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, Ms Crabb moved on to teach, first in London then in Cairo where she was later appointed Head Teacher of the international school.
Ms Crabb's stellar leadership has been recognised by our sister site, SchoolsCompared.com; she won their Top School Awards 2019 'Principal of the Year' award.
Arriving to work on the new VHPS in 2013 Ms Crabb was able to set up the establishment and was involved in details all the way down to the school layout, design and colour schemes; in fact, 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.
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 is seen as being a standalone primary rather than part of a larger educational organisation where a number of facilities can be shared.
Ms Crabb described the school’s approach to the child 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 community is involved wherever possible.
Students have worked on and performed a ‘happiness song’ for the KHDA. There are peripatetic instrumental teachers available and a specialist art teacher. At the point when we visited, one of the main focuses was on innovation with an organic garden in the pipeline. The team were awaiting a visit from Mr Stephen Ritz, the educator and administrator from the U.S who has 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 this may change in the future. So far, at the Year 6 level, the TIMMS scores have been exceptional and pupils usually head to either Dubai College, JESS, DESC, Dubai British School, Jebel Ali or Safa Community School for secondary.
Staff qualifications are either B'Ed or other degree with PGCE. 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 very 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 Teacher in Dubai!
The students 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 well. Small class size were 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 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'. However most pupils bring their own snack box for day-to-day. These boys and girls viewed the school uniform as comfortable, cool and convenient and it’s a bonus for parents that the uniform shop is onsite.
School trips were thought to be good, ranging from a residential trip to Umm Al Quwain to Dubai Opera house to see a 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 have made a recycling video and joined in the shoebox appeal for local construction workers.
Finally, when asked to describe the school to prospective students our student panel chose to re-emphasise how friendly and welcoming it is.
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 she felt 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 organise 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 felt that overall the school ‘delivers on its promises.’
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