Safa British School, Al Meydan Street to Jumeirah – The 2020 Review EXCLUSIVE
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features (2018/19)
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features (2017/18)
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding features
Under review 2019-20
FS2: 3: 40,115
YEAR 1: 40,115
YEAR 2: 40,115
YEAR 3: 40,115
YEAR 4: 40,115
YEAR 5: 40,115
YEAR 6: 40,115
YEAR 7: 41,315
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA
National Curriculum of England
(1) Early Years Foundation Stage
1:14 (2015) increasing to 1:17 (2016) increasing to 1:20 (2018)
20% (2015) increasing to 38% (2016)
Al Meydan Street, Al Quoz, Dubai
Arab (largest nationality)
(1) Emirati: 25
(2) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND): 22
Education Capital (Holding) W.L.L.
Mr. Louay Khatib – 050 6252814
Mr. Sameer Merchant – 050 4618093
+971 (0)4 388 4300
• Outstanding opportunities to come opened up by the move to Jumeirah in 2020
• Students genuinely enjoy school and have very positive attitudes to learning
• Genuinely inclusive school with children achieving/progressing above expected baseline flight paths
• Effective, successful teaching methods enable students to reach above average levels in English, Mathematics and Science by the end of Year 6
• The curriculum is well-planned and engaging
• A wide range of additional activities contribute to both academic and personal development
• Physical education facilities are excellent with large multi-purpose auditorium, covered outdoor sports areas and two sheltered swimming pools
• School leadership is determined and focused on ensuring all children meet their potential
• Students’ personal development is a particular strength of Safa’s provision
• Students with Special Educational Needs are identified quickly. Empowering and inclusive school vision of, 'Every Child an Achiever' which is now showing significant improvement in school provision, matched with ongoing investment in SEN to respond to KHDA reviews
• Students show an outstanding understanding of their responsibilities as members of the community, exemplified by their dedication to preserve the environment and conserve its resources
• Outstanding whole child focus
• Ongoing investment and strong support from committed Safa Friends
• Outstanding new school Principal driven to bring Safa up to Very Good school status, and beyond, swiftly guided by a "child first" underpinning of whole school provision
• Islamic Education and Arabic language lessons are weaker than comparable lessons in other core subjects (a typical failing of British schools)
Updated April 2019 – SchoolsCompared.com independent inspection, KHDA & world exclusive look at the new Tier 1 school launching in Jumeirah September 2020
“To all our little ones…
In this, your school, you will discover the confidence to explore the strength of your imagination and, sometimes, even the power to overwhelm.
You will come to enjoy the surprise of inspirational achievement and the experience of sharing it together.
You will learn to expect standards of yourself you didn’t think you could reach. Everyone will expect the best from everyone else.
You will understand more the uniqueness of you and each person’s special place in our community and the wider world.
When the time comes for you to leave, our aim is that you will take with you the memory of a remarkable journey – and a determination to go on to be the very best that you can be.
Above all, Safa British School will unlock all your potential to “dream big” – and give you the tools to make those dreams happen.”
Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School
“Safa British School is a genuinely inspiring, and lovely, school. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the ultra-premiums. But what we learned, above all else, on our inspection is that beauty can be skin deep, and a school with heart and soul does not need them to flourish for its children. There is a palpable sense of purpose afoot at Safa under its new Head, Zara Harrington, and, on the basis of our inspection, and from the outstanding feedback we have received subsequent to her appointment, this is a school very much to watch. Recommended.”
SchoolsCompared.com 2019 Inspection
Established in 2004, Safa British School is an English National Curriculum school following The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework for Foundation Stage learning (FS1 and FS2). The school, currently, is designed ground-up as a dedicated Primary and will be attractive for parents not convinced by the increasing move to all-through schools in the UAE which, it is argued, risk losing childhood within large schools inevitably much more focused on older children and the endless drive to achievement in later examinations.
Located in Al Meydan Street (the school relocated in September 2012) the school was historically also known as the Al Safa Private School.
Safa Community School can trace its history back to a much-loved small villa school in Jumeirah established in 2005, educating initially some 35 children. Very quickly school the school expanded to a role of some 350 children and, in 2012, to meet demand, Safa British School moved to its current location at the edges of Al Quoz.
In April 2019, SchoolsCompared.com received confirmation that, in September 2020, Safa British School will return to Jumeirah in something of a returning home for a school that has, for many parents, been a sorely missed part of the Jumeirah community – more on this below. This will buck the trend today in which nearly all new schools are opening in new Dubai – the Al Khail and Al Barsha areas. It is certainly the case that he older established residential communities like Jumeirah are being forgotten.
In the old Jumeirah stretch there has not been a new school for at least five years and there is a shortage of premium all-through and secondary schools. Whilst there are many well-established older schools – the new Safa British School aims to provide the level and depth of facilities that older schools, simply because of their age and limits of plot, whatever the intentions are too constrained to offer.
Tellingly, the owners said to us: “The new Safa British School is being built under the guidance of teachers and families for children with the support of world class architects – not by architects imposing an educational vision on a school that may not fit the needs of children.”
Today Safa British School is attended by around 800 children in 41 classes offering Kindergarten and Primary education to students between the ages of three and 11 years. Safa British School is fully British Schools Overseas accredited and run with the direct engagement of its owners who care passionately about education and are driven much more by their values of giving back as educationalists than the big business drivers and pressures of many alternative, much larger, school groups.
Safa currently offers automatic transfer from Year 6 to its in our view outstanding, and heavily over-subscribed, sister slipstream, Safa Community School, local in Al Barsha. Together, the schools ensure continuity of their English National Curriculum based education to GCE O’ and later A’ Level. From 2020, Safa British School will offer a seamless education for all its children to Year 13.
It is worth noting that, its sister, Safa Community School, secured the prestigious SchoolsCompared.com 2019 Award for Best New School in the United Arab Emirates against exceptionally strong competition. The aim, by 2020, is for Safa British School, in its new Jumeirah home, to take the best from both schools and build something extraordinary for its children and the broader Jumeirah community from which the school traces its roots and its name.
Today, in total, some 49 different nationalities are represented at Safa British School.
The school is commended as a “Good” school by the KHDA, with Very Good and Outstanding features, a standard it has maintained consistently for some six years, including this year (2019). Safa British School sits comfortably within the “Good School” class which is the minimum (but high) standard of quality school provision expected by the KHDA of all schools in the Emirate.
It is fair to say, however, that this is a school that, given its ownership and sister school, we expect to be achieving at least at the higher “Very Good” school level of KHDA achievement and much is expected of the school’s new Principal, Zara Harrington, to address the clear potential of Safa British School to “up its game” still further. More can be found on Ms Harrington’s very considerable achievements below.
The core area, for the KHDA, that needs better focus is Arabic subjects (including language). Not to down-play its importance (as we argue editorially across the site this area is important for children), to be balanced it should be noted, however, that Arabic Subjects present difficulties for the majority of UK and international schools.
We are very impressed with the new school Principal, Zara Harrington, and it is telling that in our discussion she identified that the school’s resources were some of the best she had seen within any school in her career – but these had historically been considerably under-leveraged. There is considerable change afoot – and for the better.
The opportunities that will come from the move home to Jumeirah in 2020, in combination with Safa British School’s outstanding new leadership, cannot be understated – we expect great things from this school. Already under her care, the school has reduced teacher turnover to some 7%, extremely low by Dubai standards and indicative of the impressive transformations taking place at the time of our visit in April 2019.
The school has a teacher to student ratio of 1:20 with an average 24 children in a class and between 3 and 7 parallel classes per year group. Teachers are predominantly British and mostly recruited from the UK. From our independent discussions with teachers we know that both Safa schools invest significantly and meaningfully in teachers, both professionally and personally.
New School coming 2020 Exclusive – Watch this space
“In September 2020 something very special will happen. We are building a new home for Safa British School.
We have taken all the very best features from each of our award-winning schools, added everything we have learned over the last fifteen years in delivering an outstanding education for every Safa child and, then, working with one of the world’s top architectural firms, have started to build an extraordinary new school in the heart of Jumeirah.
The new Safa British School opening in September 2020, will be the first, new, premium, Tier 1 all-through school of this standard built in Jumeirah for at least a decade.
We are going home to where Safa British School started some fourteen years ago – building an absolutely extraordinary new school for Safa British School right in the heart of the traditional Jumeirah community.
Our aim is simple.
The school environment we create for children, families and the wider Jumeirah community will set the standard for the education we are delivering. That means no less than parents will walk into Safa British School, when it moves to its new home in Jumeirah, and just know that they have found “home” for the education of their children.
We are committed to create a school that parents and children will fall in love with.
Schools act as both vital community hubs and provide the single most important lever for every child to meet their needs, ambitions and potential. We have been aware of both from Day One of our planning.
We aim to build on, and retain, all that we have created here at Safa British, and from its sister, award-winning, Safa Community School, to create what will be an extraordinarily exciting learning environment for children.
We will future proof the school across our three pillars of, first, outstanding A Level grounded academics, second, BTEC-grounded vocational streams, and, third, a flourishing Sporting life for every child. And, at its heart, the new Safa British School will retain our deeply rooted commitment to inclusion and a world class British education where every child flourishes and builds on their individual and unique talents and potential.”
Sameer Merchant. Co-owner and Founder. Safa British School & Safa Community School. April 2019.
In September 2020 Safa British School will move to a new 4.8 acre site in the heart of Jumeirah. This will double the size of the current school’s grounds. Importantly, however, the new school will remain small and intimate by Dubai standards with a capacity of just 1400 children.
Whilst much of the school’s plans remain confidential, we can confirm the following:
- Architecturally inspirational new school design with beautiful landscaping and architectural flourishes including an “awesome” wooden link-bridge across the two school buildings designed to fire the imagination of children.
- Integration of a flowing river running across the grounds and flowing beneath the link-bridge to relate the school to its green setting. This will include “hills and dales” within the landscaping to make a powerful statement about nature and its importance for children as well as providing a nod to the English National Curriculum underpinnings of the school. There is an extensive history of Farming schools in the UK which have provided inspiration here – for more information see
- Further strengthening of both the much-loved organic and animal farms that have played such an important role in school life historically
- An outdoor, hugely inspirational school amphitheatre that will be used both for performances and to provide a setting for inspiring a love of reading through drama and setting.
- A very strong focus on BTEC technical education and the Sciences with highly resourced Textile labs, Design and Technology Labs, Food and Technology Labs and all four major Science Labs.
- Commitment to a flourishing sporting life for children with both a dedicated indoor Sports Hall and a separate hybrid indoor auditorium that doubles as a second sports hall.
- A unique hybrid outdoor-indoor, temperature controlled Swimming pool, naturally shaded by the Sports Courts built above. The result will be the very best of outdoor and indoor pools – resolving the problem that most schools have of controlling pool temperature and cleanliness in outdoor pools and the claustrophobia of indoor pools. Safa British School will have the best of both worlds with a fabulous outdoor setting protected from the elements.
- Extensive football grounds, dedicated basketball courts; and, further rooftop basketball and netball courts
- Investment in parking – a key concern for parents, this is being address in the design to ensure that it is seamless. Underground parking is being provided for teachers (located under the football ground). FS, Primary and Secondary school children will each have their own separate drop-off zones. A dedicated parking bay is provided for children who arrive on buses.
- The building is being created in a single phase and not staggered. The investment here is significant. Many schools stagger the building of schools for financial reasons. With Safa British School, children, in September 2020, will move straight into a complete, very beautiful school.
- Landmark library spread over two floors. There will be a combination of a “story telling-transported into another world” inspirational library setting for the younger children and a university style library for the older children. Both libraries are connected by a spiral staircase and they open out in vista onto the amphitheatre.
- All ground floor classrooms open out into their own outdoor learning decks. The outdoor extends the classroom.
- There is no single corridor – corridors function as learning clusters (see render below).
- The school aims for UK Forest School accreditation:“The ethos of a Forest School is based on a fundamental respect for children and young people and for their capacity to instigate, test and maintain curiosity in the world around them. Forest Schools believe in children’s right to play; the right to access the outdoors (and in particular a woodland environment); the right to access risk and the vibrant reality of the natural world; and the right to experience a healthy range of emotions, through all the challenges of social interaction, to build a resilience that will enable continued and creative engagement with their peers and their potential.” (FSTC, UK, 2019). This will build on a school setting designed to inspire children with trees, grass, water, rocks and a respect for nature, this through nurturing a recognition of the science of organic farming and a love of, and respect for animals. It is worth noting that there is a strong history of “farming schools” in both the US and United Kingdom of which a good, though scaled example in the UK is the extraordinary Lancing College, reviewed here (by our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com) and, directly, here.
- Continuing investment in the school’s already award-winning recycling centre.
Images of the new school can be found below. These will be updated as we commence hard hat tours in May 2019.
The teaching approach, as Safa British School evolves to all-through provision to Year 13, will be wrapped securely around the needs of individual children:
“Even today, no one has done the vocational route well enough in our view. At Safa British School we are looking at a huge breadth of vocational pathways and are going to draw this back to begin build vocational skills from Year 5. This is a bottom-up, middle school approach that is hugely successful in the UK. In the UAE the current approach limits child progression by too strongly isolating Sixth Form study from what comes before. We think passionately that vocational and technical stream investment needs to begin earlier as children evolve their gifts and aspirations.
We believe too that children learn from each other and we are building this into the brief, including in our adoption of the core value of Forestry Schools in the UK. BTEC will be a hugely resourced part of our schooling, and this will work with A Levels and a passionate focus on Sport being made inspiring for every child. We are engaging today with parents as we move through these big secondary decisions. Children must have a breadth of choice – that means sporting, academic and vocational pathways will be built into the DNA, the very heart, of Safa British School as we move forwards in the next phase of our school journey for families, children and the Jumeirah community.”
Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School
Safa British School Facilities
Safa British School, in its current home, has, in general, very good facilities, including a (pretty) shaded 25M pool, a smaller square training pool, sports grounds, music and ICT rooms and good PE facilities. The school is colourful in its design, spacious, bright and genuinely friendly. The outside area at the school is fairly bijou by Tier 1 standards, but is of a good standard and sufficient. It includes a climbing frame outside which is allocated on a rota basis from Year 1 – Year 6.
Stand-out are the areas set aside for the school farm (which includes a fabulous menagerie of rabbits, ducks, tortoises and chickens!), and an organic farm focused on inspiring in children recognition of the eco, climate and sustainability challenges facing us all in the 21st century global economy. The imposing three dimensional dragon sets a formidable backdrop to the school library. Created by Safa British School children, the result is a hugely inspirational space for little ones to revel in the wonder and magic of reading:
The FS area has been redesigned to benefit from far more open areas and activity spaces for the children to play and learn. These are quite charming and the spaces have been designed intelligently to flow from classrooms and are well utilised. Engagement with, and feedback we have received from, parents and the broader school community is outstanding – and, for example, the fabulous climbing wall is just one example of the input by “Friends of Safa.’
A fairly typical range of sporting activities and squads are on offer including swimming, netball, football, basketball and Cricket. The Sports Hall is multi-purpose, including Auditorium seating enabling swift conversion to provide a theatre and assembly space.
The Library space for the main school is creative and well designed and currently has around 7000 books. There is also a dance studio – ballet and dance are both taught from FS phases.
Broader provision for STEAM is very much in evidence and the Design and Technology [DT]/Engineering space benefits from a 3D printer which had produced some fabulous models of the Burj Khalifa and other notable landmarks in Dubai. ECA’s run to between 30-35 choices and the clubs are thoughtful, with clear briefs to extend children’s knowledge and skills for improving performance in core subjects.
Children with SEND are able to draw on expertise including OT, Educational Therapy as well as an in-house Psychologist. A good example of the drive for inclusiveness within the school is no better evidenced than in main hallway of the Administration offices leading to the classrooms. These are now treated as a gallery and showcase for the children’s work and the intention is to have examples of attainment of every child in the school individually at some point in the year – the standard of work we noted was high, and in some cases outstanding.
Another stand out feature of the school is in its focus on the bigger picture of whole child development over and above academics. In this area the school has been justifiably, we think, awarded “Outstanding” by the Dubai Schools Inspectorate. There is a palpable focus on the children taking ownership and responsibility for all aspects of school, keeping areas tidy and organising themselves efficiently. One particularly inspiring example of this focus on children, in this broader context, is the new “Vacancies Board”, which advertises positions for children within the school, including Headships, Prefects and Monitors. Each includes a clear job description explaining the responsibilities and role. The procedure for appointment mirrors that of the ‘real world’ where applicants submit their CV and are then called for interview. Should they choose to resign the post they have to do so in writing and work a months notice (not that anyone has to date!).
This, amongst a plethora of other initiatives, may represent a small shift in the approach from the school but it is hugely impressive in its impacts – and more importantly, has inspired the children.
Core academics are kindly taught with a strategy that ensures each child is given individual attention. This is not a hot house school. For parents seeking academic attainment at all cost, there are certainly better schools. However, the approach at Safa is a balanced one. We believe that, for parents who believe that a child’s happiness and being inspired with a genuine love of learning rather than its being seen it as a chore at an early age is the key priority, will find much in this softer, more balanced approach to inspire them.
A really lovely example of this is in the way each topic taught is self assessed by the children with a Learning Grid to reflect the level of understanding. This enables children to understand properly what they have achieved and how to improve it. We have not see this approach quite so comprehensively used before – and it works. The initiative goes beyond even this this though – children are encouraged to support one another in the classroom: when a child needs more time to grasp a concept there is a culture of their asking amongst their peers, “who can help me?” This ‘phone a friend’ approach is quite inspirational when you see it working – building a sense of community within the school and within children an understanding of how important kindness is in shaping the world. As our inspectors noted: “…it’s a very creative, supportive and responsible approach to teaching that is extraordinarily effective and inclusive.”
It is worth noting when interpreting KHDA reports that we think the focus should be less on attainment scoring than child progress – this particularly true of Attainment in Early Years. Progress scoring represents how far the school is able to take children from their starting points and improve their education. A low initial attainment score simply represents that children arrive at the school from a low starting point. What is important is how well a school takes that starting point and improves the flight path beyond that that which would normally be expected from a good school.
Safa is rated “Very Good” for child progress at primary phase, this indicative of its transforming the educational experience of children from low starting points of attainment to achieving above the baseline flight paths that would be expected to follow. This is hugely creditable.
The broader sense of community, and the links the school is building with parents to underpin the education of its children is another stand-out area of the school – and again an area in which Safa punches at the level of the Tier 1s in scoring an “Outstanding” rating from the KHDA.
In all these areas, as note above, it is clear that there is a transformation taking place under the new Head, Zara Harrington.
Described by our Inspector as having “visionary ambition for children, professionalism and hugely inspiring compassion” Ms Harrington brings with her more than a decade’s global experience in education, latterly as Head of Primary at GEMS Wellington International School, Dubai.
Tellingly, Ms Harrington’s daughter is educated at Safa British School – we often find Principal’s educating their children elsewhere which is very revealing.
Ms Harrington brings with her a rare business background in the hospitality sector, finding her vocation after a high profile career in business management. More interesting is the exceptionally rare accolade given to Ms Harrington by OFSTED in the UK which is worth quoting in full. They write of her in glowing terms of achieving:
“the most remarkable turnaround of a school in just 12 months [with] a complete transformation in teaching and outcomes for pupils through her outstanding leadership, which she has embedded at all levels.
Ms Harrington is an inspirational leader who gets the very best out of all the staff and pupils by modeling exactly what she expects with the result that pupils achieve well, often from low starting points and make rapid progress in all areas of learning, from the minute they start in the Nursery to ensure that no child is left behind.
Teaching under Ms Harrington’s leadership is outstanding and marking is excellent. The academy is forensic in the way that assessment information is collected and analysed. Teaching is never less than good, and is often outstanding, particularly in English and mathematics. Teachers are aware that time is precious, so not a minute is wasted: lesson introductions are brisk and sharply focused, pupils are given carefully prepared independent
tasks that stretch them.
Provision in the Early Years Foundation Stage has been transformed under Ms Harrington. Teaching in the Nursery and Reception classes strikes just the right balance between formal instruction and structured play. Children quickly learn to make choices, but every activity has a specific purpose. Indoor and outdoor areas provide stimulating resources to entice the children into learning, and adults skilfully guide children with timely guidance and clever questioning.
Assessment and marking are exemplary. Teachers set work that is suitably difficult but also interesting, so that pupils are motivated and learn consistently well. Pupils like coming to school. They behave well and have positive attitudes to learning.
Ms Harrington’s endless energy and uncompromising standards are the reason for the academy’s rapid transformation. Her success is rooted in the way that she models what she expects, and in the ‘can do’ approach that she instills. Staff work exceptionally hard to meet these expectations, and the quality of their classroom environments, lesson planning and marking are testament to this.
Strong and effective leadership has been developed at all levels, including governance with a determination to secure the best possible outcomes for each child. Every step is taken to secure the pupils’ wellbeing and to ensure that every child has equal opportunity to thrive.
Ms Harrington’s drive to strengthen teaching has been relentless, but not too onerous because teachers have been guided every step of the way. Teachers work effectively in teams to plan lessons, to support and coach one another and share best practice, and, more recently, to plan subject
developments. The result is a buoyant staff who channel their energies into the never-ending pursuit of excellence. “
Ofsted. The West Grantham Academy Inspection. 2013-14.
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict 2019
Inevitably a review can only give snapshot of a school, and even then, only at a moment in time.
But we think that this is an exceptional school in the making in its child focus and the ways in which the new Head is seeking to inspire community within the school – and to building bridges with parents and the broader Arabic context outside. Ms Harrington brings with her an outstanding record of school leadership that mirrors our own, and that of our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, positive experience in meeting her in 2019.
The word holistic, used often in an educational context, captures less well what is being achieved than the concept of the “whole child” because everything at Safa is now grounded in what is going to work best for children – and then making everything link back to that.
The attention to detail, and human touch is everywhere to see. And the new innovations, whether in the classroom, corridors, relationships between teachers and students, or students themselves, and in the links to create community – may be incremental and small in isolation – but they add up to something, as a whole, much bigger, and, we feel, very special indeed. We think parents would do well to visit the school.
Look beyond bells and whistles and we think there is much to discover and admire.
In 2020, the opportunities for children at Safa British School will multiply. These are very exciting times. This year Safa British School will see the launch of Year 7 in readiness for the move.
The new school will be finished in July 2020 and will open in September 2020. The whole community will move with the school and we have already seen significant engagement with parents and teachers feeding in their ideas into the development of the new school.
The school aims high: to “take the very best from schools across the UAE, and in some case worldwide, and bring it all together in a very special quite extraordinary new school in the heart of Jumeirah where our story begun. This will be “Safa 2020″ – a school that incorporates the best features of Safa Community School and Safa British School wrapped up in the absolute care of children.”