Victory Heights Primary School, Dubai Sports City – The Review
• New school making very rapid progress in bedding in FS and Key Stage 1-2 provision to a very high standard
• Outstanding child care and focus
• Inspirational leadership with outstanding independent whichschooladvisor feedback
• Impressive school architecture designed to inspire children’s love of learning
• A KHDA Outstanding school in the making
• Consistent and genuine investment in the Arabic cultural context
• Outstanding school transparency and information for parents – both for those with children at the school and those considering it for their children
• Weaknesses in Arabic subject provision, endemic to British schools
• We would like to see bursary and scholarship provision
• Inevitably there is an imbalance of male and female teachers, a feature of all primaries, and one that does limit the male role models that all children would ideally have represented in faculty. This said, out of 50 teaching staff (class teachers and specialists ) the school employs 10 male teachers and out of 33 class teachers in Key Stage 2, 4 are Male. This is above average for the sector (November 2016)
Updated July 2017 – Victory Heights Primary School updated photography
“We absolutely adore this school. Have been happily part of it for 4 years. No other school can compare, Miss Sasha knows EVERY child’s name and passionate about their performance. We are very blessed to be a part of such a great and caring school.” User Comment, SchoolsCompared.com – see below.
Founded in 2013, Victory Heights Primary School is a new school bedding in Early Years Foundation Stage to Key Stage 2 provision with remarkable pace. After only its second formal inspection by the KHDA in 2016 it has secured Good School status, its ratings jumping up by between 20% and 40% in key categories of inspection in a single year. The key pointer prospective parents should take from this is that headline Inspection grading has to be understood in context. An improving school, particularly when showing this rate of progress across all phases, subjects and management indicators, is indicative of a school with significant potential across the board. At current levels of improvement, and with just three years since opening behind it, there is nothing to suggest Victory Heights will not secure Outstanding School status within its first five years. It is also worth stating at the outset that our our team at its recent inspection of Victory Heights Primary School (November 2016) came away with a “tremendously positive” view of Victory Heights and its many achievements since its last KHDA Inspection.
With new schools it’s really telling to look at the reasons behind their being founded – and also to look at the level of investment and thought placed in the building’s design. In both these areas Victory Heights Primary School has quite a story. Both founders of the school are educationalists driven by conviction and vocation. You often hear of Founders being driven to “make a difference” but here it’s a description that carries real authenticity. Dinesh Kotharai is best known for the DPS Group of Schools which educate around 11,000 children already in the UAE:
“In the business of education, you must not be in a hurry and to see a successful educational structure, you must focus on quality and you will see the numbers go up automatically. Schools must not be run for profits, and whatever you earn from the school must be invested in increasing the salaries of teachers.” Dinesh Kothari. Chairman and Co-Founder. Victory Heights Primary School.
Vinesh Nayyar is known for The Wonder Years Nursery (neighbouring Victory Heights and providing its direct entry infant slipstream)
“I always wanted to create a school with soul – an institution at the heart of the community.” Vineeta Nayyar. Managing Director and Co-Founder. Victory Heights Primary School.
In terms of design, the brief by both founders was to create something that would act as a trigger to inspire children to learn, discover and explore. They wanted the feel of a “children’s village” that would fire children’s inquisitive nature, empowering each child to learn naturally, and to develop a love of learning in its own right. The attention to detail is a stand-out feature of Victory Heights Primary School across its 1.5 acre site.
The architects deliberately avoided the standard quadrangle in favour of “an arrangement of clusters that are strung together around different ‘Pods’ of interaction” but with a central courtyard for all ages of children providing a natural heart to the school.
Colour abounds across the glass walls of the ground floors, canopies and in the playground – and the stone facades “take cue from the shifting sand dunes of the desert.” This local context extends to the traditional mashrabia which portray the familiar Islamic geometric patterns across the bridge that links blocks and the staircase between floors. The aim is a British School, but one in the heart of an Arabian context. And we think, and more importantly it is clear that the children think, that it works beautifully.
The knock on effects of good school architecture should not be under-estimated. It’s not only, for example, that natural light is so important in any learning environment (and relatively easy to achieve) – but an inspirational learning environment achieves something that also drives teachers and management to “feel” the identity of a school – with all the cascading down benefits to the children on which everything is focused. Tellingly, Victory Heights Primary School enjoys a teacher turnover of 5%, one all the more impressive given that this is a new school still bedding in provision.
Our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, describes the end result as a school that is “fundamental child centred… with a focus very clearly on the children.” Victory Heights educates over 700 children (up from its opening role of 220 students) between FS1 and Year 6 with a staff: student ratio capped at 1:15 and a maximum class size of 25. Whilst Victory Heights Primary School is selective and streams students by ability, it is resolutely inclusive and does not charge for language support (EAL role is around 10%) and only in exceptional cases Special Educational Needs [SEN] support. Investment in both is significant with dedicated language and “learning enhancement” faculty.
All teachers have a degree and PGCE Post Graduate Certificate in Education. Impressively, Victory Heights Primary School provides photographs of all its teaching staff on-line. We wish schools would do this more. It is indicative of both a school’s transparency, commitment to and celebration of its most important asset – and telling of a school driven to retain staff. On the note of transparency, Victory Heights has one of the most clear, comprehensive and genuinely open web sites of any Primary in the UAE – from open publication of Governor minutes to regularly updated news and photography. We couldn’t find any obvious gap in the information any parent requires to properly benchmark the school – and the clear attention and passion of the school to deliver for its children comes across in spades. Impressive.
Fees, running from 34,589 AED to 47,167 AED, are low-end premium – but this is a high performing, premium school and we do not have an issue with ROI for those parents who can afford the fees. We do think, however, all schools should have dedicated bursary and scholarship programmes and hope that this will be adopted by Victory Heights Primary School as the school evolves over time. Bursaries and scholarships are part of the inclusivity equation and we think an important and telling indicator of a mature school’s genuine commitment to community and enriching its role to the benefit of all children.
Facilities at Victory Heights Primary School are excellent. They include a dedicated, self-contained Foundation Block (5 classes and with a slightly later start-time to avoid congestion as much as possible); dedicated FS1 and FS2 learning clusters; central indoor activity area; shaded FS outdoor play centre; dedicated and independent Key Stages 1 and 2 clusters with shared indoor play areas for each year group; controlled Internet equipped digital classrooms and campus wifi; (fabulous) indoor, competition-length 25M swimming pool; dedicated Junior Gymnasium; playing field for football, rugby, and hockey; outdoor multi-purpose court for tennis, basketball and netball; multi-purpose gymnasium/hall with staging (Phase 2); library; science labs; Music Room; dedicated ICT Suite; central “Pod” overflow areas for classrooms, providing further access to the play areas externally and additional resource for small groups; and, canteen. Cross country is conducted in the surrounding neighbourhood of Green Park areas in Victory Heights ‘Estella.’
Internal options at Victory Heights Primary School are free of all charges. Three extra curricular activities (ECAs) can be chosen including Arabic as the third option. They include U9/11 Girls Football Squad; Football Squad; Girls Netball; U11 Touch Rugby – Squad; Synchronised Swimming Selective; Computer Science; Construction Club; Art; Puzzle and Brain; Experimental Music; Spanish; Traditional Games; Origami for Beginners; Choir; OT; Touch Typing; Experimental Music; Origami for Beginners; Spanish; Lego; Enterprise Club; Animal Rights; French; OT; Touch Typing; Debating; Blue Cross Stitching; Fashion Design; Critical Thinking; Homework Club; Roof Swim Squad Year; Quaran English; Hadith (Arabic & English); Arabic Drama; Islamic Art; Arabic Stories; Arabic Art Deco; Arabic Games; Cross Country Club; U11 Football; U9 Touch Rugby Squad; Playdough; Jigsaw; Craft Club; Story Telling And Role-Play Club; Scrapbooking; Speed Stacking; ELLI Textiles and Play; Art; Happy Hearts Singing Project; Poetry; and, In the News Club. These choices are supplemented by a very well chosen range of paid-for ECAs.
It is worth commenting on the impressive range of Arabic ECAs. Victory Heights Primary School is genuinely committed to all children developing an appreciation of the cultural context of the school. In this context, it is telling in impressive and rare praise from the KHDA that the school library has “sufficient books for the FS and primary phases and for all subjects, including Islamic education and Arabic.” (Emphasis added). This is surprisingly rare in British schools.
During our inspection we noted the following stand-out features and initiatives of the school:
- The ‘Sandy Seeds’ project, one that originated from a KHDA conference, has seen investment in a garden designed to awaken children to the idea that “a seed well-planted can grow into something beautiful anywhere.” The project is having extraordinary effects on building a sense of shared purpose within the school and both a hands-on love of science and appreciation of food and both its origins and importance.The project was recognised by Dr Abdulla from the KHDA through a plaque in October 2016.
- Victory Height’s Enterprise Week in October saw production of a ‘Dragons Den’ styled event where children presented their ideas to the Head, before going on to implement them and to raise money via a school market day
- Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI) is evidenced throughout classrooms and common areas the school
- Staff turnover of <5% is exceptionally low by UAE standards and teachers are clearly nurtured and invested in through on-going mentoring and Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
- We particularly liked the weaving area set up in the school’s ‘Well of Positivity’, this designed for children who wish to pursue quieter activities at break time or lunch
- The Student Council is genuinely given a voice and has been able to, and supported in, bringing about changes, including provision at the School Canteen
- Homework is not simply given, but thought through with options for parents and students advising them of what “MUST”, “SHOULD” and “COULD” be completed. This demonstrated to us significant thought by the school. To define three options requires significant investment in teacher time – but also provides a pathway for children of different abilities and a means for parents to be much more engaged with their child’s learning
- The school has a Charity Box – with the purpose of creating an on-going empathy for children who are less fortunate and to inspire a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ outside the walls of the school
- ICT is integrated in a relevant way – and we liked the choice of Chrome Books these will be compulsory for next year for Years 4-6) rather than more expensive Apple devices which have become standard elsewhere. These offer a broader array of apps and in choosing to be different the school highlights the thought invested in all of its developmental projects
- Artwork and broader school work “drip” from classroom ceilings and cover the walls and doors of every area within the school. This really help that sense of productivity, creativity and enthusiasm we found evident in the children and the displays showed a very good standard of inspired work.
Another lovely example of the way in which Victory Heights Primary School innovates can be found in its reading programme, which seeks to engage and inspire each child’s love of reading in and outside school:
Our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, has received outstanding independent feedback for Victory Heights Principal, Sasha Crabb, from a broad spectrum of families and teachers. Descriptions range from “genuine” and “exceptionally kind” to “passionate,” “inspirational” and “driven.” She is also well known for her steadfast belief in investing in the Continuing Professional Development [CPD] of teachers – and her conviction both that no child should be left behind and that every teacher should know each child, including, and beyond, their name.
“The decision about which school is perfect for your child is amongst the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life. Their future depends on your decisions today. We know that every child is unique and has a different learning style and pace. We believe that every child, in their own way, is capable of learning – and capable of succeeding. Every child deserves a school that never gives up on them and takes the time to understand them. Our school doesn’t just facilitate creative thinking, collaborative learning and create an engaging learning environment – our school and passionate staff go beyond that to make a lasting impact on the children in our school by weaving magic into learning. At Victory Heights everyone knows everyone’s name. The teachers and the staff know your child personally. We are a village school that is invested in your child’s education and well-being.” Sasha Crabb, Principal, Victory Heights Primary School
Ms Crabb draws on more than two decades of experience working across the UK and Middle East, including specialist work as a literacy advisor.
Our inspectors noted:
“In each classroom at Victory Heights Primary School we entered the children were quietly and industriously engaged in the activity, with a cheerful, bright and eager approach. “Miss Sasha” received smiles and a very positive response from the children when we opened each classroom door, and even a few hugs. There is a bubbly, brightness and lightness about the relationships between the Head, teachers, and generally within the school. We sensed that there is a genuine respect between the teachers and Ms Crabb which extends to the students; we really felt there was a genuine affection in all directions.”
Bottom line? It’s heartening to be able to be so positive about a school. It is helpful to repeat here one paragraph from our November 2016 independent inspection:
“We were really impressed with Victory Heights Primary School – schools can sometimes be guilty of doing things for effect, rather than in a sincere and genuine way. We had no sense of anything at our inspection being contrived. In fact, VHP has a very clear direction and every development is very clearly underpinned with purpose and clarity.
The feel of Victory Heights Primary School is that of a really good UK Primary – but with the richness that comes from the multicultural environment unique to Dubai – one that has been seamlessly and carefully integrated into the fabric of school life.
More than this, we had a real sense of this being a not-for-profit in its ethic, something that we understand has been commented on previously. There is a striking sense of warmth and cohesion that the not-for-profits are often better able to address and garner – it’s rare to find it so transparently, as here, in a for-profit school.
There is so much to like about this school and to admire in the achievements of both its owners and Head, who are clearly working in unison.”
In the case of Victory Heights Primary School we feel that it is really important to go beyond the headline KHDA “Good” rating. This is a new school in which investment is significant, and reaping dividends. Victory Heights Primary School is worth shortlisting. A new school yes – but one with huge potential to set benchmarks for the sector. Highly recommended.
Private, for profit
YEAR 1: 40,878
YEAR 2: 40,878
YEAR 3: 44,022
YEAR 4: 44,022
YEAR 5: 47,167
YEAR 6: 47,167
YEAR 7: NA
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA
National Curriculum of England
Early Years Foundation Stage [EYFS]
Key Stage 1
Key Stage 2
(1) Wonder Years Nursery students are given priority places
(2) All children are screened for speech and language so that intervention and support can be offered from the outset
(3) There is a child protection team within the teaching cohort and 4.5 SEN teachers to support approx 20% of the 725 students.
(4) There is one classroom assistant per class at the lower end of the school, reducing to shared support as the children get older.
(5) The school's slipstreams include DESC, DC, JESS, DBS and Safa. There are a number of very capable children in Years 5 and 6 and an active Gifted and Talented (G&T) child programme.
(1) 55 Nationalities including UK (345) S.Africa (46) and Australia (42) [November 2016]
(1) Maximum class size: 25
(2) FS1 to Year 2: teacher plus teaching assistant [TA]
(3) Year 3 to 6: teacher plus shared teacher assistant [TA]
Dubai Sports City, Dubai
British (largest nationality 55%+)
Emirati: 6 (<1%) Australian (<6%) South African (<6%). Special Educational Needs and Disability [SEND]: 25 students English as an Additional Language [EAL]: 10%
(1) Approximately 50% boys, 50% girls
Dinesh Kothari (Chairman)
Vineeta Nayyar (Co-founder)
+971 (0) 4 423 1100