A Peek Inside Hanford School
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A Peek Inside Hanford School

Elizabeth Ivens reveals what makes Hanford such a magical place

By Elizabeth Ivens | 1 month ago

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Deep in the heart of Dorset is Hanford, an all-girls prep school steeped in its own magical traditions. Non selective but high performing, traditional but modern, the only school rule is to ‘Be Kind’. There is no uniform, no designer labels and just enough supervision to allow children the space to explore, learn and be adventurous. Where else but Hanford would girls be taught to start climbing a famous 200-year-old Cedar tree within weeks of arriving, learning the names of the branches which include ‘Junior Bog Roll’ and ‘Granny’s Bottom’?

Hanford School

Hanford School

Who’s there?

A small school by design, its 80 current pupils aged 7-13 are housed in a Jacobean mansion. Around two-thirds are full boarders with a solid number of flexi-boarders and a strong local contingent as well as a sprinkling of international students. School events are arranged to ensure as many parents as possible can attend and parents are welcome at weekends to watch sport and often stay in the local village of Child Okeford. The school remains independent although it has merged its charitable trust with that of Sherborne Girls.

Science at Hanford

Science at Hanford

Famous Alumnae

Author Santa Montefiore and her late sister, the socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, are old girls as well as Made in Chelsea stalwart Millie Mackintosh. Then there is classical soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, and writer and academic Amanda Foreman.

What are they learning?

It is not all ponies and climbing trees, says Head Hilary Phillips. There is a dedicated focus on learning without hothousing which the school believes is counter- productive. Additional tutoring is frowned upon. Subject specialists teach English, Maths, Sciences, Modern Languages, Humanities and Music. ICT is on the curriculum but access to screens is limited outside lessons and mobile phones are not allowed. Latin is prized because the school strongly believes it aids literacy. The school is also deeply passionate about creativity across the curriculum. In Handwork, girls learn skills including felting, knitting, machine embroidery and dress making. A ’character curriculum’ sits alongside the academic curriculum and co-curricular and weaves through both, aimed at fostering grit and resilience and the development of soft skills. Bespoke learning support is available.

Hanford Art lesson

Hanford Art lesson

What about extra curricular?

Horses are a fact of life at Hanford – the school’s four houses are even named after breeds: Dartmoor, Exmoor, Shetland and New Forest, and the vast majority of girls learn to ride. The school is a Pony Club-linked centre and has its own Head of Riding and its own stables where girls can stable their own horse or ride one of the school’s beloved ponies.

Drama is also a highlight and clubs include Climbing Club, Gardening – girls can cultivate their own plot in the kitchen garden, a Guinea Pig club in the school’s guinea pig corner and DJ Club. The sports teams also  excel, often qualifying for county and championships. 

Horse Riding at Hanford

Horse Riding at Hanford

Sleeping Quarters and what is on the menu?

Single beds or bunk beds in groups of 5-6 for the younger ones and smaller groups for the older ones in colourful and cosy dorms bedecked with bunting, cared for by popular Head of Boarding Susie and her team of matrons Jane, Lyndsay, Bella and Molly. Girls decorate their walls with photographs and pictures to make them feel at home. Meals are a lively affair in Hanford’s galleried panelled central hall The Sunday breakfast of pastries eaten in PJs before Chapel is a highlight.

Who’s in Charge?

Head Hilary Phillips, a stalwart of girls’ schools and fresh from heading Benenden Lower School. A former GB skateboarding ‘High Jump’ champion, who once performed with a circus, she is passionate about preserving childhood.  Phillips is a firm believer that freedom is an antidote to the concerns girls may arrive with so Hanford has no hierarchy; in effect, one big family.

Head Hilary Phillips

Head Hilary Phillips

Who gets in?

Hanford is non-selective. Register in good time, ideally two to three years ahead, but there are no official deadlines. Registration fee is £100. Boarding fee is £8,400 a term and the day fee is £6,500. Those who come just for the Sixth Form (the final two years) pay £9,450 a term.

Where next?

Girls at Hanford are encouraged to go to schools which are ‘right for them’ and the school prides itself on having an excellent reputation with senior schools. Last year, eight of the 30 leavers won Art scholarships or exhibitions. Top flight destinations include Sherborne Girls, Bedales, Bryanston, Marlborough, Stowe, Canford, St Mary’s Calne and Downe House.

Don’t forget…

Your manners – girls are graded by other girls on their table manners as they move through the school, from being a lowly ‘Piglet’, to progressing through ranks including ‘Cave Lady’, ‘Hyena’, ‘Favourite Aunty’ and ‘Best Granny’ to reaching ‘Royal Guest’ standard.