Safa British School is opened in 2004. It is a sister school to the KHDA "Very Good"-rated Safa Community School which opened ten years later. In 2020, SBS relocated to a brand new campus in Jumeirah and expanded to Secondary for the 2020-21 academic year. The school was awarded a Very Good rating by the KHDA just prior to the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020. In March 2022, the school received an Outstanding rating from the British Schools Overseas inspectorate,
Located in the heart of Al Safa, Safa British School (SBS), is an English National Curriculum school. It 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.
And this doesn't seem to be just the opinion of the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team! Respondents to our School Survey are highly positive in their comments. Recent parent feedback has included the following remarks which are typical of many:
"Kids are always happy - Excellent facilities - Kids are very confident - Academically significantly improved - Most teachers and staff are very attentive and very friendly"
"The school has helped my son to blossom into a confident boy."
"Excellent leadership and very good teaching staff. Extra co-curricular activities round the year really help in the overall development of my daughter."
It is not only parents who think highly of Safa British School as the following comments from teachers show. We found it impossible to select one or two that reflected the positive feedback from the school's staff.
"SBS is an incredible place to work. It is a home away from home. The moment you walk into reception, you feel a warmth that is hard to describe. In SBS, everyone is friendly and happy, people are valued. There is a special feeling of community, family and mutual respect. When work doesn't feel like work, you know you have hit the jackpot!"
"Safa is like family! You will be well supported, treated respectfully as a professional and will come to work with a smile on your face each day. From the children to the management to the support staff on site, everyone here makes it the incredible place that it is."
"Very good community feel. Wellbeing and happiness of the students is priority. Salary / Packages are not very high. However, job satisfaction makes me want to stay."
But the most impressive recommendation that we received was this one:
"I am a parent and usually when you work somewhere you realise the weak point or the hidden bad things in it, but when I joined Safa I am so proud that my kids are learning in this school and raising in such a community, boosting the kids' confidence and skills every single day!"
Read all about how parents view Safa British School in The Buzz.
In addition to the BSO Outstanding rating, SBS also received another award in 2022. This was the (highest rated) Gold SMSC Quality Mark - the first school outside the UK to achieve this award. The award for the quality of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education is highly regarded by education regulators in the UAE as well as OFSTED, the UK Department of Education regulator.
The SMSC inspector commented, "The school is a micro-world of languages and nationalities, and it was wonderful to hear and see how these are all embraced, celebrated and shared. The students are eloquent, confident, honest and a delight to speak to."
The 2020-21 academic year was an incredibly busy and important year in the life of Safa British School.
In September 2020, SBS relocated back to its roots in Al Safa (having previously been located in Al Quoz and before that, in a small campus in Al Safa), and opened an all-through school on a brand new purpose-built site. The school currently offers places from FS1 to Year 9, and will expand each year until reaching Year 13.
See early glimpses of the new school in our Hard Hat Tour.
Just in time for this step, SBS was awarded the KHDA's Very Good rating in the 2019-20 DSIB inspection round, joining sister Safa Community School as one of the 36 schools in Dubai to have achieved the KHDA's second highest rating. The full report can be found here.
Having made the step up to Very Good, the second highest available rating, in March 2022, Safa British School (together with its sister school) voluntarily submitted to an inspection by a team from British Schools Overseas.
With no KHDA inspection after March 2020, and a decision by the Dubai regulator to no longer carry out full inspections (and report on the one day inspections that have taken their place) for schools rated Very Good or Outstanding, SBS clearly wanted to ensure that it was maintaining and improving its already Very Good standards and to share the details with parents and the wider community.
This inspection report follows the English Department for Education (DfE) Schedule for the inspection of British schools overseas. To be recognised by the Department for Education, a British School Overseas must have an inspection report which shows that their performance against all the standards is at least satisfactory. This reflects the standards required for continuing registration as a school in England. Schools are inspected based on eight inspection standards, resulting in an overall rating, together with four individual ratings for four key standards. Ratings may be Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory or Inadequate. SBS was rated Outstanding overall and in the four rated Standards, and met all the BSO requirements for the remaining four standards.
A full review of the inspection outcome can be found under What the Inspectors say. The full inspection report can be found here.
Safa British School is now attended by over 1,400 students between the ages of three and 14 years. This is more than double the number of students from early 2020 when the last KHDA inspection took place. The secondary phase opened in September 2019 and now has pupils from Years 7 to 9. 18 new members of teaching staff joined the school in September 2021 and a further 10 have been appointed for September 2022.
The majority of students are Arab (29%), Asian (18%) and British (12%). Overall, there are 78 different nationalities represented in the school population. A majority of pupils do not have English as their first language.
The school is led by Principal, Ms. Zara Harrington who joined the school in 2017-18. Zara is supported by Head of Primary, Louise McGeever and Head of Secondary, Brian Horwell. Mr Horwell was previously Secondary Headteacher at the very successful Dubai British School.
In addition to SBS's 90 teachers, a large number of teaching assistants (30 in 2019-20) support the children. Teachers are mostly recruited from the UK. With a teacher to student ratio of 1:12, class sizes are on average 24, which is also the maximum class size at the school. There are generally four classes per year group.
Get the full Safa British experience! Click here for the WSA Safa British School visit.
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”.
Its Mission statement is:
Juxtaposed, unusually in our experience, against the school's Vision and Mission, the Principal's Message provides the Mission for Safa British School's 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 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.
SBS offers the National Curriculum for England, together with the requirements of the Ministry of Education in regard to the teaching of Arabic, and Islamic Studies. Children in the Early Years follow the latest updated version Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.
According to the BSO inspectors, in the early years, "children enter with skills below what is typical for their age. From low starting points, they make rapid progress. Provision in EYFS is extremely responsive to children’s needs. By the time they reach Year 6 pupils attain well above UK standards. The diverse curriculum, including the Bridge provision, an alternative education option for pupils with developmental delay, the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN), GCSE and BTEC options, ensures that pupils are [and will be] ably supported in continuing their education in prestigious institutions, regionally and internationally."
SBS explains that the central aim of the curriculum is to work in collaboration with families and the local community to provide opportunities for all students to learn and to achieve; to promote students’ moral, social and cultural development and prepare all students for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life.
Through a well-planned and organised curriculum, effectively taught by qualified and enthusiastic teachers, pupils are helped to:
Students follow the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum in FS1 and FS2, learning by playing, observing, experimenting, taking risks, questioning, repeating and talking. The teaching and learning pedagogy adopted is one that is structured to accommodate the vital teaching of phonics, reading/writing and numbers. The curriculum is planned in seven areas of learning and development: Communication and language, Physical development, Personal, social and emotional development, Literacy development, Mathematics, Understanding the world,and Expressive arts and design. All areas are important and inter-connected.
From the Foundation Stage, students move on to the Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) curricula. KS1 comprises of two years of schooling, (Years 1 and 2), when students are aged between 5 and 7 years and forms the first part of primary education. Key Stage 2 is the four years of schooling from Years 3 to 6, when students are aged between 7 and 11. Lower KS2, (Years 3 and 4), transitions children from lower to upper primary school. Upper KS2, (Years 5 and 6), begins to prepare children for secondary education.
Subjects taught in Key stages One and Two include English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology, Geography and History, Design and Technology, Music, Art, Arabic (both as a first and second language), Islamic Studies (for Muslim students), PE and Sports, Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship, Drama and Sustainability.
The Key Stage 3 curriculum for students entering Secondary education is designed to address both the academic rigour needed at the secondary level as well as soft skills of the students. The academic curriculum is derived from the National Curriculum and incorporates significant UAE adaptation as well as cross references between subjects to ensure that the students not only learn the topics but put it in context of their day to day life. The soft skills curriculum is imparted through SBS's 'Learning Gears' framework.
The secondary curriculum is designed to provide an all-round education, combining academic excellence with a range of enrichment opportunities. It has been designed to develop independent learning, resilience and confidence and to provide students with immediate advantages in gaining places in top universities and, later on, in the workplace.
The broad curriculum continues to Year 9 in line with the English National Curriculum, after which the students will be supported as they make their GCSE/IGCSE course choices and follow a more specialised approach. Subjects will include English, Maths, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, Social Studies, Moral Education, French, Arabic, Islamic, Music, Drama, Art, Design and Technology, Computing, Physical Education.
The school also ensures that children do not focus purely on the academic, but are offered the opportunity to develop other skills, offering over 90 extra curricular activities ranging from Sports to Arts to Academic. 60 of these activities are free of charge.
For Secondary students, a full Enrichment programme is offered and students are encouraged to engage in sporting, creative and community-based activities
Safa British School is an inclusive school where students will be accepted with various levels of academic ability. Some 225 students of Determination have been identified as having some form of Special Educational Need (SEN). These students are supported by a specialist team of 5 teachers and 22 learning assistants.
According to the BSO inspectors, "the school proudly embraces an ethos of inclusivity, with well-established Link support to challenge, boost and support pupils."
The school has a comprehensive inclusion 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. At Primary level, the school offer the ASDAN curriculum, which has been designed to provide programmes for children with additional needs or disabilities.
According to the BSO inspectors, "Teachers assess pupils frequently. They expertly use the information gained to identify and address gaps in learning. As a result, late joiners, as well as those who have EAL and those with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), catch up very quickly with their peers and can successfully follow the same ambitious English curriculum. By Year 6, the high quality of interventions with SEND and/or EAL pupils ensures that they are achieving as well as their peers.
"The most gifted and able pupils benefit from modifications to the curriculum that both stretch and challenge them. Learning is an inclusive experience because teachers challenge all pupils effectively. Lessons are designed to ensure that pupils of all abilities make good progress. Activities and material are carefully chosen so that they meet individual needs. Highly skilled specialists give additional support to pupils with SEND. They modify the curriculum to allow individual pupils to make significant gains in their learning."
The school moved in to their new campus in October 2020. The new buildings are very attractive and the space has been cleverly utilised: a case in point that parents will appreciate...an underground car park for staff, which will free up valuable space during those busy morning and afternoon schools runs.
The new campus has helped the school to retain the feeling of 'home' that it had it in its previous location, albeit with some seriously upgraded facilities!
The campus offers extensive sporting facilities (including a cleverly designed indoor/outdoor pool, indoor sports hall, football pitches, basketball courts as well as rooftop courts for basketball, netball and more) as well as the entire new secondary phase. Performing Arts has been given a new home in the school's expansive new auditorium.
SBS is never going to be one of Dubai’s largest schools (eventual, all through (3-18), capacity will be around 1,300 students) the clever design has created an incredible feeling of space. Corridors are really smart shared spaces, with cleverly planned seating and break out study spaces. Throughout, Ms. Harrington and her team have chosen a muted palette of just four colours, creating an air of calm and cohesion throughout the school.
Get the full Safa British experience! Click here for the WSA Safa British School visit.
Having achieved the KHDA's Very Good rating in early 2020, and with the inspection process having reached a hiatus as a result of Covid 19 and the decision by the regulator to no longer publish the one day 'review' reports for schools rated Very Good or Outstanding, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was delighted to learn that SBS had voluntarily undertaken the BSO inspection.
It should be borne in mind that the focus of the inspectors is slightly different, given that their focus is on whether the inspected school meets the standards of the English Department for Education. In particular, inspectors do not 'inspect' the provision of the Ministry of Education's Arabic, Islamic Studies or Moral Education programmes as KHDA inspection team would.
The school was measured against eight standards, four of which are allotted an individual rating, in addition to the overall inspection rating. It achieved Outstanding in the overall rating and the four standards with individual ratings.
The following is a summary of the key outcomes of the 21 page report issued by the BSO team.
As with any inspection, there are always going to be areas of improvement. The BSO team noted that the school is expanding rapidly.
They noted that by 2022, "there will be pupils in key stage 4 and by 2024, students will be studying post-16. Leaders should ensure that appropriate staffing and resources are in place to extend the high-quality curriculum that is currently in place for pupils from EYFS to key stage 3."
If you would like to read the full BSO inspection report, you will find it here.
The 2019-20 KHDA annual inspection report rated SBS as Very Good after 7 years of having achieved the minimum targeted rating of Good. For any school that has consistently achieved a similar rating over such a long period to make the significant step up to the second highest rating is an achievement that should not be under-estimated.
Following the KHDA's announcement in September 2019 that schools rated Very Good or Outstanding will no longer receive a full inspection annually, but rather will participate in a one day 'review visit' unless there is a change in overall rating, there will be no further full inspection report issued.
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 inspirational, knowledgeable and committed. They know the school’s strengths and weaknesses, and address them suitably in the extensive development plan. Relationships throughout the school are very strong. Governors hold leaders to account for their actions. Partnerships with parents and the community are outstanding."
Indeed, the inspection report summarises the strengths of the school as:
In our review of the report for SBS a year ago, we commented 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." And indeed, our assessment has been borne out by the improved overall rating to Very Good this year, as a direct result of the improvements in Mathematics and Science in the Foundation Stage, see almost all ratings across the core subjects be rated Very Good. Importantly, there have been improvements in Arabic as a first and additional language, whilst attainment and progress in Islamic Education are rated Acceptable and Good respectively.
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. And students' understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures has improved to Very Good across the school.
Teaching for effective learning are also now rated Very Good across the school, as are the curriculum, assessment processes and their impact on adaptation to meet the needs of individual students, which has again been a focus for inspections, particularly in the context of students with additional learning needs or gifts and talents. The specific indicator for the Provision and Outcomes for students of Determination has been rated Very Good.
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 also improved to the highest rating across the school.
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 retained its Very Good rating 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.
And 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 Very Good overall, there are clearly areas of specific 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 in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent survey suggest that children (and parents) are very happy with their choice of school. With an overall rating of 4.4/5 (a positivity rating of 88%) from 64 respondents, 38% of parents say that their children enjoy going to school "quite a bit", and 57% say that their children enjoy it "a tremendous amount". A resounding of parents 78% have never given this a thought to moving their child to another school. 83% of parents are completely satisfied with the school's academic performance, whilst the majority of the remainder (15%) are partially satisfied. Communications and the school's disciplinary policy are clearly strengths. 92% of parents would recommend the school unreservedly whilst a further 5% were unsure if they would do so.
If there is a niggle, it is the perennial one of fees, with 51% saying that they do represent value for money, a further 45% saying that partially do so, and 4% saying that they do not.
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.
In some ways. the team at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com almost feels a sense of deja vue in relation to Safa British School. Much of the comments we have made in respect of its newer sister school, apply equally to the now much larger and improved version of the original of the original Safa school.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has long been impressed by Safa British School. From the early days when we met the owners at the original school site in Al Safa (two friends and partners who really do live and breathe this school and its sister), to visiting the 'new improved' SBS when it was still a construction site, to seeing the school open and welcoming its first students at the new site, we have believed that Safa British School is something very special.
It really does aspire to live up to its ambition- to be a genuine centre of the community for students, their families, staff, its owners and wider members. Whilst no one school will meet the demands and aspirations of everyone who chooses it, we do genuinely feel that this is a school that will do its very best for any one who does.
Tuition Fees at Al Safa British School for 2021-22 start at AED 32,000 for FS1, and move to AED 54,000 in Year 9. These fees are discounted against the KHDA approved fees and are offered under the terms of a Lifetime Discount, whereby parents registering for Sept’21 will continue to pay the discounted fees until their children finish Year 9, subject to only annual approved percentage increases. Fees for Year 10, which will open in September 2022, are AED 58,000. Click here for full details of Safa British School tuition fees. Note, there is also a non-refundable registration fee of AED 500 .
The school also offers a sibling discount of 15% for the third child onwards.
Safa British School is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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