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 12 in the current academic year. In its third KHDA inspection, SCS achieved a Very Good rating for the second year in a row.
The story so far...
Safa Community School (SCS), 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 September 2017, the school added its Secondary block on what is a deceptively large site.
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 - currently located in Al Qouz, close to Safa Park - will relocate in September 2020 to a new site in Jumeirah, and will expand to include a Secondary school also. Parents from large sections of Dubai will then have easy access to one of the two all-through Safa schools.
Safa Community School has grown rapidly since its opening and now has over 1,500 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 relatively 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.
In 2018-19 the school student cohort was made up of UK passport holders as the largest contingent, but as with almost all Dubai schools, children from a wide range of nationalities attend the school. There are 33 Emirati children at SCS, and the school is recognised for its inclusive policy towards children of Determination and also those with gifts and talents. Some 10% of the student population includes children of the latter group.
The 137 teachers are predominantly from the UK, and are assisted by a further 93 teaching assistants, and two guidance counsellors. 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 11% is around half of the going rate for international schools in the UAE who average turnover of 20-22% each year. Particularly for a young school, a high level of stability can only be a good thing.
More: Read the Safa Community School Q and A here
What about the curriculum?
Like the original Safa British School, Safa Community School offers the English National Curriculum, utilising the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum in FS, the National Curriculum from Years 1 to 9, and follows with (i)GCSE for years 10 and 11. The first cohort of (i)GCSE students completed their exams in June 2019. The school opened its Sixth Form (for year 12 initially, to be followed by year 13 the following year) offering A Levels and BTEC national qualifications, in 2019. Scholarships are available for potential Sixth Form students - more details can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
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 in the 2019-20 academic year. 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 at the Foundation Stage (FS2). The foreign languages offered are French, Spanish and Arabic (already offered). The school is also considering the options of German, Mandarin and Urdu at Foundation Stage, subject to a minimum number of children registering interest in these languages. 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.
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. 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."
What about academic achievement?
With the first cohort of students having sat their I/GCSE exams in June 2019, we had hoped that the results would be available on the school's website for the start of the new academic year. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
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.
What about the facilities?
Safa Community School is 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 recently added, and extremely large Secondary block.
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.
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.
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, 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.
In the latest inspection, 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, you may find it here.
As noted by the inspection team, the relationship between the school, parents and the community is a particular strength of SCS. This is borne out by the KHDA pre-inspection survey in which 548 parents participated. 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.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey received also largely positive responses. Their children enjoy going to school "a tremendous amount", and parents are extremely positive about the level of academic performance at the school. They were also satisfied with communication with the school and the feedback they receive. 83% of parents have never considered moving their child to another school, and the same percentage would definitely recommend SCS to other parents. If there is a niggle - and as is usually the case - 14% of parents totally disagree that the school's fees represent value for money, although 38% feel that they definitely are value for money, and the remainder are partially convinced of this.
If you are parent, teacher or student at Safa Community School and would like to share your opinions with other readers, please do so by participating in our survey here.
What about the fees?
Fees are at the middle- to high-end for Dubai schools - ranging from AED 49,700 for FS1 and FS2 and rising to approximately AED 77,573 for Year 12. Year 13 fees are expected to be AED 81,656 when this year group opens in September 2020.
From September 2019, Safa Community School is offering a lifetime 50% scholarship on entire annual fees for Sixth Form (year 12 and 13) students who demonstrate academic excellence. Applications are welcomed from students with predicted IGCSE grades of 8 and above, especially, but not exclusively for Maths, English and Sciences for year 12 for the 2019-20 academic year. Applications may be made through the Head of Secondary at the school by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org (Mr. Michael Davies), with the subject Academic Scholarship.
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