Canford School

Finding the golden thread

Canford, an independent boarding school in Dorset, approached us with an already glittering reputation. Their facilities were unmatched, their examination results unthinkable and their opportunities for children unparalleled. Their challenge was not a lack of positive things to say to the outside world, rather they lacked a cohesive rallying cry for those inside the school gates – the pupils, the teachers and the support staff. There was not a succinctly crafted ‘reason for being here’ or a defined set of values to rally around.

Over a several-month journey of workshops, school visits and calls, we crafted a messaging framework which would transform their brand from the inside out.

The where and the how

We facilitated a programme of vision, mission and values workshops with a selected group of school stakeholders – a tried and tested process which we call ‘The Heartbeat’. And, from the outset, it was clear that ideas were going to be rife.

With a whole host of benefits to life at Canford, it was no wonder that the staff body had a diverse spread of opinions on what the foundations of the vision should be. Some chose to focus on children taking opportunities and discovering new passions, others focused more on them finding themselves as personalities, and many circled around the educational standards at the school and launching children into successful futures.

The content was rich, but the scope too wide for synchronicity, so we took the inputs back to the office and started the honing process.

It became clear that, whilst broad-ranging, the outputs fit largely within three themes: exploration, expression and excellence. Albeit multi-dimensional, we had found the golden thread; Canford’s ambition was for each and every student, teacher and staff member to experience all three of the above throughout their time at the school. A new vision and mission was taking shape:


A school community where all are inspired to explore, empowered to express and challenged to excel.


To build a community of open-minded people who are motivated to embrace learning in all its forms, and committed to making a difference to their own lives and to the lives of others. Our exceptional education grants freedom to grow and creates opportunities for all to explore, express and excel.

A common set of values

The Headmaster was also eager to refresh their school values, which had eroded in meaning and memorability over time. Conscious that we wanted the values to resonate with all members of the community, from the Governors and Sixth Formers to librarians and grounds staff, we took onboard the thoughts of a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

We teased out the core thinking and agreed on four broad territories around which we would craft values and short statements unpacking their meaning. We arrived in an exciting place – a set of four which are impactful, accessible to all and authentic to Canford.

Courageous Attitude – Purposeful Engagement – Humble Ambition – Gracious Leadership 

Outstanding results

The explore, express, excel messages (known colloquially as ‘the three Es’ inside the school gates) have become foundations for the school’s communication. Not only are they stalwarts of school prospectuses and the school website, but they are also used by the Headmaster in assemblies and at Open Days, and by staff and pupils across a range of contexts.

The values are being embedded too and we hope to work with Canford over the coming year to think through creative ways of ensuring these become successfully integrated into school life.

“The ABA team have been excellent at working with various groups to draw out and articulate the essence of what Canford stands for. Whilst we instinctively sensed much of this in our hearts, having ABA to guide us through the crystallisation of our thinking has been invaluable.”

Ben Vessey, Headmaster