Of course, evaluating new schools is difficult. All the schools in this category of Award, to a lesser or greater degree, are still working through phased launch of provision, or, at best, bedding in the very early days of all-through schooling.
We restricted our original shortlisting to only schools within their first five years of operation. In doing so, however, we clearly have schools here at very different stages of development. This makes fair comparison difficult, and a final safe judgement, something of a risk. Even the most outstanding schools need time to bed in provision.
So, in this category, we have looked at the following:
First, the level of investment and its meeting the profile of students that each school here targets. We have measured schools, in part, on their own terms – important in a category with such very diverse schools.
Second, we have looked at ROI for parents and the degree to which each school’s offer and their fees align. There are schools with vastly different fee points here so you have to expect different levels of offer.
Third, we have looked at each schools USPs and how they each meet the need of parents.
Fourth, we have examined the quality of provision, level of child care, our view of school feel and leadership that we have experienced during our many visits to each school and the feedback we have independently received from faculty, leadership, parents and in some cases students.
Fifth, in the round, we have considered our view of the potential of each school.
Finally, we have looked how each school meets our core drivers and ambitions for the education sector in the UAE as a whole.
Our editors believe that Safa Community School makes the strongest case for the Best New School Award – but other schools here make a very good argument for the title; the competition in this category of Award was considerable.
It’s worth starting with a quote from a teacher at Safa Community School we independently spoke with during our shortlisting process. One of the key ways we measure schools is to speak independently, and randomly, with teachers during our visits – as well as informally through either feedback to us outside schools or through meetings.
The following inspirational conversation is drawn directly from our exchange with one teacher, whose name we have redacted, at Safa Community School:
SchoolsCompared.com: “What is your genuine take on Safa Community School? Please speak freely.”
Safa Community School teacher: “Before coming to Safa Community School I taught at [a large schools group, name redacted, Ed.]
“Safa Community School is so, so different.
“Safa Community School has a small community school feel. I know all my children’s names. This is incredible given that it took my fellow teachers to even try and do this at my last school such a long time. It was just too big a school.
“Children at Safa Community School are just lovely, exceptional. Children here are inspiring to teach.
“Investment in teachers at Safa Community School through Professional Development is also fantastic and meaningful.
“Every Thursday we have time set aside properly for Personal Development. We choose the areas we want to specialise in. This week, for example, we had a choice between data tracking (focused on how we look after each child’s development), inspiring critical thinking in students – and technology in the classroom.
“Salaries also reflect our roles and responsibilities well. The school genuinely invests in teachers, cares about us and wants us to stay. Here we feel valued.
“As a teacher, I want a school that I can stay in, a school that gives children the absolutely best education. This is why I moved to Safa Community School.
“Here, Stephen [Stephen Duckitt, Principal. Ed.] knows my name when I walk in the door…
“Here, at Safa Community School, I have now regained my love of teaching. I love this school.”
It is worth noting that the above is an edited version of what the teacher said to. We have made it suitable for print so that neither the teacher, or other schools referenced, are revealed. In fact, the teacher came from both one of the top schools in the UAE and a large school group, and her perception was that teachers at her previous school were simply a number – with all the knock-on implications of that on children.
It was quite clear from our conversation with the teacher that the qualities of schooling that Safa brought to the table for her had saved her from leaving teaching altogether. The teacher spoke at length about a culture of compassion for faculty and students alike and significant ongoing CPD. No teacher was ever afraid to ask questions or display a lack of knowledge. She identified the exact opposite in her previous school.
We have visited Safa Community School more than 25 times as a group. We have seen it evolve from the original design brief and architectural plan, through building, into the school it is today. Its founding Principal went onto launch Dubai Heights, and both he and current Principal Stephen, we rate as outstanding.
Mr Duckitt has a very distinct, hands-on but strategic style of leadership – and it works here brilliantly. He is committed to inclusion and speaks with passion about the role of music and sport, in particular, as drivers of child progress. He speaks movingly of how he will not tolerate a school in which only highly performing children are celebrated and he wants all children to “get the chance to be in the A Team” in sport by ensuring B C and D teams are celebrated equally and receive equal plaudits. The children adore him. The demands of a start-up are intense.
It is worth also saying something about the school’s owners. Because of confidentiality our comments have to be limited, but there is a strong NFP ethic behind the school. The drivers here are resolutely children, giving back to the UAE and making a difference rather than profit.
Safa Community School has the same sort of vibrancy and evident child happiness we identify at Victory Heights Primary School. It’s very rare and special. The owners’ children attend the school – and their investment (they both work onsite) is unquestionable.
The KHDA have rated Safa Community School “Very Good with Outstanding features” after only its second inspection – an extraordinary achievement. The KHDA is tough on new schools but Safa achieves in no small part because of its ‘Very Good’ child progress from low baselines (it is completely unambiguously culturally, SEND and academically inclusive), leadership and whole child development.
Data is used extensively because of the commitment to individual children and inclusion.
Investment is continuous and ongoing – this is not one of those new schools where investment stops after opening. This year we have seen (1) the outside areas transformed to extend break out areas and physical play space; (2) investment in sports infrastructure to attract those who struggle with team sports and need to build confidence; (3) investment in Arabic subjects including linking classrooms better to celebrate local context; and (4) investment in Labs infrastructure in preparation for BTEC.
On that note, we have also discussed at length with the school eventual Sixth Form provision. The commitment is there to both A’ level and BTEC – the issue is the affordability at launch of introducing areas like engineering, rather than more obvious Tourism and Business, which the school aspires to. As with many of the schools here, there are areas of development that need time to provide us with the certainty of a view or recommendation.
Worth noting that the school missed our Emirati target – but it is tougher to achieve this in a catchment area with a largely expat demographic.
The competition in this category is tough – but what has been achieved here is unique, we think, in Dubai. Inclusion is real and its needs met. Compassion and care run deep. Leadership (including ownership) is outstanding in its commitment, ambition and vision. The curriculum is innovative and responsive to child need and ambitions for improvement. The inclusiveness of sport is stand-out. The investment in, and care for, outstanding teaching faculty is proven. Children come before profit in every decision with a clear, if unstated, NFP driver. The happiness of children and engagement with parents both light up the school.
This is an absolutely beautiful school and worthy winner of the 2019 SchoolsCompared.com award for Best New School in the UAE. Parents looking for an outstanding new school in Dubai will not find better.
The Backstage Interview
KHDA Rating: Very Good with Outstanding features (note (1) in phased launch of Sixth Form; (2)we rate Outstanding)
KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects, school still building capacity
Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Sixth Form in phased launch. Our prediction Outstanding.
Fees: AED 55K – 95K
Number of students: 1166
Age of role: 3 – 18 (currently 16)
Curriculum: British A Level
School type: Private, for profit (Note: income fed back into supporting underprivileged children at other schools in Group)
Number of students with SEND: 69/5.9% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 30/2.6% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)