Safa British School is a well-established Primary-only school which opened, originally in the Al Safa school area, in 2004. In 2012, it relocated to a much larger site close to Safa Park. It is a sister school to the KHDA "Very Good"-rated Safa Community School which opened two years later, in 2014, and to which Primary students have access for Secondary school. In a new development, SBS will relocate to a brand new school in Jumeirah and expand to Secondary in the 2020-21 academic year.
The story so far...
Located on the edge of Al Quoz on the Meydan Road, Safa British School (SBS), is an England and Wales-based National Curriculum school. The school is privately owned by two investors who are also parents and whose children and wives are closely connected with the Safa schools. There is a very personal and direct interest and commitment, which is extremely unusual in our experience of Dubai schools. This is absolutely not Big Business, where the ROI is the core interest of the owners. It is also one of a handful of Primary-only schools in the emirate.
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Safa British School is currently attended by 711 students between the ages of three and 11 years (a drop of around 50 since the previous academic year, and over 100 in the past two years, reflective of the outward relocation of families over this period). The school has again been rated Good by the KHDA for 2018-19, for the seveth year in a row.
Currently 50 different nationalities are represented at Safa British with the largest demographic being described by the KHDA as Arab, though the single largest country of origin remains the United Kingdom (around 30%). Approximately 3% of students at the school are Emirati, while just under 3% are students of Determination who have been identified as having some form of Special Educational Need (SEN).
The school has a teacher to student ratio of 1:12. In addition to SBS's 61 teachers, a large number of teaching assistants (30 in 2018-19) support the children. Teachers are mostly recruited from the UK.
It would seem that the owners' ambitions to see Safa British School as highly rated as its younger sister school, Safa Community (rated Very Good again in 2018-19 on its third inspection) has resulted in the appointment of key staff - notably Ms. Zara Harrington who joined the school in 2017-18.
One of the on-going challenges at SBS does appear to be retaining staff or at least retaining the right ones. Whilst the average turnover in Dubai is around 20-22%, the school's teacher turnover in 2017-18 was 28%, following a figure of 32% in 2016/17 and a record 38% in 2015-16. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com had hoped to see a significant reduction in this figure in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection report, but between the last two inspections, it seems that staff turnover has again reached 30%. This is perhaps not unexpected, given the changes at the top over the same period, but it is to be hoped that this will stabilise in the current academic year.
Any school that is replacing upwards of a quarter to a third of its staff each academic year does run the risk of some instability, particularly given the requirement to bring new staff into the school and settle them into the school's processes. Having said this, as children move from one year group to another, and with a change of class teacher each year, the issue of staff churn is probably less significant in a Primary environment than it would be in Secondary. It is to be hoped that the appointment of Ms. Harrington as the Principal will provide stability at the top, which will then filter through to the teaching staff also.
Despite this issue, there is much about Safa British School that makes it an appealing place to be!
It is clear that the children are at the heart of everything the owners and their staff are trying to do. Like most schools, Safa British School has a Vision which is to be found on its website - "to create a school that unlocks the potential of every child”. Unusually, though, the school does not have a Mission, whereby it expands on how its Vision will be achieved.
Rather, somewhat tongue in cheek and reflective of the challenge in a popular Sci-fi series, the Mission is the students'...
"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 about 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 best that you can be.
"Safa is a school that unlocks your potential for you to “Dream Big”.
In a rather more usual introductory statement, the Principal's welcome states that
"at Safa British School, we educate and nurture the whole child, providing opportunities for each child to discover and develop their unique talents and abilities in a variety of areas including emotional, spiritual, academic, cultural, moral, linguistic, creative and physical. We create a culture of achievement within a vibrant and stimulating learning environment ensuring positive reinforcement at all levels of ability through appropriately differentiated expectations. The central aims of our curriculum is to work in collaboration with families and the local community to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and to achieve; to promote pupils’ moral, social and cultural development and prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life."
In WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's experience of meetings with the owners and the leadership at both Safa Schools, we have been convinced that there is a genuine and unrelenting desire to see these commitments and aims met.
Safa British School is an inclusive school where students will be accepted with various levels of academics. SBS has a comprehensive inclusive policy in practice wherein staff support children with additional learning needs (Students of Determination and those who have Gifts and Talents) to enable them to achieve their personal potential academically and socially, by recognising their individual differences, needs, strengths, weaknesses, experiences and interests. The school also ensures that children do not focus purely on the academic, but are offered the opportunity to develop other skills, offering over 40 extra curricular activities.
What about facilities?
According to the KHDA, "the premises, facilities and learning resources are of the highest quality; the school has specialist rooms including a computer suite, science laboratory, library, physical activity areas and new learning support bases." Premises are spacious, bright and extremely well maintained with wide corridors and additional large spaces.
Specialist indoor facilities include a stunning library with an extensive range of over 7,500 fiction, non-fiction and picture books as well as a study area and reading corner and two dedicated ICT suites equipped with PCs which are supported with two sets of iPads and a set of net books. Students are able to explore what it is to be a Programmer, and develop their understanding of what computing involves, rather than simply being a user of a product.
In terms of physical activities, a multi-purpose studio, fully equipped with a wooden sprung floor, ballet bars and mirrors is used for Dance and Performance activities. This is in addition to the Multi-Purpose Hall / Indoor Auditorium which is used for indoor sports and PE, including netball, basketball and gymnastics, to name but a few. This facility seats up to 334 people for school events and performances as well as for assemblies.
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Outdoor facilities include a 12 m x 10 m Training Pool / Learn to Swim Pool (fully shaded and heated/chilled), 25 m Swimming Pool (fully shaded and heated/chilled), a further shaded, outdoor, multi-purpose area that can be used for netball, tennis, basketball and fusbal, and Astroturf field suitable for multi-sports, and 5/6 aside football. There are also two suitably equipped outdoor play areas, one for Foundation pupils, and one for the Key Stage One pupils.
What the inspectors say
The 2018-19 KHDA annual inspection report again rated SBS as Good - the minimum expectation of the local regulator in terms of the standard that it wishes Dubai schools to achieve.
Given the clear correlation between Leadership and Management, and academic success, identified by the KHDA during their 10 year anniversary briefing in 2018, the inspection team evidently feels that this is an area of strength at SBS, stating that "Senior leaders are successfully engaging all with leadership responsibilities in the drive for school improvement. The governing body is becoming more rigorous in holding the school to account for its work. This is very good news in terms of the evident commitment of the leadership team, and the support of the Board, to the school and their desire for improvement.
Indeed, the inspection report summarises the strengths of the school as:
Further review of the DSIB inspection report indicates that if Safa British School taught at Primary level only, it would, in all likelihood, achieve the Very Good rating that the school is seeking. Students' achievement in the Primary section across the performance standards for English, Mathematics and Science, both for attainment and progress, are all rated Very Good. In the Foundation section, they are largely rated Good.
Unfortunately, in common with many international schools in Dubai, the greater area of challenge in terms of improvement is in relation to the Arabic-based subjects.
Here SBS has considerably more to do. Whilst Islamic Education improved to Good for progress and remained Acceptable for attainment in the previous inspection, Arabic as a first language remains Acceptable and as an additional language, attainment remains Weak, although progress remains Acceptable. No significant progress has been made over the past year to see any improvement in these ratings.
Inevitably, these subjects are a fundamental concern and focus for the regulator, and without clear improvement here, making a step up to a Very Good overall rating will remain a difficult one for SBS.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, on the other hand, are a clear strength at SBS - both indicators retained their Outstanding rating. However, staff will need to focus on improving students' understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures if this measure is to improve above its current Good rating.
Whilst Teaching for effective learning has retained the same ratings as a year ago across both Foundation and Primary sections, there has again clearly been improvement in the key measure of Assessment - at the heart of ensuring that teaching is meeting the needs of individual students, based on their individual abilities and achievement. This has been upgraded to Very Good in the current inspection round, having achieved Good a year ago.
In terms of the curriculum, again, the ratings have remained unchanged at Good. Curriculum adaptation to meet the needs of individual students has again been a focus for inspections, particularly in the context of students with additional learning needs or gifts and talents. This latter area had been identified as a relative weakness at SBS, although the specific indicator for the Provisions and Outcomes for students of Determination has again been rated Good.
Overall, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students is a clear strength of the school. Health and Safety, including Safeguarding, is Outstanding across the school, and ratings for Care and Support have improved to Very Good in both Foundation and Primary sections.
The KHDA increasingly recognises the absolute importance of the leadership and governance of schools in ensuring strong academic outcomes. This is an area where Safa British is clearly on the right track. Both the effectiveness of leadership and the management, staffing, facilities and resources of the school have again been rated Very Good this year, whilst the school's self-evaluation and improvement planning, remains Good.
Governance has seen its rating improve to Very Good as a result of the extension of the Governing Board to include a wider range of participants including parents, staff, external advisers and the owners, who view the school's work closely.
However, there is no doubting the absolute strength of SBS in terms of its relationship with parents and the community which is again rated Outstanding. As in the last year, where the inspection team acknowledged that the recommendations in the previous report are being successfully tackled by the school, this is also the case in the current report.
The key areas of focus for Safa British School have been clearly defined by the inspection team. SBS should:
At WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, we always recommend that parents look beyond the headline overall rating when considering the right school for their children. Although rated Good overall, there are clearly areas of real strength at SBS and an ever-improving journey in relation to the standards offered.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so - you will find it here.
Of the 175 parents who responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, 95% said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided, with "almost all satisfied with the quality of education provided. They express positive opinions about the range of provision for their children. Parents agree that leaders listen to them and take action accordingly."
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent survey bears out this view, with 40% of parents saying that their children enjoy going to school "quite a bit", compared with the national average of 33%, and 53% saying that their children enjoy it "a tremendous amount". However, in a reversal over the past year parents seem less happy with the school - 67% saying that they have considered moving their child to another school, compared with the national average of 38%. 80% of parents, however, are satisfied with the school's academic performance, whilst the remainder are partially satisfied. And despite the evident reservations expressed, 80% would recommend SBS to other parents.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Safa British School and would like to share your experiences with other potential members of your community, please complete our Survey here.
Safa British School prides itself on being one of 93 schools overseas to be found to be fully compliant with British educational standards. It is a member of British Schools Overseas, as well as of British Schools of the Middle East. Safa British School students tend to continue their education at Safa Community School located close to the Miracle Garden and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road.
However, in a major development announced by Safa British School in 2019, the school will be relocating again in 2020 to a brand new, purpose-built development on a site in the heart of Jumeirah - and, in fact, very close to its original home. The new school will also be a UK curriculum through school, enabling children currently within the Primary section to move seamlessly to Secondary, in line with sister school Safa Community School.
Fees at Al Safa British School for 2018-19 start at AED 27,389 for FS1, and move to AED 40.945 in year 6. An annual Book fee and Medical fee add approximately AED 1,900 to the total cost. Click here for full details of Safa British School tuition fees. Note, there is also a non-refundable registration fee of 500 AED.
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