Sasha Crabb

UAE Principal of the Year, 2019/20

Sasha Crabb joined Victory Heights Primary School as its Founding Principal in 2013 and was involved in the development of the school from Day One – something of a gamble given its out of town location in Dubai Sports City.  At the time, this was an area that had relatively little in the way of residential properties, although clearly the vision was present to ensure that this would change drastically in the intervening years. The nearest school in the area was JESS at Arabian Ranches – a well-established name with an attached Secondary school, and therefore a strong potential competitor. Today, some 800 plus children attend VHPS.

With a reputation for “Thinking Outside of the Box”, Sasha set about ensuring that VHPS would offer a strong community ethos, with a traditional UK Primary school feel, albeit in a modern, but compact building, initially painted Red, White and Blue, to reflect its roots. Subsequently the school has been expanded to double its size with more muted colourways but even more outstanding schooling for its children.


The curriculum has been developed and enhanced, with a strong focus on STEM, innovation, enterprise and enquiry. Support for students with SEND or Gifts and Talents is rated Very Good by the KHDA – the commitment to inclusion here for children with SEND is powerful and a focus for Sasha outside VHPS and across the wider Sports City area.


Originally studying drama and literacy at the University of Chester, Sasha graduated with a BEd Honours degree. Ms Crabb gained her NPQH status in 2006. She is passionate about ‘CPD’ for teachers and enjoys bringing out the best in all children. Every single child is special – but also has something special – our job, our vocation is to nurture the natural gifts of every child and make them blossom, she told us.


Ms Crabb is currently undertaking an MSC in Human Resource Management at Liverpool University, from which she has discovered strengthened commitment to reducing teacher workload and greater involvement of students in purposeful projects to give them a greater depth of learning. Ms Crabb enjoys lecturing at University of Birmingham with undergraduate students and is currently working on expanding opportunities for children with determination in Sports City and beyond.


There is little doubt that Sasha has been the driving force behind the development of VHPS into the KHDA Very Good rated, highly inclusive, community school that it is today. Her singular commitment to “her students” meant that VHPS is the only school of which we are aware, that requested an early first KHDA inspection – with this being sought in order to enable the school to retain its Year 6 students for Year 7, prior to the opening of a then-planned sister Secondary school.


It was a decision no doubt rued at the time (the school obtained an Acceptable rating, preventing the expansion), but doubtless served only to fuel Sasha’s determination to address the concerns raised and rapidly improve standards. Her commitment to the school and to its students is defined for us by one specific conversation after this first, disappointing, KHDA rating, when Sasha asked one of the team to provide her with a contact person at another expanding school, so that she could ensure that her Year 5 students would have a secure Secondary option at the end of Year 6.
Sasha has ensured that the school has been involved in numerous initiatives related to Well-being and Sustainability, and has ensured that space has been found for all these initiatives – including balconies and walkways for the organic garden, where necessary. There is a genuine, hugely inspirational, commitment to a holistic and inclusive approach to education, with a very keen focus on support for students with SEND – a commitment that has been a feature of VHPS from Day One – and recognised by the KHDA as “a clear priority for the school.”


Since the first inspection in 2015, VHPS has achieved two Good ratings and most recently, in both 2018 and 2019, two Very Good with Outstanding Features ratings. There has been a substantial effort to ensure that children of all backgrounds understand the country in which they are living, its language and culture. The most recent KHDA report comments on the strengths of the school including “The excellent commitment and determination of the headteacher; capably supported by senior and middle leaders who share her vision and work purposefully to raise standards.”


The KHDA describes Ms Crabb and her senior leaders as “highly inspirational and appreciated by students, staff and parents.” Partnerships with parents and the community are outstanding.

Parent feedback, through our sister website,’s Parent Survey, shows that parents are overwhelmingly supportive of the school. 92% of parents would recommend it to others, whilst a similar percentage of their children enjoy going to school. 92% of parents are also satisfied with the academic performance of the school.


Latterly, Sasha has been heavily involved in the development of VHPS’ sister school, South View School, ensuring that “her students” are now able to move on to a Secondary School within the group to which she has had considerable input and where she serves on the Governing Board.


If this is the somewhat dry background, her achievement for children is extraordinary. Of all the Principals we have met during both our careers, but also as parents, we have never met anyone so profoundly committed to her school, its children, education and making a difference in this world for them. Her ethics, commitment, integrity, honesty, drive and knowledge are second to none. Sash Crabb is quite an extraordinary individual and Principal.


We also think her achievement is doubly powerful given that Ms Crabb is both a women in an educational system in which men, wrongly, still dominate positions of leadership – and is also the Principal of a Primary School. In achieving this Award, Ms Crabb raises both the profile of women and Primary schools. It was never acceptable or indeed correct to assume that the leadership skills required to run a Primary School are any less important or accomplished than those required to run an all-through or stand-alone Secondary School or Sixth Form. Arguably, in fact, in key ways they are much greater and the skills are certainly transferable.

If we had to summarise quite why Ms Crabb stands out, beyond the impacts she makes in her school and on children and families, it is that she is the ONLY Principal we have met that places her school, children and their care, before anything else, including her personal life. Education is an absolute vocation for her. Whether that is a good thing, or a bad thing, is perhaps less clear cut an issue – but the result of this, in her shaping of the school, is profoundly moving.

It is quite impossible to visit VHPS and not be astonished at the engagement with children. There are many outstanding Primaries in the UAE. There are also many outstanding Principals. Many schools have better facilities. But, in our view, none have the very particular gifts of Ms Crabb. She undoubtedly makes an extraordinary and positive impact on her children, and her teaching faculty, that will only be measured in the years to come.


Ms Crabb, in our view, is exactly the type of Principal that shines the most powerful light on how exceptionally good, and globally benchmarkable, our education sector is, at its very best, in the UAE.

On presentation of the 2019 Award for Best Principal in the UAE, Ms Crabb, to her surprise, received a standing ovation and cheers from across the sector. She should not have been surprised; her reputation and the respect she has achieved from colleagues across the UAE is richly deserved.

“I am just blown away, but it's really about the team that allow the great things that happen...” Sasha Crabb, Principal, Victory Heights Primary School

As part of our research, judges were presented with feedback, some of which we include below, from children, families, teachers and the spectrum of industry colleagues. These bring to life what the above simply cannot.


Independent feedback, Leo, Year 1 child

“Miss Sasha is very lovely. She cares about everyone and is very kind. Everybody likes her a lot!”


Independent feedback from Laura Dowlman, Headteacher, Victory Heights primary School

“This is exactly what outstanding school leadership looks like. If we could bottle this for other schools.


“The VHPS that children, parents and staff know and love simply would not exist without Sasha. As the Founding Principal, Sasha has led every aspect of the design and development of the school. The school is imprinted with her unique, vibrant personality. Sasha promotes child happiness, creativity, and energy as the core driving forces behind each and every child’s academic and holistic development. There is awe and wonder at every turn, supplementing the expert Knowledge and academic rigour of the teaching team. Sasha is continuously investing in CPD.


“As a result of these values, 96% of children exceed curriculum standards in English and Science, and 92% in maths at the end of KS2. As importantly children are universally happy and develop a love of learning. Sasha’s impact extends far beyond her own school: she chairs the assessment development group for BSID, speaks across educational conferences about strategic leadership – and has been lauded for her utilisation of social media to raise the profile of education in the UAE.


“She cares about every child.


“She knows every child’s name.


“She frequently enquires about children’s learning and life out of school.


“Sasha ceaselessly monitors, evaluates and innovates, and encourages continual improvement from teachers and leaders at all levels.

“For example, three years ago, Sasha highlighted the need for a more tailored approach to CPD. She created the “VHPS University CPD” to meet individual CPD needs of teachers. VHPSu empowers teachers to attend internally held seminars from expert practitioners within the school, peer lesson observations – and work in teacher learning communities and action research to drive improvements against their own development points.


“As a part of the school’s Performance Management processes, Sasha monitors the VHPSu learning journey of each staff member. She also leads by example, hosting seminars on “Building Learning Skills through Off- Road Teaching.” As a result all homegrown teachers now demonstrate consistently Very Good or better practice with the KHDA up from 63% in 2015-16. Pupil progress has risen across the school: 88% of children today make above expected progress across SEM (up from 62% in 2015-16).


“Additionally, children’s learning skills are now rated as Outstanding by the DSIB.


“Under Sasha’s expert guidance, VHPS is now setting benchmarks in UAE education in terms of academic results and achievements, in so rapidly establishing an outstanding new school, the depth of its community links, and the happiness of children that so distinctly underpins the school’s model of education.


“There has never been a Principal more deserving of this accolade than Sasha. She is a truly incredible leader.”


Independent feedback from Matt Hawley, Deputy Headteacher, Victory Heights primary School

“My nomination emerged through the collective accord of the school community that she has led from inception. It is our communal show of eternal gratitude – from VHPS children, teachers, classroom assistants, and parents alike.


“Whilst Sasha has cultivated a team of capable senior and middle leaders to deputise ‘should she drop dead’ (as she puts it), nobody better encapsulates everything that is positive about our school than she does. From welcoming all of the newly appointed staff, her energy in clambering aboard the backs of lorries in 40 degree heat (in white linen trousers!) to help with unloading resources, from her adoring all our children (and children adoring her….), Sasha is engaged and engaging.


“In the local area, we are known as ‘the school where the Principal knows every child’s name.’ At the heart of all of these successes is Sasha. She is the one who spends all weekend cheering our sports teams (until she has no voice!), the one messaging us at 5 in the morning because she has woken up with an idea, and the one who totally lives and breathes her school. More than anything, she is a friend and an inspiration to us every day.”


Independent feedback from Deena Partington, Former Year 1 teacher
“When VHPS was born – imagine a large group of academic staff arriving as complete strangers to begin the mammoth task of turning a bare building into a school. All of us sitting in the Music Room, excited, but also nervous and daunted at the amount of work ahead and then in walks Sasha.


“Somehow, through the power of Skype, she had actually managed to pick a bunch of people who she knew would blend perfectly to turn an empty shell into the happy, caring environment she has created. I’ll never forget her saying to us as we were presented with shipments of books, paint and glue – ‘Right come on then everyone – Rome WAS built in a day!’


“This has never changed – Sasha knows everyone’s little quirks, knows if they’re having a good day or a bad day. For me she is at her best when the whole school comes together for an event or for us all to take part in one of the crazy ideas she has had in the middle of the night – she’ll be the one walking around the Spring Fair dressed as the Snow Queen, or on the spur of the moment she’ll have all the staff up dancing or playing Hungry Hippos.


“Sasha’s incredible passion and imagination makes you remember why you wanted to teach in the first place, whether you started a year ago or twenty years ago. Whatever else she may be dealing with, her top priority is always the children. Not only does she know them all by name, but she also knows their little quirks and needs.


“She has the gift of bringing out the best in people. Every child loves her and every teacher wishes they could be her – but unfortunately for the rest of us they really did break the mould when they made Sasha…”


Independent feedback Steve Simmons, Director of Sport

“Sasha has been the most influential figure in my career so far. Not only did she give me the chance to fulfil my ambition of being a PE teacher, but appointed me Head of department. She has always believed in me.


Throughout my 4 years of working with Sasha I have always been impressed by how positive she is. She makes the children, staff and parents happy.


“Sasha’s energy, enthusiasm and humour are all qualities that make her an inspiring and popular figure who has and will always have my full respect.


“Her drive to give everyone the chance to do their best, show off their skills and improve themselves is fantastic and makes the school what it is today.


“I can’t think of a better person to be at the forefront of a new school and she has built something that I will always be proud to have been a part of.


“In my opinion Sasha is the heart of this school and without her it simply wouldn’t be the same.”


Independent feedback – Sarah Bremer, parent

“We love Miss Sasha – and did from the first day that we met her when visiting VH Primary for the very first look around 7 months before we moved out to Dubai.


“She met us with the biggest smile and is so down to earth and normal which is exactly what we were hoping for. Ms Sasha is amazing in so many ways.


“She is smiley, friendly, approachable, fun (and a bit silly sometimes too!) – but she is also inspiring and aspirational.


“She is always on the look-out how she can improve the school and offer the children even more fun things to improve their learning and get them Involved too.


“All the children respect and listen to her but also love to see her silly side too – which makes the children love her even more!


“On school dress up days she gets well and truly stuck in and they all love to see what character she will have magically transformed herself into this time!


“We are very lucky to have Ms Sasha at VH Primary – she has a fabulous character and clearly loves the wonderful work that she does.


“As parents, we firmly believe that Sasha should win this award for all of the amazing work and fabulous efforts that she continues to put into making VH Primary the beautiful and outstanding school that it is today for all our children.”


Independent feedback, Ashley Guilmette – Former Year 5/6 Teacher and Maths Subject Coordinator

“I’ve been thinking, and I have an idea.” Famous last words.
Whenever this sentence is uttered in our school by our principal Sasha Crabb, you can’t help but chuckle to yourself, because you know something magical is about to happen. Whether it’s a timeline involving hundreds of children or a seed to start a growing revolution, you know it’s going to be outside the box. That’s Sasha, nothing is ordinary with her.


“Trying to think of one word to describe her would be inspirational. Sasha inspires everyone around her. Cliche. Hardly the level of writing we expect at the end of year 6, but it’s true.


“She inspires children in our school to do their best. She understands that not all children can show their abilities in a test. Rather, she makes sure that they have an outlet to express their own individual talents. Whether it’s gardening, talent shows, entrepreneurship or performances, she makes sure every single child in our school has an opportunity to shine.


“It doesn’t stop there. She reaches out to parents to make sure they are welcome into our little community school. They are involved in decisions and curriculum that affect their children.


“What has impacted me most, has been her interaction with staff.
Sasha invests in and inspires her staff to be the best they can be. My first day at Victory Heights was slightly delayed (a whole other story about a bird in a plane engine and a 26 hour delay) and led to me arriving in Dubai with no one to greet me at the airport in the middle of the night. I remember Sasha talking me off the ledge at 3 in the morning, comforting me and telling me it was all going got be alright (even though I had woken her in the middle of the night). She was right.


“Since that time, she has guided me, pushed me when I needed to work outside my comfort zone – and made me the best teacher and manager I could ever hope to be.”


Independent feedback, Vicki Holley, Parent

“Sasha is an amazing principal who always goes that extra mile to show the children how special each one is to her. When my daughter went in to hospital for a minor op , Sasha sent a WhatsApp video doing funny faces to make her giggle when she came around – and it did !


“All the kids love her in return. It is so lovely as a parent to see the children’s faces light up when they talk to her.


“One day we had very bad rain and school had to close. I received a message to say we had to collect the children early. When I got to school and went to find my child, I walked into a classroom and found Miss Sasha sitting on the floor caring for all the children whose parents were late.


“Some of the children were curled up in her lap, some were just sitting around on the floor with her – but they were all as engaged with her as she was with them. Special.“


Independent feedback, Julian Allen, Parent

“The tone of any school comes from the top – it always has – and Miss Sasha sets the tone just right.


“Singing and dancing when fun is called for, yet firm too when needed (thankfully rarely called for).


“Most of all she is a very visible leader who is always out and about steering the children, the teachers and even the parents along the right path.


“She is providing a terrific start for our children. We are very grateful.”


Independent feedback, Chloe and Mariam, Year 5

“Her personality is the best. She always cheers us up.

“We see her when we’re tired first thing in the morning and she brightens up the whole day.


“If we do a bad thing, she talks to us about what we could have done better instead of shouting at us. This is better because it makes you want to do the right thing.”


Independent feedback, Trish McInerney – Parent

“I asked Sasha once if she would mention World Diabetes Day in an assembly.


“One of my daughters has type 1 diabetes and we try so hard to raise awareness.


“Sasha stood in front of the whole school on World Diabetes Day, holding my daughter’s hand, and proceeded to tell the school and parents why that day was so important.


“She then proceeded to spend the entire day having her bloods tested every 2 hours just like my daughter has to.


“The amount of empathy and understanding Sasha shows to every individual child is beyond outstanding.”


Independent Feedback, Selina Fetell – Foundation Stage Class Teacher

“Being in my tenth year of teaching, I have never worked with someone more inspirational, warm and charismatic.


“Sasha puts a smile on both the staff and the children’s faces at school, has created a fantastic community feel – and built a brilliant rapport with parents of children within the school.


“She is the absolute driving force of positivity within our school.
Without her it simply wouldn’t be the same.”


Independent feedback, Alia Alhashimi, Parent

“Ms. Sasha. Wow! What can I say?


“VHPS is such a small school I feel all the resources and focus of the management are solely on these 8 years and that really does make all the difference in how a school performs.


“She’s a very hands-on Principal, never stuffed away in some office. Even the beautiful ways she speaks with the groups of children – it makes me so moved how much she is invested in our children and the school. I get choked up seeing her – she is so special.


“She speaks with the children in such an inspiring way. I’m always in awe of her approach with them. She’s strict – yet she’s your friend – It’s an amazing and unique characteristic.


“I believe she is so determined to make VHPS reach outstanding level – yet she’s just not willing to compromise on the students’ happiness and their development to do so. Never. For example, she hasn’t made homework compulsory like I believe JESS has. She has a much bigger picture of what an outstanding whole child education looks like.


“Little things matter too. Boys and girls are separated in two classrooms while changing into their swim wear. I appreciate this because when I was in JESS AR both boys and girls changed together. When I questioned this with JESS they said they would treat my son differently and isolate him changing!


“To me personally too, I have seen her great love for the UAE. She wants all her students to develop and share that love. Although it’s a wonderfully British school she ensures respect and appreciation for our culture across the board, from her students to her teachers. That sometimes takes some courage. Islamic teaching is amazing at the school.


“Thank you for If it wasn’t for your article I would’ve never heard of VHPS and Khalifa would’ve most likely continued in EIS. I would still be running around town searching for schools without any direction on where to look and who to pass.”


The Backstage Interview



Established: 2013
KHDA Rating: Very Good with outstanding features (we rate Outstanding) (Note age of school)
KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects, marginal progress/attainment
Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding
Fees: AED 35K – 49K
Number of students: 796
Age of role: 3 – 11
Curriculum: British Primary
School type: Private, for-profit
Number of students with SEND: 38/4.7% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 6/0.75% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)

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