At a glance
The area around Safa Community School is slowly being “greened” with hundreds of trees being planted around the entire area, including the school site.
More: Read the Safa Community School Q and A here
Safa Community School is housed in two oval-shaped buildings which have been very carefully designed to meet the needs of children. There are currently over 700 students at the site, considerably up over the previous year. Safa Community School is growing relatively quickly - but so far managing the process well.
The architect is a US/Indian based practice, Fielding Nair, that has designed numerous schools in the US and India. Both 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.
Read our most recent School Visit Review HERE!
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 will be used as an outdoor learning environment by older students. Although both the existing buildings are currently designated for Primary students, the larger one is being used by Secondary also, and it includes a Lab and Library dedicated to their use.
The next phase of development will be the Global Learning Centre which will house 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. There is also space for the development of a much larger Secondary school block between the current teaching blocks and Umm Suqeim Road, once this is required.
Beyond the two current buildings towards the rear of the site is a very large sports field (FIFA approved soccer size) and two outdoor covered swimming pools – one for Foundation students and the larger one for older children. These were ready for use by the end of the school's first term.
Like the original Safa School, Safa Community School follows the UK National curriculum and will offer GCSE and A Level studies in due course. It is currently open to year 9 (having transferred Secondary students from Safa School to the new site). Places are available in all year groups.
One of the strengths of the original Safa School is its support for children with learning difficulties (although it notes, children are subject to assessment) and the new school will continue to offer provision in this field.
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.
While too early for a comprehensive review on performance, teaching and results, what is clear is that the school has achieved a very warm and friendly environment for both children and parents in a very short period.
Fees are at the middle- to high-end for Dubai schools - ranging from 47,000 for FS1 and rising to 80,000 AED for Year 13. There is an annual AED 1,500 Medical fee, which we have not heard of being charged by other schools.
We were invited back to visit Safa Community School now that the next stage of its development is complete. Outdoor Sports fields are open and in frequent use, together with a the large swimming pool which is clearly popular. Whilst the new Secondary block is due for completion by May 2017 – so well ahead of its official opening in September - the Resources Centre, featuring many of the core facilities used by all year groups, is already up and running for the current academic year.
This building features a whole raft of new facilities designed to meet the requirements of students in both Primary and Secondary, as well as parents. Currently, some of the upper open plan Secondary library floor has been sectioned off into classrooms for secondary students, but will revert to the original design once these students move to their new building in September.
Further plans for improvement – this time to the external areas – are due to reach fruition by the end of December, when an oasis of 200 trees and 2,000 shrubs will be added.
Among the impressive new facilities within the Resources Centre are a Parent café, Auditorium and separate Dance studio - dance is compulsory from FS1 for all Primary students as an effective way of developing gross motor skills - and specialist teaching rooms such as Food Technology (taught from year 4), Design Technology (from year 3), Art (from year 4), ICT (from year 5) and the two libraries. STEM subjects are taught from year 6, together with a Core Science module, in specialist labs.
As a growing school, children studying in Secondary benefit from a very low staff to student ratio with between 15-18 students per class in general and a ratio of 1:6 in year 9 – currently the highest year group. The school currently has 120 academic staff including 42 in the Secondary School, in which the owners are already investing heavily. They have brought in key staff with Sixth Form, A Level and Careers Counselling experience – the foundation of an Outstanding school in terms of resources in the view of the owners. They have also invested in support from External consultants to ensure that there is a very strong focus on self-examination and development. All staff are observed teaching 7 times per year. An innovation team has been established, together with a Green Flag team, to encourage staff involvement and options for promotion across the academic team. The result of this has been that the school attracted 45 new staff this year, with a staff turnover of under 1%. The school no longer needs to advertise for staff – CV’s are sent to them.
The introduction of additional Secondary resources ahead of their requirement has benefitted both the Secondary and Primary Schools. Co-planning and mentoring by KS3 and KS4 staff means that GCSE skills are already being taught to students in Key Stage 3 (years 7, 8 and 9), whilst student-led teaching by Secondary staff in Years 5 and 6 for Science and English allows for smaller, more focused groups. The school aims to foster qualities of communication, collaboration and critical thinking within the Secondary school particularly. The focus also extends to writing skills, which are moderated across the entire school.
The various programmes running at SCS do not stop there. The school is currently piloting a Dale Carnegie programme for self-development and presentation skills in years 5 to 9. It also offers one of the widest range of MFL programmes in Dubai with Arabic, French, Spanish, German, and Chinese taught from year 1. There is also mother-tongue teaching of French, Spanish and Italian which is generally parent-led. All Arabic staff at the school are fluent English teachers.
With all of the different subjects being offered, there might have been a risk that levels of attainment may not have been as closely monitored as necessary. This is definitely not the case. Assessment of Secondary students takes place 6 times per year, whilst in Primary, assessments take place 4 times per year. Baseline testing is done every year with CAT assessments for all year groups, as well as GL tests to assess Fiction and non-fiction reasoning and comprehension. Results of the baseline tests are shared with parents at the start of the academic year so that progress can clearly be seen.
As the Secondary school grows, the intention is to offer both IGCSE and GCSE as well as A Levels and also the IB Diploma programme – one of the first schools in Dubai to suggest that they will potentially offer both university entry programmes. The expectation is that there will be 5 form entry into Secondary and 7 form entry in Primary, reflecting the weight of younger students towards the bottom of the pyramid in Dubai schools. However, this is subject to change. Safa Community School positions itself alongside other local UK curriculum schools in terms of its academic targets and provides direct access - without assessment - to Secondary school for students from SCS, its sister, Safa British School, Victory Heights Primary School, Kings Al Barsha and Nord Anglia Dubai for those who may be seeking a smaller Secondary environment.
But one of the most impressive aspects of Safa Community School has less to do with academia and facilities and much more to do with ethos, which has been clearly established by the owners. Unusually for Dubai, they are very much involved on a day to day basis in the running of both schools – less from an academic perspective, but certainly in every other detail, from the atmosphere, ethos, physical structure, staffing and, particularly, development of the schools. Not only do their children attend Safa Community School, but the wife of one owner is a class representative. They have a very personal interest in ensuring that Safa Community School really does deliver on its commitments – for their sake of their own children, as well as the other 730+ students studying there.
The owners see the schools as a legacy for their children and want the school to be an outstanding, family-oriented Community school. And these are not just words. The owners have recently “adopted” two Syrian families – refugees from the war in their country. All 8 children will attend Safa Community or Safa British School for as long as they remain in Dubai – with the owners personally covering all of their costs.
The WSA Inspection, What happens when we Just Walk In...
Date of JWI: 9th December 2015
A very exciting, forward-looking community school in an excellent location, this school has a lovely welcoming feel with highly motivated and enthusiastic staff throughout. As a new school you would expect it to have good equipment but the standard here was well above that. SCS is led by a dynamic Principal who also teaches. The specialist departments are standout.
The school is located directly beside the Dubai Miracle Garden on Umm Suqeim Street close to Arabian Ranches. The building is still very new and work is ongoing within the grounds. A new block is being built directly behind which will house the new secondary school. There is an efficient and alert security office at the gate where visitors must leave picture ID. The receptionist was great - warm and experienced and when we arrived was engaging in animated discussion with a group of children, parents and teachers.
We were shown to the waiting area where there was self-serve tea and coffee. The Registrar, Sally Ryecroft, greeted us and explained that we could join a guided tour led by the Principal, Stephen Duckitt. The school has a light, open interior and the building is in white curved layers creating the curious effect of being on an ocean liner.
There is plenty of well-kept play equipment in the outside areas which are shaded. The school also has several mini-assault courses around the campus on wood chippings. The excellent wooden play and climbing equipment is used by the school, according to the registrar, to improve motor skills.
There are three floors in the main block of the school and each floor has staff rooms in the centre with glass windows so that teachers can keep a close eye on what’s happening around them. They describe their learning areas as ‘pods’ and all open areas have 12 computers for the children to use. The school also has a self-contained IT suite with a further 24 computers.
There looks to be an adequate learning support department which supports the classroom teaching throughout the school. There are many specialist areas such as design technology (some superb high tech equipment), art and textiles as well as a 3D area which has sewing machines, a potters wheel and kiln. There are specialists who are trained in these areas.
There is also a specialist music room which was very well appointed with a great selection of instruments including ukuleles! We were very impressed by the food technology suite which has working stations and stoves where children learn how to make healthy meals for themselves. Unfortunately we missed out on the cup cakes which they baked that morning and which were apparently superb!
The science department is beautifully equipped with octagonal tables. We were also invited to view the Olympic size swimming pool along with a smaller training pool for the smaller children.
The school has 26 teachers so far and it offers teaching in Arabic, English, French, German, Mandarin and Spanish. That's impressive.
There are lovely wooden storage cupboards with colour coded boxes for the children’s belongings. Every classroom has an interactive whiteboard and a library. The colour scheme throughout the school is bright, complementary colours of lime green and purple and this theme follows through across the floors. The chairs in the classroom are a striking pink colour.
The school uniform is a striped purple and white shirt or blouse with navy shorts or skorts and looked to be of good quality. Its uniform supplier is Sumaru in the J3 Mall opposite Choithrams on the Wasl Road.
The children attending are currently around 95% expat, around 42% of whom are from the UK and the rest are from a mix of nationalities. The Golden Gate nursery off Umm Suqeim Street is at present their feeder nursery.
The school is right by the road and is clearly visible to anyone travelling on Umm Suqeim Street but the rooms are thoroughly soundproofed. However, outside you can hear the road and the nearby construction work.
In 2017 the new secondary school should be finished which it proudly describes as ‘A Global Learning Centre’. This will house a theatre, library and other facilities.
The school is fortunate to have a vegetable patch which was voluntarily put in place by one of the parents. This is used for what the school terms ‘non-traditional education’.
The Principal mentioned that the school is actively pursuing BSO accreditation and he himself has an Ofsted background from the UK. He was very excited that the school will soon be appointing newly qualified teachers (NQTs). Overall he was a very enthusiastic advocate for a community school.
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