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.
Safa British School has again been rated Good for the seventh year in a row in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full reports have been published.
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.
Safa British School is currently attended by 765 students between the ages of three and 11 years (a drop of around 90 since the previous academic year, reflective of the outward relocation of families over the past two years). The school has again been rated Good by the KHDA for 2017-18, for the fifth 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% of students have been identified as having some form of Special Educational Need (SEN).
The school has a teacher to student ratio of 1:17. In addition to SBS's 52 teachers, a large number of teaching assistants (31 in 2017/18) 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 in 2017-18 on its second inspection) has resulted in some more recent staff changes, including the departure of its Principal, Mr. Dan Sutton, in the current academic year (who had been at the school for a little over one year) and who has been replaced by Ms. Zara Harrington. The most recent KHDA inspection took place in October 2017, prior to the departure of Mr. Sutton.
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. In 2014/15 turnover ran at 20%. 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 recent appointment of Ms. Harrington as the new 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 schools leaders state 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.
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 2017-18 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 "The vision promoted by the principal is clear and effectively shared with the whole school community. It is well-supported by a dedicated and energetic senior and middle leadership team, focused on driving up standards. The board of governors includes an enthusiastic range of stakeholders. Collectively they provide strong support to the school’s leadership, notably in terms of improving resources." This is very good news in terms of the evident commitment of the leadership team to the school and their desire for improvement.
Indeed, the inspection report summarises the strengths of the school as:
Students' achievement in terms of their attainment and progress in the core English-based subjects (English, Maths and Science) are adjudged to be Good in the Foundation Stage - an improvement in attainment in both English and Maths, and against both key measures in Science - and Very Good for English progress and for attainment and progress in both Maths and Science in the Primary school section. This is a very positive step forward.
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 has improved to Good for progress and remained Acceptable for attainment, Arabic as a first language remains Acceptable and as an additional language, attainment remains Weak, although there has been an improvement in progress to Acceptable. 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 are measured as Outstanding, the highest rating achievable. Inspectors commented that "Students’ personal development is outstanding in both phases of the school. Children and students are cheerful, positive, and confident and take pride in being active members of the school community. They are enthusiastic to develop their understanding of Islamic values and respond well to innovative and challenging tasks. Learning technologies are used well throughout the school." 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.
Somewhat reflective of the Student Attainment, both Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum are rated Good across all four key measures. 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 Good in the current inspection round. Indeed, the inspectors commented that "the outcomes for teaching are good and improving overall. The teaching of upper primary phase English, mathematics and science is consistently strong. Assessment has improved in both phases. More emphasis is being placed on the effective use of data analyses to underpin high quality differentiation in lessons in order to meet all children’s and students’ individual needs."
In terms of the curriculum, inspectors also acknowledged that "the curriculum is good in both phases and teachers are developing adaptations to meet the needs of all groups of students. There is increasing emphasis on inter-disciplinary, enquiry-based learning supports continuity and progression." 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 has been identified as a relative weakness at SBS, though in the current report, inspectors noted that "the curriculum offers a range of opportunities to motivate most students, for example, reluctant readers with the Reading Dogs programme. Extra-curricular activities foster creativity and enhance students’ personal development. The STEAM programme has significantly increased the innovative and enquiry nature of students' learning."
In regard to students with SEND, inspectors commented that "There is a clear and structured path for the development of inclusive education, fully supported by governors, and very ably championed by the SENCO." The involvement of a significant number of Learning Support Assistants is also contributing positively to the support of students with additional needs; "Learning Support Assistants provide increasingly valuable support in lessons and small groups where the curriculum is modified well to meet the needs of students with SEND." Since the introduction of the Inclusive Education policy by the KHDA in late 2017, this will be another area of more specific focus going forward.
As mentioned earlier in this review, 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 been rated Very Good this year (an improvement for the first measure from a year ago), whilst the school's self-evaluation and improvement planning, together with governance, have both been rated Good (significant improvements from Acceptable last year). The inspection report notes that "Governors clearly articulate the school’s strengths and areas for development, and are dedicated to engaging in well-supported improvement actions. The strategic, advisory role of governance includes rigorously holding the professional leadership of the school to account for its performance. They support quality staff recruitment and professional development." It is to be hoped that this latter statement is now reflected in the staff turnover figures.
However, there is no doubting the absolute strength of SBS in terms of its relationship with parents and the community. Again rated Outstanding, the inspection team found that "Excellent parental engagement is at the heart of the school community. An ongoing programme of workshops enables most parents to help their children and improve their learning. A wide range of communications and the school’s ‘open door’ approach ensures parents are kept very well informed. Parents’ suggestions and concerns are taken seriously and responded to swiftly." Of the 307 parents who responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, 93% said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided, with "almost all parents who responded are positive overall about the quality of education provided. They feel their children enjoy school and are developing a range of skills, including an awareness of other cultures."
The main areas for improvement recommended by the inspection team are to:
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.
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent survey bears out this view, with 63% of parents saying that their children enjoy going to school "quite a bit", compared with the national average of 33%, and 37% saying that their children enjoy it "a tremendous amount". Parents also seem happy with the school - 88% saying that they have not considered moving their child to another school, compared with the national average of 38%. 75% of parents are also satisfied with the school's academic performance, whilst the remainder are partially satisfied. None are dissatisfied. An overwhelming 75% of parents also said that they would recommend SBS to other parents - none said that they would not.
Safa British School prides itself on being one of 93 schools abroad 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.
Fees at Al Safa British School for 2017-18 start at AED 26,834 for FS1, and move to AED 40.115 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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