Background: Families relocating to the UAE? Choosing the Best School in the emirates. Top Tips from Zara Harrington, Principal, Safa British School.
“When the teachers flourish, students flourish.
Being thoughtful, being kind really does matter – right from the moment children walk through the door of a school.
The teachers set the tone and bring the culture of a school to life.”
Zara Harrington. Principal. Safa British School.
Parents arriving in the UAE, or preparing to arrive, always ask us “[w]hich is the best school” in the emirate they are settling into. There is always an expectation that we know the answer, that there is a simple answer, and that we can can simply give a black and white response.
If only life was so simple…
To give an example.
There is one school in Dubai that is very well suited to the most academically bright students. However, it has significant waiting lists – but also looks only for students that are gifted in at least one other areas – for example, the Performing Arts or Sport. It also looks for students that are self motivated and highly disciplined. For some students this will be (and is) definitively the “best school in Dubai”, but, on its own terms, not all. The school has a very definite culture in which the “right” students, those that fit, absolutely flourish. Others will not.
The same holds true for almost every school in the UAE. Almost every school we review has one, or often multiple, strengths. However, whilst these schools will undoubtedly be outstanding for some students, very few are ever perfect for all children.
Yes, there are some inclusive schools that we believe really do deliver for every child – schools which near guarantee that every child that enrols will over achieve against their flightpaths – and have a happy, inspirational education. We know of one school, for example, that effectively built an entirely new curriculum around the specific ambitions, needs and gifts of a single student. Very few schools in the UAE, however, would, or could, have gone to such lengths. These schools are very far and few between – we can think of less than a handful.
It is not the end of the world, though it is usually distressing, to have to change schools. It usually becomes apparent quite quickly when the particular strengths of a school do not match the needs of a child. Many parents in Dubai do change schools at least once after arriving. Moving schools does not mean that any one, parents, students or child, have failed. It coms with the territory – and schools in the UAE are, for the most part, extremely supportive. It is in their interests that every child flourishes at their school – their reputation, and the vocation of their teachers and Principal, depends on it.
We visited Zara Harrington, Principal of Safa British School, and asked some really tough questions to try and get to the bottom of how parents can maximise the chance of getting the best school for their child right from ‘Day One.’
The following interview was conducted in July 2021 for SchoolsComparedTV as pat of our series of discussions with the very best principals and schools in the UAE.
The questions we asked…
- Choosing a school for your child – what would you ask school Principals?
- Is homework really that important? Family first – or homework first?
- Are schools better than they were twenty years ago?
- What event in your life has proved definitive in understanding what makes an outstanding school for children?
- Can, or should, a parent expect that a good school will be able to deliver for every single child at that school?
- What is the most important single piece of advice you would give to a student joining and/or graduating from a school?
- What are the top 3 things at Safa British school that ensure that children are both happy – and inspired?
The interview – Zara Harrington, Principal, Safa British School on the record.
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