Parents are advised to apply early for this popular day and boarding school in Dorset, which challenges the very academic, but also supports the less able with its innovative and broad curriculum.
Described by Headteacher Ben Vessey as having “a multi-dimensional nature”, a Canford education challenges the very academic but also supports those whose talents lie elsewhere. It’s an innovative school with plenty of cross-curricular projects. It is heavily sports and arts-oriented. It also combines a busy 24/7 boarding experience with a flexible exeat system that means students can return home for several Saturday nights every term (although around 70% of boarders choose to stay).
Mr Vessey, who was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford and Southampton University (where he studied history), joined Canford in 2013. He still teaches weekly history lessons to Shell (Year 9 students). Under his leadership, the school is constantly testing and implementing creative ideas which keeps the campus fresh. All classrooms are named after inspiring men and women (the Pankhurst history room, for example); and there is a twice-termly ‘Yellow Hour’ when Canfordians can perform anything to their peers “for the sheer joy of it”.
For an insight on just how down to earth this school is, there is a brilliant Pupil Hub page on the school’s website, which features a student-led tour of the school as well as student interviews.
Canford was rated Excellent in its most recent ISI inspection in 2018.
An education at Canford starts very broad and gradually narrows as students work towards their A Levels. The school incorporates various elements of the IB programme into its Sixth Form curriculum with the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and its own Connections general studies programme, which both challenge students to think beyond the curriculum.
The Shell curriculum in Year 9 covers Art, Biology, Chemistry, Classical Civilisation, Design Technology, English, Drama, French, Geography, German or Spanish, History, Computing and ICT, Latin or Extra English, Maths, Music, PE, Physics, PSME, Philosophy and Theology. There are half-termly cross-curricular projects to develop skills including independent learning, research skills and teamwork – all valuable preparation for GCSEs and A Levels; students may be studying Music, Classics, History and Drama in a project about propaganda and its use in political campaigns in one half term, and studying computing and design in a project to build a remote controlled vehicle for hazardous environments the next
In the Fourth and Fifth Form, students’ study nine GCSEs including English Language, English Literature, Maths, two sciences, a Modern Foreign Language (French, German or Spanish), and four options from a choice of Art, Biology, Business Studies, Classical Civilisation, Chemistry, Classical Greek, Computing, Design, Drama, Physical Education, French, Geography, German, Spanish History, Latin, Music, Physics, and Philosophy and Theology. All students also take an unexamined, round-robin style course in Philosophy, Ethics and Spirituality Connections (non-examined).
In the Sixth Form, students choose from a list of around 22 A Levels subjects, and further their studies with the Extended EPQ and the Ivy House programme of courses on self-knowledge, self-empowerment and self-leadership.
In his introduction to parents on the school’s website, Mr Vessey says that, “If they (students) don’t aim high, they will fall short”. To take students there, the school has a strong academic enrichment programme, which it says is not just for the “exceptionally able”. There are annual cultural theme weeks, including a post-GCSE cultural programme that takes students to exhibitions and shows in London as “a complete antidote to the exam room experience”; academic societies; and a varied programme of visiting lectures.
The school has improved its tutor programme in recent years to include more time for tutor/student meetings in houses, and it maintains a low teacher: student ratio at 1:7.5.
Canford has the grounds and facilities to deliver an impressive sports programme, which can give students a sporting advantage in traditional and alternative sports. The main sports are rugby, hockey and cricket for boys, hockey, netball and tennis for girls. The school is well-known for rowing, and all students get out on the River Stour, which runs alongside the campus, and learn to scull. Players can also tee off on the nine-hole golf course, or learn to play the traditional sport of Real Tennis.
Facilities include squash courts, two Astroturf pitches, an historic Real Tennis court, and a Sports Centre with sports hall, fitness suite, dance/spinning studio, 25m indoor swimming pool, golf course, and river with boathouse. It fields more than 100 teams over 30 different sports.
The arts are an integral part of school life at Canford, and a high number of students go on to study fine art, design, history of art and architecture at university. As well as having the option to study Art, Music or Drama for GCSE or A Level, students are encouraged to take part in any of the many annual house music, drama and art competitions, choirs, play in bands or orchestras, plays and exhibitions. There are two major concerts a year, one held at Canford and the other at the Lighthouse in Poole (home of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). High numbers of students have individual music lessons in instruments as varied as the French horn, organ and harp, and facilities include a theatre, art rooms, courtyard for exhibitions, main concert hall, percussion studio, recording studio, and two ‘pop shack’ spaces equipped with drum kits, PA and guitar amps.
With more than 30 different sports and activities, and numerous clubs and societies, there is something for all. From diving, power-boating and clay-pigeon shooting to juggling, engineering and debating, the list is long and varied. Students are strongly encouraged to try something new during the Shell year, when there’s a weekly hour dedicated to co-curricular activities; there’s a carousel of activities as varied as beekeeping, lacrosse, bell ringing, dissection that changes every fortnight.
Canford also organises trips to over 14 different countries, has a cultural enrichment programme with visiting lecturers and inspirational trips, and runs the popular Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and Combined Cadet Force (CCF). Its community service programme sees Canford Sixth Formers acting as teaching assistants every Monday for students at The Bourne Academy, a state a secondary school in Bournemouth; students teach swimming to local children; they volunteer in charity shops; and perform concerts at local care homes.
Canford has consistently strong results at both GCSE and A Level. On average, in the past five years, over 20% of all A Level grades were A* and at GCSE 44% of all exams were graded 9/8. The school did not publish results for 2020, saying that it was not right to publish them in a year when students did not sit exams.
In 2019, 70% of grades at GCSE were 9-7 at GCSE; 48% of grades at A Level were A*-A grades and 77% were A*-B.
There are four boys’ boarding houses and three girls’ boarding houses on the school grounds, which are home to around 70% of Canford’s students. Each house has around 12 students from each year group Year 9 (Shells) to Upper Sixth. There are also three day houses, providing a base students during break time, after lunch and prep time.
To help keep homesickness at bay, Shell students are kept extremely busy with a set programme of weekend activities; older year groups can pick and choose what they do from extra study through to beach trips, dry slope skiing bake-offs, fishing and much more.
Canford has a beautiful countryside setting where students move between classrooms in historic buildings and modern additions, including the new outdoor activity centre compete with shooting range and assault course. A new library and whole school hall are due to open in late 2021.
Within the grounds are a boathouse, 12 grass sports pitches, two full sized all weather pitches, 30 tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and one of the few original Real Tennis courts in the country. There is a dedicated music school, a large Layard Theatre seating nearly 300, and a dedicated Coldstream Gallery space regularly exhibiting the latest staff and pupil art. Teaching facilities also include separate science labs and seminar rooms, design workshops and a computer suite.
Most students join at 13+ from around 50 different Prep and Junior schools, and at 16+ from single sex and co-ed senior schools; around 10% of students comes from overseas. It’s competitive and you’re advised to apply as early as Year 5 for Year 9 entry.
While Canford is not the most academically selective of schools – “attitude is the key” – it does look for a minimum of 55% average at the Common Entrance exam.
Fees are at the higher end of the scale: £38,058 per year for boarders and £28,971 for day students. Canford offers scholarships at 13+ and 16+ in a range of subjects and means-tested bursaries throughout the school which are worth up to 100% of fees.
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