Safa Community School, a sister to the established Safa British School (located between Safa Park and the Al Khail Road on Meydan Street), opened on its 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 time for September 2017, the school added its Secondary block on what is a deceptively large site.
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 Primary buildings which have been very carefully designed to meet the needs of children, together with the recently added Secondary block. The school has grown rapidly since its opening and now has over 1,150 students at the site, considerably up over the previous year. It is notable that for a school that is developing so quickly, it has been able to manage the process 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 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 will 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) 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 British 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 10 (having transferred Secondary students from Safa British School to the newer site). Safa British School is now a Primary only school.
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 sister school continues to offer provision in this field with approximately 7% of students requiring SEND support. In the 2017-18 KHDA report, the inspectors note that "the highly inclusive ethos is evident throughout the school. The leader of inclusion has vision and drive, which has resulted in improved provision and outcomes for students with SEND. Staff are well-qualified and experienced. Inclusion is represented well at governor and leadership levels".
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.
What the inspectors say
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, 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.
Indeed, the inspectors identified the strengths of the schools as "The very strong progress students make in English, mathematics and science; the very effective pastoral care system, which results in outstanding personal development; the assessment and evaluation systems that support swift modifications to the curriculum to meet the needs of all groups of students; and the strength of leadership at all levels, which is resulting in a highly inclusive school, very effective teaching and a strong promotion of National Agenda priorities".
In terms of student achievement, the vast majority of indicators for the three non-Arabic subjects are rated either Good or Very Good in terms of attainment and progress, with 9 of the 18 measures having improved in the past year. 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 attainment in Arabic as a second language which have moved up to Acceptable from Weak. The provision of the core Arabic subjects is an Achilles Heel for many international schools and one that Safa Community School will need 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 new rating. Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, teaching and assessment, curriculum, and the protection, care, guidance and support of students are predominantly rated Very Good, with Personal Development rated Outstanding across all three sections of the school. 19 of the 27 measures have improved from a year ago.
All 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. The KHDA report notes that "As a result of highly effective communication systems, parents are fully informed and appreciative of all aspects of school provision. They receive detailed information about their children's learning and achievements, including the development of thinking skills. A strong sense of partnership is evident, with parents, students and staff working closely together to contribute to and build a robust learning community. The owners promote, and are successful in establishing, a highly inclusive school with strong representation from the parents and the wider community. Governors hold leaders rigorously to account for all aspects of provision. Views of all members of the school community are frequently sought and responded to".
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. The actions defined by the inspectors are to: "Improve student achievements in Arabic and Islamic education by holding all senior and middle leaders to account for rapid improvements in attainment and progress; implementing a curriculum in every lesson that challenges every student and is adapted accurately to support their learning needs; ensuring all lessons are student centred and include the range of effective strategies evident in other subjects; and modifying the whole school learning environment to promote both Arabic literacy and Islamic culture". In addition the school must raise students’ attainment to match the progress made over time in all subjects and phases.
Despite the challenges ahead for Safa Community School in addressing these areas, the school has made such significant improvements over the past year, we can only expect that it will continue to improve in line with the Regulator's recommendations. The school's first group of GCSE students will also receive their results in Summer 2019; it will be very interesting to obtain an independent measure of the academic achievements of the school at that time.
Fees are at the middle- to high-end for Dubai schools - ranging from AED 48,962 for FS1 and rising to approximately AED 80,000 for Year 13 (based on approved fee increases over the next 2 years).
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