Safa British School in Dubai has been beefing up its leadership team with two high profile hires over the last three months. First came a new Vice Principal in November 2017, while this month saw the arrival of a new Principal...
Between the two three decades of experience as educators have been added to Safa British. The new Principal, Zara Harrington, was previously Head of Primary at Wellington International School, Dubai, and brings 11 years of experience as an educator, seven of which has been in a head's role.
Vice Principal, Gary Mallon, moved over from Greenfield Community School, where he had been Head of Primary, a role held since 2015. Gary has been in education for just short of twenty years.
We met both Zara and Gary at Safa British to find out how they plan to use their experience to bring improvements to the school.
Isn't joining a school mid-year tough?
Zara: I feel moving at the end or the start of the year can be tougher. By joining mid-year I have built trust relationships with the students, parents, staff and the community very quickly. You join a living community very much in action, so you meet and really to get to know everyone straight away. If you join at the beginning of the year there is obviously more time for expectation levels to build - some of which may be achievable! By mid-year the expectations are more clear and very much set.
I have the advantage of moving with my daughter who’s going into Year 3, so I will be a mummy as well. That gives me a parent's view of the school, as well as an educator's.
I also believe that I have got the best part of the year, I get celebrations, sports days... and perhaps most importantly, the children are already settled in. The beginning of the year is always challenging for students and educators. Children are starting school for the first time, or moving to a new year group with different teachers and levels of expectations.
All this is well established by now.
Gary: I have been here from November 2017 and of course I started with a different Principal. However the actual backbone of the school has been pretty consistent with the primary leadership team. The change has been with the vice principal and the principal.
What’s your leadership style?
Zara: I don’t have a specific leadership style… I have quite a bubbly personality and that helps in trust and relationship building.
A good leader for me is one who is clear in their direction. I think I am always very clear, and then provide support for teachers and staff in terms of delivery. The core purpose, everything we do is developing children. Everything goes around that nucleus.
Can you define that a little? What will be the focus for the rest of the academic year?
Zara: We want to make sure that the curriculum develops kids ready to take on whatever the future throws at them, for jobs we cannot know will exist. Maths, English and Science are obviously fundamentals, along with Arabic and Islamic Studies. However, what’s going to make a difference to the children is the transferable skills that they have now that they can take with them in whatever role they have - at whatever level. A framework that develops these skills needs to be embedded into the curriculum. That’s what our focus will be.
Gary: We have aslo started an identification process for children with English as a second language (EAL) requirement, which is an increasing requirement for the school. The demographic of Foundation Stage (FS) to Year 3 is very different compared to the other years. We have a very international make up of students and that’s visible in these years. We have 92 kids from year 1 to 6 on the EAL continuum, and we have to now move forward in how we are going to support them. We have already mapped our learning requirements with different tools.
What are the new initiatives or changes being brought about in the school?
Zara: We have just introduced something called learning gears that will be taking off in phases from next week. These aim to develop attributes/characteristics like grit and determination, or collaboration, and creativity. In terms of the curriculum itself we are strengthening science opportunities, in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). We are taking what’s already good and adding to it bolster the core curriculum further.
Parents and pupils can also expect to see sustainability initiatives. This is a necessity for kids now. Children need to understand that the planet they live on and the community they live in, their relationships with and on the planet. If they learn it from an early age it will not be a peripheral interest, but integrated into their core being.
Gary: Another change will be the introduction of a flexi-class in the foundation stage, where we will be giving parents the opportunity to bring in younger siblings of pupils into the school.
We’ll start this in September 2018 with parents wanting to give their younger kids a school environment but still want the flexibility of a nursery. So it will start with 3 or 4 days a week and we aim to end the year with the kids doing all 5 days in the class.
Apart from STEM, we also have STEAM, where A is for Art. This is demand led - it is wanted by the children, parents and the staff and therefore we have revamped our art room. Going forward art will feature more strongly in the Safa British curriculum.
Finally, we also want to align with Dubai Expo 2020, as very few schools have taken on the Expo themes – mobility, sustainability and opportunity. We have already had a site visit with 27 of our students, who were fascinated by it. We have a shared vision to go beyond the curriculum. Innovation and enterprise are linked to the Expo and we plan on having three student Expo ambassadors, and an enterprise club, as an extra curricular activity to facilitate and support this.