At a glance
Victory Heights Primary School, located in Dubai Sports City, is a boutique British National Curriculum school that caters to the population around Victory Heights, although there are students from further afield. The current population of the school is just over 700 students, and the majority are British passport holders. 1 percent of students are Emirati and 4 percent of students are registered as SEND.
Read our recent School Visit Review HERE!
The majority of teachers are British passport holders and if they are not recruited from the UK, they are highly qualified, with the experience necessary to deliver the British National Curriculum. There are 43 teachers and 28 teaching assistants; the teacher to student ratio is 1:15 in the Primary and 1:10 in FS. The teacher turnover rate is 5 percent, which is low meaning that the majority of teachers stay at the school. This is important for continuity in curriculum and school development.
Overall, the KHDA report shows significant momentum across the board in students' attainment and progress. FS and Primary have improved in core subjects with English and maths being rated Good overall. As the report notes, "In the Foundation Stage (FS), attainment and progress in English, mathematics and science [are] good. In the primary phase, students' attainment and progress [are] good in English and mathematics... Students enjoy being in the school [and] they have very good attitudes toward learning."
The school's support of SEND students is also noted by the report as being a strength of the school. As the report explains, "Governors and senior leaders promote an inclusive ethos which was evident in most aspects across the school... The school work[s] closely with almost all parents in creating a quality learning environment for students with SEND."
Another strength of the school is the protection, care, guidance and support of students, which was found to be Very Good in almost all divisions. Health and safety, including arrangements for child protection / safeguarding are Very Good in both FS and Primary whilst care and support is Very Good in FS and Good in Primary. As the report finds, "Child protection and safeguarding arrangements were clearly stated and well understood. There [are] effective measures in place to protect students from abuse and bullying, including those via the internet and social media... All areas of the premises [are] well-maintained and hygienic... [and] the promotion of healthy living [is] a priority in the school program."
Care and support of the students is clearly an area that Victory Heights Primary School prioritizes. KHDA ranks this area as Very Good in FS and Good in the Primary, finding that the "relationships among teachers and students [are] very positive and create a calm and purposeful atmosphere throughout the school. Students [are] very polite and friendly in their interactions with the staff, with adults in general and with each other. Expectations for behaviour [are] clear and systems for managing inappropriate behaviour very effective."
Looking forward, areas for the school to improve are, as with many schools, Islamic Education and Arabic. Next steps, as the report notes, include, "ensur[ing] that students across the school have a clear understanding of Islamic values and broaden their awareness of Emirati and world cultures. "
Facilities at Victory Heights Primary School include a Foundation Stage Block that has been designed so that it is completely separate and self-contained from the rest of the primary school and a cluster design throughout the school where classrooms open out to a central indoor activity area.
Fees for Victory Heights Primary School start at 34,589 AED for FS 1 and rise to 47,167 AED for Year 6. These fees are exclusive of transport and school uniforms. The Application Fee and Assessment Fee is a combined 850 AED, the Medical Fee is 500 AED medical fee, and the enrolment fee is 7,000 AED. The Enrolment Fee is a non-refundable deposit which is deducted from a student's first term’s tuition fees.
Led by a dynamic, passionate, ambitious principal whose attention to detail is evident throughout, Victory Heights has quickly established a strong reputation and unique identity on the Dubai school scene. The learning environment is in parts strikingly attractive, a result of the dedication and teamwork of staff, pupils and parents.
First impressions of VHPS are of modern, two storey blocks surrounded by colourful triangular shades. The area around is fast-developing and the school will soon be surrounded by mainly residential tower blocks. Once inside the school, however, you are transformed into ‘an enchanted garden’ as one of our consultants termed it. The space seems to expand rather like Dr Who’s Tardis, as Principal Sacha Crabb described it.
Security at the gate guided us through to reception where we were soon greeted by Ms Christina Psarra, the school manager, to meet with Ms Crabb, who has been involved in the creation of the school from day one. We found her to be very smart, passionate about the school environment and community and thoroughly attentive to every detail. Originally studying drama and literacy at Chester University in Wales she moved on to teach, first in London then Cairo where she was later appointed head teacher of the international school.
Arriving to work on the new VHPS in 2013 she was able to set up the establishment and was involved in details all the way down to the school layout design and the colour schemes; she selected the British passport colours as a theme. We asked Ms Crabb what makes VHPS different. She felt that being community-based, it is special to the area. There is great creativity, a sense of staff ownership, good manners throughout and the sense that every element of the school has been carefully considered. Another particular aspect is that every child will have learned a confident, cursive hand-writing style by the time they leave the school.
In the future, Ms Crabb aims to sustain the progress of the school so far and develop links with the wider community in the form of more inter-school events. To date she believes the school has quickly built a good reputation by word-of-mouth and that the school is based on the ethos of ‘a happy family.’ She is also proud of staff commitment and retention.
Some of the biggest challenges are that it’s seen as being a standalone primary rather than part of a larger educational organization where a number of facilities can be shared.
The school’s approach to the child, she described, as ‘definitely holistic’ but that there are certain academic expectations. Ms Crabb feels that when any child is excited by a subject or topic then there will learning. The approach to homework is via an app and is on the ‘must/could/should’ set of suggestions. Parents are always informed if a child needs to do any extra work and there are always options to do expansion work for those who wish to do so.
The creative and performing arts are given massive attention here. Concerts, productions and exhibitions are always in the pipeline with the whole school involved wherever possible.
Students have worked on and performed a ‘happiness song’ for KHDA. There are peripatetic instrumental teachers available and a specialist art teacher. At this point when we visited, one of the main focuses is on innovation with an organic garden. They were in fact awaiting a visit from Mr Stephen Ritz, the educator and administrator from the U.S who’s developed the idea of allowing students to grow food in their own environment using vertical gardens. The idea of ‘ground to plate’ captures the process of planting a seed in the soil, tending, watering, reaping the harvest, cooking and serving.
To gain a place at VHPS there is an assessment rather than an entrance exam and it is age appropriate for FS1 children. Older pupils will be expected to demonstrate reasonable reading and writing skills. There is an open-door acceptance policy which means they welcome students with a range of different abilities. Realistically, according to Ms Crabb, ‘they aim to provide for children who they know will make progress, not merely survive.’
At this time there are no scholarships available but maybe in the future. So far at the Year 6 level, the TIMMS scores have been exceptional and pupils usually head to either DC, JESS, DESC, DBS, Jebel Ali or Safa secondary schools. Staff are recruited either from the UK or from Dubai. At present the balance is about 28 female to 12 male and so far staff turnover has been low.
Staff qualifications are either BEd or other degree with PGCE and Ms Crabb believes she has a high caliber of teachers. Secondary specialists have been selected to head both the English and IT departments. INSET or professional development is seen as important and is research related, focusing on critical thinking. This has developed organically within the school.
Our full school tour was to follow and Ms Crabb seemed excited for us to explore the campus. The outside of the buildings are fairly clean and simple but the inside has become a very busy and attractive haven. Corridors are light due to high skylight windows, making the school bright and really colourful. Quotes are used in a lot of spaces with inspiring words such as: ‘You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.’
Classrooms are very spacious and beautifully decorated with a whole variety of children’s work on display. The many large open areas have been transformed into wonderfully creative spaces on various themes. We saw many displays and dens which recreated jungles, space travel, butterfly gardens and magical gardens with unicorns. Walls of hand-painted tiles by the children were of cheeky self-portraits or bright colourful patterns.
The large multi-purpose hall has a light wooden floor and abundant play equipment for PE, dance and movement lessons. The outdoor climbing frames are shaded and include a toy construction site, wendy house, a sandpit and water play areas. A lovely neat, but welcoming library has some fun and attractive murals painted by the art teacher.
The art room is appropriately fun looking, well-equipped and colourful. The music department is spacious and ready for action with drums and other instruments at hand. One large classroom is open plan but split into a specialist science area on one side and home economics on the other. The IT suite we saw looked very well set up and equipped. We admired the outdoor organic plants that the children had grown. There is also a lovely outdoor sports pitch and a beautiful indoor swimming pool. Overall it feels like quite a magical environment for play and imagination.
Our next interview was with some of the students themselves. We met Alex, Ethan, Danny and Lois who were leaders in the school council and all in Year 6. They were very enthusiastic about the school and appreciate all that is on offer for them. We asked them what was special about VHPS and it was unanimous that they had the best Head in Dubai! They spoke of how the school was unique and special with amazing staff and happy pupils. They described the staff-pupil relationships as open, caring and really friendly. They thought the workload in class was quite hard and they felt challenged but that teachers explained things really well. Small class size was appreciated as the lower numbers mean more individual attention.
When asked if there were areas where the school should improve they spoke of wanting a secondary added so they didn’t have to leave after year 6. They felt the student culture was a bit competitive but that children readily helped each other out and they saw no hint of any bullying.
This team, as the school council leaders, are joined by at least two reps per class when they have a full meeting. As a council they felt they had access to leadership and that their opinions were taken seriously.
A cafeteria is available on site for the community which the children described as ok but the menu’s a bit grown up. However most pupils bring their own snackbox from day-to-day. These boys and girls viewed the school uniform as comfortable, cool and convenient and it’s a bonus that the uniform shop is onsite.
School trips were thought to be good ranging from a residential trip to Umm Al Quwain marine club to the new Dubai opera house to see the rehearsal of La Boheme. School events and experiences have also been varied and appreciated from shows, productions, visits to the LitFest, Queen’s Birthday celebration, sports day etc. The last day of the summer term is always remembered when they say a special farewell to the leaving Year 6 who get a great send-off.
The students are happy with the range of ECAs on offer from sports to dance to debating and many more activities. They were proud to take part in the BSME games for the first time this year. There is a no mobile phone policy for children here but Chrome books are widely used in lessons with the option for children to bring in their own.
Students have taken part in several wider community events such as the clean up the world scheme. They’ve made a recycling video and joined in the shoebox appeal for local construction workers. Finally when asked to describe the school to prospective students they chose to re-emphasise how friendly and welcoming it was.
To complete our visit we were able to ask a school parent some questions. Margaret has a child in Years 2 and in Year 4 and chose VHPS on a recommendation from a friend. On visiting she felt immediately comfortable with her choice and didn’t look at any other schools. What most impressed her then was the small size of the establishment and she has been further impressed by the fact that growth in numbers hasn’t resulted in any adverse impact.
Margaret feels the biggest challenge for VHPS is keeping up with the competition when it comes to secondary level as there is quite a bit of anxiety among the parents as to where students go next. School fees she considered to be about average but uniforms quite expensive although the quality is good.
As a parent, drop-off and pick-up times are always a bit hectic as there is little parking outside. Staggered timing of year groups has, however, helped. There is bus service available for those who need it. Each class within the school appoints a parent rep who communicates via WhatsApp.There are two Parent’s evenings a year which are well run and parents receive two school reports each year.
Parents organize social events, coffee mornings and leaving dos so there is a friendly community feel. Learning support is close at hand for pupils who require a bit extra and shadow teachers are available. Margaret feels that education here is as good as in the UK (her home country) but feels that sport, especially swimming is way ahead.
Finally she described the school as a small but growing community. It runs the British curriculum but with the bonus of Arabic and Spanish which are strong. She appreciated that overall the school ‘delivers on its promises.’
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