Safa Community School opened on its site near Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road (opposite Motor City) in September 2014 and has grown rapidly to offer from FS to Year 13. The school has been rated Very Good by the KHDA in its last two inspections and was rated Outstanding by British Schools Overseas in its inspection in 2022.
Safa Community School (SCS), a sister to the established Safa British School, opened on a brand new site near Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road (opposite Motor City) in September 2014. Given that the school only received approval to commence construction the previous May, it did remarkably well to open two teaching blocks on-time. In September 2017, the school added its current Secondary block on what is a deceptively large site. And in May 2021, the school announced the development of its Senior block which will be ready for occupancy in September 2022. Further details here.
Safa Community School has grown rapidly since its opening and now has over 2,060 students at the site, considerably up over previous years. This has been driven in large part by significant growth in the Secondary school.
It is notable that for a school that has developed so quickly, it has been able to manage the process exceptionally well, not only achieving a Good rating in its first KHDA inspection in 2016-17, but having improved to the second-highest level of Very Good in 2017-18, the rating it retained for the 2018-19 inspection.
And in February 2022, in order in part to address the lack of KHDA inspections during the pandemic period and the decision by the regulator to no longer publish inspections annually for schools rated Very Good or Outstanding, Safa Community School arranged a voluntary inspection by British Schools Overseas, for which it received the highest Outstanding rating.
The BSO 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.
Feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's Parent Survey (from close to 160 parents) has been very positive. Over 9 in 10 parents (91%) would definitely recommend SCS to other parents with a further 5% not quite decided. Recent comments which are reflective of those of many respondents include:
"Safa Community School is exactly what it says on the tin; a community school with a wonderfully welcoming feel for students and parents alike, despite the challenges Covid has brought over the last 18 months. The staff's main aim is that the students are happy in school so they will learn happily in order for them to achieve their potential. Along with the curriculum provision they also provide sibling clubs and an ECA programme at no extra charge."
"Safa community school has the most welcoming feel I have ever felt. You feel your a part of your child’s school journey academically, emotionally and with all individual goals and targets set out for your child. My son never wants to miss a day at school. The teachers and admin are all so helpful and always ready to listen and guide."
The school student cohort is made up of UK and Irish passport holders as the largest contingent, but as with almost all Dubai schools, children from a wide range of 77 nationalities attend the school.
The school is recognised for its inclusive policy towards children of determination, and also those with gifts and talents.
There are between six and nine classes in each year group, with an average of 16-24 children per class - 24 is the maximum. There is an even split between boys and girls who are educated together throughout the school.
The school is led by now Principal Leanne Fridd, who joined SCS in 2016 undertaking the role of Headteacher and Vice Principal, following her role as Head of Learning and Teacher Innovation at the (now closed) GEMS Wellington Primary School (her first UAE role). Mrs. Fridd has grown with Safa Community School and is therefore uniquely placed to lead its further growth and development.
Staffing numbers have also grown significantly in line with the growth of the school which is open from FS1 to Year 13. The 162 teachers are predominantly from the UK, and are assisted by a further 93 teaching assistants (including 22 within the Inclusion Department), and two guidance counsellors. Almost all teachers are UK qualified and the majority have already gained experience in Dubai at other schools. The teaching team is said to be 'Very well dispersed age range of teachers with a good gender balance'. Approximately 30% have some additional leadership responsibility. SCS spends approximately 8% of its budget on Professional Development annually.
The teacher to student ratio of 1:12 is what we would expect in a school of this type and fee level. It seems that teachers are content with their employment - a staff turnover of only 3% is around a seventh of the going rate for international schools in the UAE who average turnover of 20-22% each year. Particularly for a still growing school, a high level of stability can only be a good thing.
More: Read the Safa Community School Q and A here
Like the original Safa British School, Safa Community School offers the English National Curriculum, utilising the latest updated Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum in FS, the National Curriculum for England from Years 1 to 9, and follows with iGCSE and GCSE for years 10 and 11. The first cohort of iGCSE/GCSE students completed their exams in June 2019. The school opened its Sixth Form (for year 12 initially, followed by year 13 in 2020) offering International A Levels and A Levels and BTEC national qualifications, in 2019.
The first cohort of IA/A Level and BTEC students completed their examinations in June 2021.
The school is offering a wide range of A Level options, and whilst recommending that most students study three subjects, there is the possibility of studying a fourth for particularly academically strong students.
The school has a unique approach to the choice of subject options available to students. Unlike most schools who choose the subjects that will be taught based on their expectations of students' interests and abilities, but also on minimum student numbers around which staffing is determined, SCS first allows its students to choose the subjects that they wish to pursue, and then aims to offer all - with timetabling and resourcing taking second place to the students' wishes. This means that some subjects may have only one or two students. In the current year, 37 students are studying 20 subjects.
A Level options include: Art and Design, Business Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Design and Technology (Product Design), English Literature, Geography, History, Mathematics, Physical Education, Physics, Psychology, Drama and Theatre Studies, French, Economics, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Further Mathematics, Music, and Politics. Arabic is available to Arabic A students only and is a compulsory subject in line with KHDA and MOE regulations. The school also hopes to be able to offer Astronomy, Government and Politics and Sociology in the near future.
Unique curriculum options currently include Contemporary Design from Year 7 students and at GCSE, the REACH programme in Year 12 and Work Experience for all Year 10 students.
The BTEC national qualification is a vocational course that is the equivalent of up to 3 A levels. It provides a specialist work-related programme of study that covers the key knowledge and practical skills. It offers flexibility and a choice of emphasis through the specialist units. SCS offers BTEC qualifications in Business Studies, Information Technology, and Sports Level 3.
Whilst inevitably, there has been considerable focus on the launch of the new Sixth Form, other sections of the school have not been forgotten. And with the apparent intention to broaden the range of GCSE, A Level and BTEC options of the Senior School, including Years 10 and 11 and Sixth Form, the new Senior Building is designed to facilitate this expansion.
In an effort to provide greater flexibility for parents of the youngest students, SCS has introduced a number of variations on timings for FS1 children. Flexi-FS1 provides parents with the option of easing their children slowly, with more flexibility, into the overall school experience.
Children may continue to use the current 5-day a week FS1 option, as before, with no changes to timings; otherwise they may choose a 3-day or 4-day option in the first two terms (note that all children will need to attend 5 days in the final term as they prepare for FS2). Parents may also choose a longer drop-off period to suit those who want an early drop-off or a later drop-off or may arrange for their younger children to stay later in the day to suit work commitments or to fit in with sibling collection times.
In addition, to instil a love for languages, SCS has introduced more languages from Year 2. The foreign languages offered are French, Spanish, German and Mandarin. The languages are taught in a fun, child-friendly way incorporating songs, folk dances and other elements of language that children can easily relate to. These languages are offered at no additional cost and are incorporated as part of the overall curriculum. Mother tongue students of any other language are able to take GCSEs in their mother tongue.
In addition to the academic curriculum, SCS also looks after the well-being of its students through its Counselling team and also provides personalised careers advise for each student with an external careers consultant.
Currently the school offers 10 subjects at A level, 7 at AS level, 6 at BTEC Level 3 and 30 courses at GCSE. Students in Year 12 can also undertake the Extended Project Qualification. According to the BSO inspection, attainment is higher than UK averages. In 2021, most students obtained grades A* to B at A level and 100% obtained a distinction at BTEC Level 3. This represents outstanding progress, with students performing better than their prior attainment at GCSE would predict. The school also offers an ASDAN qualification for Students of Determination in Sixth Form.
BSO inspectors described SCS as 'resource rich', noting that appropriate, high-quality resources facilitate and enhance learning. Although the school operates a Bring Your Own Device policy, it has sufficient tablets to support families with distance learning.
The school also offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities and up to five international trips per year - with some 120 ECA's on offer of which 80% are free of charge. There is a wide range of extracurricular activities for Sixth formers including robotics, triathlon, bakery and the World Scholar Club.
One of the strengths of the original Safa British School is its support for children with learning difficulties (although it notes, children are subject to assessment) and the newer sister school continues to offer provision in this field with approximately 7% of students requiring SEND support.
According the BSO inspection, Safa Community School is an inclusive school that promotes equality. 12.7% of pupils are identified as having special learning needs, for whom it makes additional or special provision. For 38.9% of pupils, English is not the principal language.
In the 2018-19 KHDA report, the inspectors note that "support for students of Determination, and those who are more able and gifted, is Very Good." EAL provision is provided for students whose native language is not English.
SCS describes itself as 'Fully Inclusive, Non-Selective'.
According to the BSO inspection report, "Support for pupils with additional needs, including pupils with SEND, is outstanding. A highly experienced and dedicated inclusion team responds swiftly to concerns raised by staff with a rigorous programme of identification followed by a comprehensive package of support for individual pupils. Support in class is highly effective. As a result, pupils with additional needs make very good progress and attain well."
SCS uses a range of base-line assessments that have been designed by the internationally renowned CEM Centre at Durham University, England. All students are assessed every 6 weeks in the Secondary department and their progress against expectations is discussed between students and subject staff, with individual targets set.
Following on from the publication of 2019 and 2020 examination results, Safa Community School again published these for the 2020-21 academic year. As with the results for 2020, these were reached on the basis of Teacher/Centre Assessed Grades, based on assignments and predicted grades due to the cancellation of the examinations due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Safa's first cohort of A Level and BTEC students were entered for the exam session of June 2021. A small initial cohort of 14 students were entered for 44 examinations and achieved awards of A* for 13% of entries, 48% A*-A, 95% A*-C and 100% A*-E. The highest achievement by an individual student was 3 A Level awards at A*. BTEC students achieved a 100% pass rate at Distinction for Level 3 Business Studies.
Year 12 students who were entered for AS Level examinations achieved awards at 75% A*-B.
For the 2021 I/GCSE results, the school revealed that 76% of all the grades achieved in all subjects were graded at level 9-6 (A*/B) whilst the overall student pass rate at A*-C/9-4 was 84%. 77% of all I/GCSE subjects were awarded grades 9-6 and 1 in 5 students in the Year 11 cohort achieved ten or more GCSEs at grades 9-6.
In individual subjects, over a third of grades awarded in Mathematics were Grade 9, whilst 89% of grades were awarded at Grades 9-6 and 58% at Grades 9-7 for English.
In all Sciences (Chemistry, Physics and Biology) 100% of grades were 9-6, with Physics entries achieving 54% of all grades at Grade 9. Nearly 50% all grades in Arabic were Grade 9s, and 88% of grades were Grades 9-6.
Safa Community School also had Early entry students in Year 9 for Maths, and this cohort achieved 100% Grades 9-7. The Year 10 Early entry students achieved 100% Grade 9s. In addition, the cohort of Business students who were entered for their BTEC qualification achieved 25% of awards at Distinction and 63% at Merit.
With the first cohort of students having sat their I/GCSE exams in June 2019, we had hoped that these would be released publicly. Although this was not initially the case, we are delighted to see that SCS has been entirely transparent in publishing both the 2020 and 2019 results, enabling the strength of their students and teachers to be seen and celebrated. We would have appreciated knowing the number of students and exam entries for comparative purposes, but year on year improvements are clear.
In the 2020 iGCSE and GCSE results, which were based on assessment following the cancellation of all examinations as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, over 75% of GCSE examination entries in English, mathematics and science were awarded level 9-6 (the equivalent of A*-B). Students' grades were on average over two higher than expected at baseline assessment - representing a GCSE Value Added score of 2.02.
According to the BSO inspectors, the COVID-19 pandemic did not affect progress in the Sixth form as staff quickly organised distance learning, bubble days and virtual academic interventions. Until the pandemic curtailed the programme, Year 12 students benefited from work placements. Visitors from universities and the world of work continue to run face-to-face sessions in the school and students have attended virtual university open days. They have access to regular careers advice. They also receive guidance on university life abroad.
Safa Community School was initially housed in two oval-shaped Primary buildings which have been very carefully designed to meet the needs of children, a central block - the Global Learning Centre - containing the library and sports facilities, together with the large original Secondary block. The new Senior school building will open in September 2022, with students from Years 9 to 13 moving to a spacious new environment.
The plot itself lies close to the very busy junction between Hessa Street and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road. Much has been done to improve the overall appearance of the area around Safa Community School is slowly being “greened” with hundreds of trees being planted, including the school site.
According to the BSO inspectors, the four school buildings are modern, light and well adapted to provide high-quality learning. The learning spaces are bright and of an appropriate size for the number of pupils in the class. They are adjacent to large breakout spaces, which provide opportunities for small group or individual learning. Each phase in the school has a range of appropriate specialist learning spaces, where specialist equipment is accessible.
The architect was a US/Indian based practice, Fielding Nair, that has designed numerous schools in the US and India. The Primary buildings feature very light open classrooms (windows are on both sides opening to the outside area and to an internal central area that runs from front to back of the building). Purpose built furniture has been provided for the children of varying ages and special “soft” flooring used. The class-rooms are well resourced, as is the outdoor area where wood has been used for play equipment rather than plastic materials wherever possible. The central resource area for teachers and assistants is also a glassed area, which enables staff to keep an additional eye on children using the central area.
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Every classroom has access to the outside area – either a patio area on the ground floor, or a balcony area on the upper two floors. One building is higher than the other by one floor, and this features a very large external area that can be used as an outdoor learning environment by older students.
The second stage of development was the Global Learning Centre which houses the Multi-functional Sports Hall with retractable seating, an Auditorium, Cafeteria, Drama and Dance Studios and a Theatre (again with retractable seating), Music practice rooms and a Library for Secondary students.
Beyond the buildings towards the rear of the site is a very large sports field (FIFA approved soccer size), a newly refurbished running track, and two outdoor covered swimming pools – one for Foundation students and the larger one for older children. The school has a sports hall, auditorium, and fitness suite. The outside environment, complete with the Safa Stream, is shaded. It provides opportunities for relaxed or active play.
The new Senior Secondary and Sixth Form building will mean that facilities at the school overall will be expanded to include four Libraries, five Computer Science labs, two STEAM Labs, six Design Technology Rooms, two Food Technology Rooms, 14 Science Labs, eight Art Rooms, seven Music Rooms, a Dance studio, and three Drama Rooms. An Auditorium seating 550 people will also be available together with the rare luxury of Underground Parking.
Sports facilities will include a 4G Rugby pitch with an inbuilt shock pad for full contact, two 25m swimming pools, two full size Sports Halls, four Netball Courts, two indoor Basketball Courts, a 7-aside football Astroturf field, Strength and conditions suites, a Crossfit outdoor conditioning zone.
A great deal of consideration has also been given to safe access to the school for parents and drivers and this is reflected in the planned parking arrangements, which will ensure that sufficient space and ease of safe access for children is provided.
The most recent inspection of Safa Community School by inspectors from British Schools Overseas took place in late January/early February 2022. We believe, therefore, that this takes precedence over the last KHDA inspection for which a report was issued in January 2019.
The 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 measured against a total of eight standards which include:
A rating of Outstanding, Good, Adequate, or Unsatisfactory is awarded to each of the four standards highlighted in bold.
Safa Community School achieved the Outstanding rating for each of the standards.
The first standard, that of the Quality of education, with each measure rated Outstanding:
Standard Two: Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development was rated Outstanding:
Standard Three: Welfare, health and safety of pupils - rated Outstanding:
Standard Four: Leadership and management - each measure was rated Outstanding:
The team at Safa Community School can feel exceptionally proud of their achievement.
Of course, as with any inspection, there are areas which can be improved. The BSO team made only recommendation that SCS take into account that:
"The school is expanding quickly with the opening of a new building planned for September 2022.Leaders should ensure that there is enough leadership capacity to manage the growth in pupil numbers so that the very high quality of education provided by the school is maintained."
Having achieved a 'Good' rating in its first KHDA inspection in 2016-17, Safa Community School had already achieved the minimum rating that all schools are targeted to achieve by the Dubai regulator. The improvement to Very Good in their second inspection, and the retention of this rating in the 2018-19 inspection, particularly given that the school is developing so rapidly, is a sign of immense commitment and progress on the part of the leadership of the school and its staff.
Following the decision announced by the KHDA in September 2019 that all school rated Very Good or Outstanding would no longer be inspected by the DSIB inspection team on an annual basis, the 2018-19 report remains the most recent. The most highly rated schools will now receive only an annual one day review visit, and no new inspection report will be issued unless there is a change in overall rating.
In the latest (2018-19) inspection report, the inspectors identified the strengths of the schools as follows:
In terms of student achievement, the vast majority of indicators for the three non-Arabic subjects are rated Very Good in terms of attainment and progress. Whilst English attainment remains Good across all sections of the school, and the same is true of Maths in the Foundation Stage, and Science in Primary and Secondary, progress is Very Good in all three subjects across all sections.
Islamic Studies, Arabic as a first language and Arabic as a second language tell a different story, with ratings of Acceptable across all indicators with the exception of progress in Islamic Education in the Primary section which had moved up to Good. The provision of the core Arabic subjects is an Achilles Heel for many international schools and one that Safa Community School will need to continue to address if it wishes to succeed in its journey to Outstanding.
All other key areas inspected by the DSIB team, however, generally reflect the school's Very Good rating. Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, teaching and assessment, curriculum, and the protection, care, guidance and support of students are now all rated Very Good, with Personal Development rated Outstanding across all three sections of the school. The understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures has moved up to Very Good. Health and safety, including Child Protection and safe-guarding is also now rated Outstanding across the school.
Most aspects of the leadership and management of the school were also rated Very Good. This may well be in strong part due to the day-to-day involvement of the owners of the school, whose own children attend. In fact, the relationship between the school, parents and the community have been rated Outstanding in the latest inspection, as have the management, staffing, facilities and resources.
Of course, there are areas of improvement on which Safa Community School will need to focus, at the same time ensuring that the school continues to improve across the board. One obvious effect of the rapid growth of SCS is that communication and coordination between the different sections of the school has led to working practices not being consistently coordinated or consistent.
The inspection team determined that SCS should:
Despite the challenges ahead for Safa Community School in addressing these areas, the school has made such significant improvements over the past two years, we can only expect that it will continue to improve in line with the Regulator's recommendations.
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report for Safa Community School - and we strongly advise that you do so in order to see the reasons behind the rating, you may find it here.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey continues to receive positive responses from parents. With close to 170 responses so far, parents have rated the school 4.3/5 - a positivity rating of 86%. 70% of their children enjoy going to school "a tremendous amount", and over 85% of parents are extremely positive about the level of academic performance at the school being fully satisfied in this regard. They are also similarly overwhelmingly satisfied with communication with the school and the feedback they receive. 82% of parents have never considered moving their child to another school, and over 9 in 10 parents (91%) would definitely recommend SCS to other parents.
If there is a niggle - and as is usually the case - 7% of parents disagree that the school's fees represent value for money (though this is half of the average of the UAE), although 44% feel that they definitely are value for money, and the remainder are largely convinced of this.
If you are parent, teacher or student at Safa Community School and would like to share your opinions with other potential members of your community, please do so by participating in our survey here.
The BSO inspection team noted that the school keeps parents very well informed about all aspects of school life. Information is disseminated using informal and formal channels. The school’s leaders gather the views of parents regularly and conduct large-scale surveys about all aspects of the school twice per year. In addition, when leaders are planning a change such as the timing of the school day, they use online surveys to collect and analyse the opinions of parents. Parents receive the results of surveys so that they understand the rationale behind decisions. Regular emails from teachers and leaders are the main means of communicating information.
Parents say that they receive just the right amount of information and that it is timely. Staff respond very quickly to messages from parents, whilst leaders and staff are very approachable and are available at the start and end of the day for informal discussions.
Parents believe that the school’s response to the Covid 19 pandemic has been excellent, with the move to online learning almost immediate. Written reports are very useful in informing parents of their child’s academic and social progress. Parents also appreciate the occasional communication of individual praise such as, ‘Your child did so well in PE today!’ A favourite of parents is the school’s electronic system for teachers and students to record and share what they have done during the school day.
According to the BSO report, on the rare occasions when parents may wish to make a formal complaint, this is usually resolved to the mutual agreement of the school and the parents. The policy is rarely used because of the high quality of communication and relationships between parents, leaders and staff. If a parent has a concern, staff respond quickly and effectively to ensure that the problem is resolved without delay.
The KHDA pre-inspection survey in 2018, which polled 548 parents, a near perfect 98% said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. A large majority of parents said that their children were happy and felt safe. They said that school leaders and staff listened to them and acted on their views. Most agreed they had access to all the information and support needed to help their children in their education. Parents were invariably positive about the support provided to students when they joined the school and as they moved through it.
184 students from SCS participated in the KHDA's 2017 Well-being survey. A large majority of students said that they felt safe, happy and optimistic. They persevered with their studies and enjoyed positive relationships with their teachers and peers. Their participation in sports was much higher than average across students in Dubai schools.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has long been impressed by Safa Community School. From the early days when we met the owners at the original Safa British school site in Al Safa (two friends and partners who really do live and breathe this school and its sister), to visiting SCS when it was still a construction site, to seeing the school open and welcoming its first students, we have believed that Safa Community School is something very special.
It really does aspire to live up to its name - 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.
With the focus on Safa Community School since its launch and further development of its facilities, outsiders may have thought that the original Safa British School was being overlooked. That is clearly not the case. Safa British School relocated in September 2020 to a new purpose-built site in Jumeirah, and has expanded to include a Secondary school. Parents from large sections of Dubai now have easy access to one of the two all-through Safa schools.
Fees are at the middle- to high-end for Dubai schools - ranging from AED 49,700 for FS1 and FS2 and rising to AED 81,656 for Year 13.
Safa Community 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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