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WATCH: Take a peek inside Safa British School’s awesome Animal Barn. SCTV Special: “My School Friends and Other Animals” – Episode 2.
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WATCH: Take a peek inside Safa British School’s awesome Animal Barn. SCTV Special: “My School Friends and Other Animals” – Episode 2.

by Tabitha BardaOctober 26, 2022

When a rogue tortoise came ambling into the grounds of Safa British School in 2018, the teachers assumed someone would soon come searching for their escaped pet.

But, despite putting word out in the community, nobody claimed him.

Rather than passing the friendly reptile on to somebody else, the team at Safa British decided to adopt him.

They named him Jelly Bean and created a little courtyard as a home for him on the school premises.

And so began the story of the Safa British School Animal Barn, which has been growing in terms of facilities and both scaled and feathered friends ever since.

Zara Harrington, Principal of Safa British School, says:

“The first thing we put in when we moved from our old school premises to our new site in Al Safa was an Animal Barn, complete with AC units.”

“I’m not sure how many other chickens and tortoises here in Dubai have their own AC units!”


The school’s top-of-the-range Animal Barn now features a menagerie of different creatures, with a whole Bean family of tortoises to keep Jelly Bean company (featuring his pals Cocoa Bean and tiny little Kidney Bean), as well as a flock of fluffy Silkie chickens, and a pond full of koi carp.

The sassy Silkies strut their impressive plumes in and out of the chicken shed, while gentle tortoises munch crisp lettuce, and the carp leap up to the water’s surface with gaping mouths to gobble up their fish food.

It’s a charming sight for any visitor – but why have an Animal Barn in a school?

The children love it, says Ms Harrington, and they gain a host of valuable skills.

“It teaches them so much more than the regular petting a feeding them.”

“It’s everything else that goes with it; it’s the love, it’s the attachment, it’s the responsibility.”

“We decided that part of learning is really important and wanted our children to have real-life experiences.”

There is plenty of research to show that human-animal interaction can help children learn about relationships, empathy, nature and the environment. According to the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) caring for animals instills respect for life and an awareness of the needs of others, as well as giving children an understanding of how their behaviour can affect others. The ACECQA states:

“Having pets like chickens on a school’s premises lifts the children’s spirits, lessens tension and even improves attendance at school because the children are so keen to interact with the animals.”

Animal welfare

The Animal Barn is located right at the front of Safa British School, close to the entrance, so everyday children and parents can enjoy looking at the animals.

However, to ensure that the animals are not overwhelmed, only the school’s designated Animal Keepers are allowed to enter the air conditioned barn and actually interact with the creatures every day.

It’s clear the hens are happy because they are prolific egg layers, says Ms Harrington. The children collect the eggs and these then get used by the children for baking and other recipes in their food technology classes.

The Animal Keeper is one of the school’s most sought-after leadership positions, and is achieved only through a rigorous application and interview process.

The Safa British School Animal Keeper team

The pay-off for the chosen children is abundantly clear, with the Animal Keepers we met enthusing over the privilege it is to care for the creatures and ensure they are happy, well-fed and watered. Many of the children live in high-rise apartment blocks or houses where pets are banned, so the Animal Barn is the only Opportunity they have to interact with or even see animals on a regular basis.

As one student Animal Keeper told us:

“My apartment is too small to hold pets, so this is how I get to look after my favourite animals, which is a tortoise. I just love looking after the animals.”

Further information

Safa British School is an award-winning British curriculum school in Dubai. Principal Zara Harrington was awarded the Top Schools Award for Best Principal in the United Arab Amirates 2021-22.

The Special Award for Best Principal in the UAE 2021-22 is awarded to Zara Harrington, Principal of Safa British School.

We rank the school Outstanding.

Have your say

What do you think about having animals in schools? Does your school have any pets? Email to let us know.

School reviews and SCTV

Read our review of Safa British School here.

Visit the official Safa British School website here.

Watch SCTV “My School Friends and Other Animals” Episode 1: Kent College’s wellness dogs.

© A WhichMedia Group publication. 2022. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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