Hanford School in Dorset is one of only three girls-only boarding prep schools left in the UK

Words Jasmine Robertson

When Enid Canning opened Hanford in 1947 as a ‘home from home’ school for girls all boarding schools were single sex. Much has changed since then. Hanford is now one of only three girls-only boarding prep schools left in the UK. 

Marlborough was the first to admit girls in the 6th form in 1968. Ten years later, girl boarders at the top girls’ schools still outnumbered those at the top co-ed schools by more than 12 to one. But since then many public schools followed Marlborough’s lead opening their doors to girls and by the turn of the century all but a handful of Britain’s traditional boys public schools were fully co-ed. 

Most of today’s co-ed prep schools started out life educating only boys. However, Hanford was created specially for girls. Enid Canning, and her husband, the Rev Clifford Canning, made some very progressive decisions all those years ago, decisions that have proven key to Hanford’s enduring success: no uniform, no head girl, lots of ponies and a homely atmosphere.

The front drive is not flanked by neat cricket pitches or towered over by imposing H frame rugby goal posts. Instead you will see ponies grazing, a playground obstacle course and a small pretty chapel. In the grounds there are chickens, a working walled kitchen garden, a Grade II listed stable block, a knot garden and our famous climbing tree. The interior feels like a family home, albeit a rather grand one. At its heart is the Hall where the whole school sits down to eat every meal. Upstairs the dorms are all decorated individually and girls bring their own toys, duvets and blankets and pictures so they will feel at home away from home. 

hanford school

This family atmosphere encourages all the ages mix together, older girls acting as big sisters to the new arrivals. Reading them stories, leading them out on rides and supervising the catching of ponies in the morning. Every Monday Mrs Johnston, head of Pastoral Care, creates a seating plan for the whole school where she mixes together the year groups. After Grace, the older girls serve the younger ones and conversation is very much encouraged by the member of staff supervising the table. 

There is no uniform as Enid Canning made the conscious and somewhat radical decision to allow girls certain latitude when it came to choosing what they would wear in her new school. Today’s girls enjoy the comfort and freedom of being able to pick what to wear for the day ahead plus they even get to make their own skirts in Handwork lessons. 

Instead of a Head Girl there are The Committees. These groups team up to make decisions and share the tasks normally undertaken by one individual in the more traditional prep school hierarchy. This encourages shared responsibility and teaches girls to compromise, as they learn not everyone sees things the same way. 

Animals, horses in particular, are integral to life at Hanford. The school provides ponies of all shapes and sizes for the girls to ride. For the pony mad the ability to ride every day is a massive bonus while the summer term rides before breakfast are the highlight of the year. Even the handful of girls who do not ride will be found in the stables during break. The Cannings believed that learning to feed, groom and look after a pony would teach the girls to care about others. 

The Cannings’ desire to create a school with the supportive happy atmosphere of a family home where girls are free to enjoy their childhood and grow in confidence pays dividends academically. There have been 19 different scholarships awarded in the past two years, an impressive result for a small non-selective school. 

Hanford School Child Okeford, Blandford Forum, Dorset, DT11 8HN