Over 30 years after its foundation, Diyafah High School still has the very strong sense of community that was fundamental to its establishment, and Winnie D’Cunha’s influence is still felt strongly throughout the school. Winnie’s motto for the school was and remains “Let your light shine” from a popular song from the last century. It encompasses entirely the ethos of the school which is essentially about being the best you individually or as an organisation can be. This is reflected not only in what staff and students aspire to achieve as individuals, but also in terms of making the best use of the school’s buildings and facilities in ways which in many instances are creative and unusual.
Family values remain a key feature of the school with the Principal describing its characteristics as those of warmth, humaneness and a personalised approach to all members of the school community.
The school is very proud of the range of 24 nationalities that blend together, the majority of whom are Indian. There is an outstanding parent community which is kept informed and involved through on-going communication and themed Coffee mornings, as well as an active Parent Council with an established charter. A representative of the Parent Council attends Board meetings of the school and has their own school email address to which parents may direct any specific questions or concerns that they do not wish to raise with the School management directly. The school communicates with parents via the School Communicator, regular emails and its Facebook page.
Parents organise events such as Teacher Appreciation days and Community Outreach activities including food packages that are distributed to labour camps, blood donation drives and similar actions. Fundraising activities tend to be non-cash and parents instead are encouraged to support field trips, offer career advice and participate in parent engagement weeks in school.
The current Principal (Patricia Johnston) joined the school from the Abu Dhabi branch in September 2015. Her responsibilities are for the strategic direction and focus of the school. Lisa (the Head of School) has been with DHS for several years and is responsible for the day to day operation of the school and management of the teaching staff. Staff aim to be accessible and visible.
There are currently just under 1,600 students at the school from FS1 to year 13, with a team of 136 teachers and 14 learning support assistants. Class sizes at 25 in FS and around 30 through the rest of the school are quite large by many standards, but Foundation Stage classes each have a teacher, teaching assistant and LSA and all Key Stage 1 classes have a teacher plus LSA. A staff of 5 SEN teachers support students with additional needs, be these children with learning support or gifted and talented requirements. The school is essentially full through most year groups but has recently added additional space and resources in order to grow the Sixth Form which is currently approximately 150 strong. Generally parents prefer their children to follow the more traditional courses and professions including Law and Medicine. The school maintains regular contact with approximately 50 of its past alumni.
The buildings themselves are very traditional in appearance from outside with a columned façade and grand entrance to the light and bright reception area. Visitors pass through the fenced off Foundation stage play areas to enter the school and both equipment and shades have recently been replaced and bright rubberised flooring added. At the side of the building, an outside learning area has been added which features a garden where children grow their own plants and vegetables. This will be extended for year 1 students in September.
The school was originally an L shape with classrooms along the front and to one side of the building. Over the years an additional section has been added to the right of the original building and this now incorporates at its centre one of the shaded outdoor sports and play areas with a stage built in to one side for assemblies and performances. In addition, there is a large Astroturf field at the back of the buildings which includes a running track as well as additional play equipment to one side.
Outdoor spaces are routinely used as teaching spaces and even areas of corridors and entrance area are turned into learning environments on a regular basis in order to make use of all available space. External corridors around the outside of the building and its boundary walls are fitted with white boards for teaching outside and every outdoor area has been shaded to enable its use for as much of the school year as possible. No space is allowed to be redundant. Classrooms are also well equipped with Promethium boards, appropriate furniture and lots of bright and colourful display boards.
Specialist IT, music and art rooms are available, as is a specialist Sixth Form Centre that opened in September 2015. There is a Bring Your Own Device policy with WIFI (protected by a firewall) available to students throughout the school. The school has found that boys from year 5 can be more actively engaged by incorporating technology in their learning. Boys and girls are segregated for lessons and playtimes from year 5 onwards. Since many children travel by school bus, the school also offers a range of in-school extra-curricular activities during the lunch break (from 12.10-1.30pm). There are currently 22 clubs including STEM and Robotics in addition to the more traditional sport and creative activities.
It is evident when visiting the school that the staff take enormous pride in, and give immense thought to, the students and their families. They aim to ensure that the curriculum, resources and facilities take into account the needs of both students and their families. In many ways, Diyafah High School is a very traditional school in terms of its ethos, appearance, and organisation, but its use of its resources, the manner in which it tailors its curriculum and activities to its students and the very strong community focus sets it apart and should be the envy of many larger, new and grander facilities.
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