business, Engineering, Science (particularly Physics and Chemistry) and Mathematics, but this could change in a blink to the Social Sciences, including Politics, Sociology, Law and Economics, if the students require it in any given year. Already the school offers A’ L:evel programmes in Psychology, History and Geography.

Current major degree graduating pathways include Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering and Motorsport. The latter, at the UK’s Coventry University, highlight the expertise of the Career Team at Safa Community School in their clearly identifying the world’s most prestigious university destination for automotive design and study.

“The study of subjects at A’ L:evel are based completely, 100%, on the wishes of students. We are not led by timetables and pre-determined options. Each year we run surveys to find out what children want to learn, this in both GCSE and A Level years, and then, and only then, define our options and timetable. .

At Safa Community School, our course offering stretches ambitiously across ASDAN, Level 1, 2 and 3, BTECs,  Level 1, 2 and 3, GCSE, IGCSE, A Level and International A Level pathways.

Our already best in class focus on child pathways and subject breadth will be further strengthened as we open our SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre and its centrifugal focus on pathways at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5.”

Michael Davies. Head of Secondary. Safa Community School Dubai.

In the last three years, 100% of the choices made by students on their GCSE and A’ Level options have been delivered. On this basis, the school makes real its promise that no child is left behind. No child is forced to study subjects simply because of the limitations of the timetable or expertise of teachers. In practice, the school builds the timetable around all of the four top choices of each child. One example of this was the expressed wish of a student to study Photography, the result of which was the launch of a GCSE programme that has now gained widespread popularity. Another is Business:

“Take Business as an example. In this area alone we offer GCSE Business, BTEC Business, GCSE Enterprise and A’ Level Business. For students wishing to pursue study in business, we cover every possible pathway to meet each child’s individual needs and ability.”

Michael Davies. Head of Secondary. Safa Community School Dubai.

Other technical stream BTEC options, on top of Business, currently include BTEC Hospitality, BTEC Travel and Tourism; and multiple BTEC Science optons. These will be enhanced still further at the SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre with mooted BTEC options currently being researched in Esports (one of the emerging $multi-billion 21st century industries), Marketing and, uniquely, Equine Science (the school already enjoys powerful links with local stables and horse riding plays an important role in the whole child life of the school). Today the school enjoys strong industry links with a plethora of industries including business, commerce and medical sectors.

“Even today, at Safa Community School, we have as many courses as we have students – this is unique in UAE education and something we are very proud of.”

Michael Davies. Head of Secondary. Safa Community School Dubai.

Click here to learn about the BTEC qualification – and why it is important that schools provide it.

 

Design, Features and Facilities

The new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre will replicate as much as possible the dynamics of a university. In sharp contrast to the Safa environment for younger students with its focus on play and Early Years development, the new School and Centre will offer grand open plan spaces designed to inspire debate and a sense of purpose. The hub of Sixth Form life will be a Senior Common Room, replicating the traditional dynamics of a British public school and the associated mirroring of University study areas and communal spaces for debate and learning.

“SCS Senior school and its integral Sixth Form Centre will enable students to thrive academically and personally. Open Plan learning will be placed centre stage, with inspired ebate taking place in a resolutely grown-up environment for our young men and women. The environment and approach will be unique in Dubai. Our ethics have always been driven by the fundamentals of child progression, but the new school and centre will align this much more closely with the preparation older students need in the skills required for tertiary education.”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School Dubai.

Planned facilities are comprehensive and Tier 1, these including the spectrum of advanced Labs, technical, business and Social Science centres critical to delivering on the planned for breadth of subject and pathway options for students. State-of-the-art is a term often bandied about by schools, but the investment here is real and significant. As above, the hub of Sixth Form life will be a state-of the art, landmark, Common Room which will hub learning, study, debate, and whole child development for older children. The ambition is for it to be the best hub for Sixth Form learning in the region.

New sporting facilities will include an additional swimming pool, new Sports Hall, and multiple new courts, including new rooftop variants. Every Sixth Form child will be assigned their own individual spaces, this closely aligned to the ambition to deliver a genuine University-preparatory.

The detail that has ben invested in the design and architecture is eye watering, stretching from ensuring multiple entry and exit points (so as not to be limited by entrance gates and traffic chaos – the bugbear of many parents at other schools) to a hugely expensive underground car park to mitigate all related traffic issues and provide parking for students that drive. Too many schools end up as boxes in the middle of giant car parks, the result being schools having more in common with airport car parks and lorry parks. The SCS Senior school and Sixth Form Centre will maintain the beauty of its landscaping and vistas to its slipstream school.

Sport too, already an important and integral part of school life, will see new and heady investment. One example of the attention to detail in the design brief is the provision of a bespoke Viewing Deck enabling parents, visiting schools and fellow students to watch games. Many schools lack this, or even a portable seating. Another example is the provision of a new Strength and Fitness Conditioning Suite for students so they, and staff, can train before, during and after school. The school, rarely, enjoys too the use of two competition, real grass sports pitches for sport.

Another example of the school and architect’s sharply focused attention on detail is in the provision of a stand-alone exams hall. Many schools use Sports Halls for examinations, the result of which means that sporting provision for students takes a knock-back during this period every year.

Other areas of investment include multiple picnic and seating areas within the landscaped grounds, clever investment in window designs to maximise light (many schools have poor design which in practice results in blinds being used to cut out the light because it glares on whiteboards and students).

Finally, new (and amazing) ground floor catering facilities, these opening out into the landscaping, school fields and vistas, will sustain a key social hub of school life during the day, whilst transforming into a landmark night time community performance space for students studying in the Performing Arts,.

 

Value Add – Safa’s history of delivering higher student outcomes and significantly above predicted grade expectations.

Too often, schools showcase their success and quality simply by referring parents to examination result league tables. These however are a very blunt instrument in measuring the impact of a school on the academic attainment of students, this particularly the case with inclusive schools, by far the majority of schools in the UAE.

We have always been insistent that the better way for parents to compare school provision is to look at examination results in the context of (1) a school’s “value-added” achievement for students – the degree to which those results meet or exceed the baseline predicted grades for those students on joining a school; (2) subject and pathways breadth; and (3) happy school dynamics.

To put context to this, it would be relatively simple to set up a hot house school, one recruiting only the most academically outstanding students, and one in which students only studied four subjects taught by rote. The result may well be exceptional exam results, but at what price? Unhappy children, an education built on memory not innovation and understanding – not to mention the loss of the many individual gifts that come from giving students a personalised education built around choice and individual needs, potential and ambitions.

Measuring Value Add is complex – challenges come from a lack of a common methodology and statistical framework between schools. However, Safa Community School uses the most unambiguous and honest of metrics, the baseline CAT score for each child – and its resulting achievements for students are hugely creditable and impressive.

“At Safa Community School, all students achieve well above their expected attainment measure.

Our minimum expected grade is rooted in each child’s CAT score – but our expected level of achievement for every child at our school is a full 2 points above this.

Importantly, we never select students for their academic potential. We do not stack the decks. We are, and will remain, steadfastly and deeply committed to inclusion and welcoming all children, each and every one of which, have their own talents.

Safa Community School, and its sister Safa British School, are schools for any child, with any interests. one that supports all our children across all of their many gifts.

This is at the very heart of what makes Safa schools the extraordinary places of learning, academic and whole child, that they definitively are for every child.”

Leanne Fridd. Principal. Safa Community School Dubai.

Safa Community School is only the second school in the UAE to have published its value-add methodology and scoring – a hugely creditable achievement. This can be found below:

Value-add results Safa Community School Dubai

 

Bottom line: The SchoolsCompared Verdict on SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre.

Nautical architecture feature in the radical architectural vision, one nodding to Dubai's history, at SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre in Dubai - the new Secondary school for Safa Community School opening in September 2022

Inevitably, we are limited in providing a final verdict by the timing of the new development’s opening. However, the proven history of delivery for children here – at both Safa Community School and Safa British School, is unarguable. The ambition here too is hugely creditable and significant.

So what is there to celebrate?

Firstly, ownership. Both Safa schools in Dubai are owned by educationalists not investors. Both, though they do not like it advertised, are humble and altruistic, significantly giving back to their communities and parents. Tellingly, the owner’s children are educated at Safa Community School. As parents, we choose the very best we can for our children and do not compromise and this choice of Safa Community School over any alternative in Dubai, or indeed overseas, says it all.

Secondly, the calibre of school leadership. It is telling that both Safa schools, are now led by women. It’s not a matter of positive discrimination, but the steadfast belief of the owners in recruiting on merit to quite extraordinary standards. Their demands of school leaders are stringent; the happiness and care for students comes at the top of the list with delivery of the best education in Dubai and ensuring child attainment above value-add expectations. Both Zara Harrington (Principal of Safa British School) and Leanne Fridd (Principal of Safa Community School) we rate as outstanding. Tellingly Mrs Fridd was promoted from within the school – the investment in teachers and leaders at the Safa schools is serious and premised  around the needs of succession planning.

“Safa Community School is a family school designed and functioning around the central needs of our students, individually, their families and our broader community in Al Barsha. When recruiting for the new Principal of our school, one that would lead us into the next phase of our story through the development of the SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre, we looked for an individual of extraordinary calibre. We could have recruited locally, or through the Times Educational Supplement internationally – but we did not need to. In Leanne Fridd, we have secured the best school leadership in the UAE. Full stop.”

Stephen Duckett. Outgoing Principal. Safa Community School Dubai. 

Thirdly, the same holds true of teaching faculty. Investment here is significant with both Safa schools investing heavily in teachers  – and retaining them. It also recruits the best. To take a single example, Mr Emmet Glackin M.Ed NPQH FRSA, currently Assistant Headteacher in Secondary at Jumeirah English Speaking School, will be joining Safa Community School from September as Deputy Head of Academics. Mr Glackin brings with him more than 12 years experience, particularly in value-add, inclusion and technology in education, from another of Dubai’s most prestigious and outstanding schools. As importantly for Safa Community School, Mr Glackin, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts,  promises a rich depth of knowledge in Art and Design – and a reputation for being an inspiring and much loved member of Jess’s senior leadership team. In our review of Safa Community School, you can also read about a teacher who joined the school at the point of giving up being a teacher because of her experiences at another school. Safa Community School re-engaged an outstanding teacher that would have otherwise been lost to education.

Fourthly, the model being developed by Safa Community School in the development of their new Secondary and Sixth Form centre is radical. It holds the promise to finally resolve the difficult Year 7 transition year, the point at which students typically get thrust from Primary into Middle School education in schools across the UAE. It is a make or break year for so many students. By segmenting off Early Years, Primary and Middle School children from older GCSE, A Level and BTEC students, Safa Community School will all but remove the cliff edge and allow a much more gentle transition for children from childhood to the responsibilities of being young men and women. It will also significantly strengthen and empower older students – the facility promised, in its pre-university ambitions, promises a formidable and prestigious transition to the core examination children face in British education.

Fifthly, as above, when the new Secondary and Sixth Form Centre opens, the commitment to subject and pathway breadth here is at least as good as that delivered by the most outstanding schools in the UAE – and quite possibly now the benchmark. Already, the school has met the needs of every child with no course requested not delivered – even where that has required 1:1 teaching. This is unheard of – and absolutely exceptional.

Finally, whilst it may seem a surface concern – the investment in inspirational architecture here is extraordinarily ambitious. Why does that matter? It is because it is matched by substance in the academic and whole child delivery of an outstanding education for children. The offer here is both. Many schools hide behind veneers of bells and whistles – but without the substance to deliver. Many more, deliver substance but within glorified concrete boxes in a setting of car parks and bus garages. To get both substance, and Tier 1 plus delivery on every conceivable level, at this fee point, when the new Centre comes on stream, probably makes this the best value school in Dubai. Yes, it is that much of a powerhouse of educational might in the making.

Bottom line? It is rare to be able to be quite so uniformly and overwhelmingly positive about a school (or actually, in this case, both Safa schools). The exceptional and outstanding find a place here at both schools – and, then, add to that some of the happiest school dynamics we have seen amongst the hundreds of UAE schools we review each year.

What is coming down the road, with the landmark new SCS Senior School and Sixth Form Centre, shines a light on what ambition to deliver the very best education possible for every child really looks like. With these schools, Dubai, and the broader UAE, has its own, home grown, absolutely world class institutions that we should be very proud of, all without the need of an imported big name brand anywhere in sight.

Who knows, maybe one day we will see the Safa Schools opening in Great Britain, shining a light on what UAE education can deliver at its very, very best. Now wouldn’t that be something…

Highly, without qualification, recommended.

© SchoolsCompared.com. 2021. All rights reserved.

Notes for parents

(1) Click here for more information and to visit the official school web site for Safa Community School in Dubai.

(2) Click here for more information on the Royal Society of Arts.

(3) Both Safa Community School and Safa British School are SchoolsCompared “Happiest Schools in the UAE” accredited.

(4) Founded in 2014, Safa Community School is the recipient of the SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Award for Best New School in the UAE 2019-20.

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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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