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Taking over a third of Edinburgh's independent secondary pupils, it's less elitist and perhaps less dusty than some city schools. Brief is that 'all children have a right to be happy here.' Code of conduct established by consulting pupils so 'they know exactly where they stand.' 'Not a highly selective school,' however, described by an educationalist as a 'grade one academic machine.' Tremendous family feel, boarders are encouraged to invite friends home, caring house parents and only…

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What the school says...

At Erskine Stewart's Melville family of independent schools, we offer boys and girls the best of both worlds. Our unique diamond structure plays to their individual academic strengths, while allowing them to enjoy social, sporting and recreational activities together.

At Stewart's Melville College your son can enjoy all the strengths of a traditional all boys' school. He will learn to master intellectual, physical and ethical challenges. As he develops his natural talents, he will grow in confidence, ambition and emotional intelligence. He will emerge an intelligent, responsible and compassionate citizen, fully equipped for the modern world. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2000, Mr David Gray BA PGCE (50s), who was educated at Fettes, read English at Bristol, where he did his PGCE. Taught English in a Bristol comprehensive, before moving to a language school in Greece, then taught English and modern Greek at Dulwich and was head of English at Leeds Grammar, before heading Pocklington School in East Yorkshire for eight years. Since the Erskine Stewart's Melville vast conglomerate forms the largest independent school in Europe, it is not surprising he feels he is in a position here 'to give something back to Scotland having been away for almost a quarter of a century'. Brought up in Inverness, he is proud of his Scottish roots and sees himself and Stewart's Melville/Mary Erskine as at the 'most exciting cutting-edge of Scottish education' and stresses that he's the first overall principal who is actually Scottish. Mr Gray spends part of the week in each school. We visited him at his base in Mary Erskine, where he was busily involved in compiling a history of the school for his teaching contact with the girls.

Very much a hands-on head, the principal reckons to keep sane (and fit) by swimming and jogging at 7am each morning, and is a familiar sight as he cycles between the two campuses. He also 'works the room' quite beautifully, 'we all think we know him well and that he knows our children almost as well as we do,' said one father (a gift no doubt inherited from his politician father?). Keen on promoting self-confidence in his pupils, he sees himself as an 'educator', and teaches English and coaches cricket at Stewart's Melville. After 15 years he feels pleased that the school has 'become a gentler place' and that the 'children are wedded to our ethos of reasonable, sensible behaviour'. No need for draconian action on the discipline side recently and, when there is silliness, 'the student body can be very conservative on behaviour,' while parents 'don't want to be ashamed of the school.'

Mr Gray runs the twin senior schools with two deputy heads, and the head of the co-ed junior school, Bryan Lewis, who is also vice principal. Mrs Linda Moule took over as deputy head of The Mary Erskine School in August 2009; she was previously vice principal of New Hall School in Chelmsford. Mr Neal Clark, depute head of Stewart's Melville for the last 15 years describes himself as a 'grammar school boy, in tune with Scottish social culture.' All school facilities have been upgraded in the last 10 years 'so future plans are for maintenance rather than development.'

Academic matters

The principal and three heads have agonised together over the pros and cons of single-sex v co-ed. All four speak with the same passion – and often the same phrasing – of their 'best of both worlds' system. Boys and girls educated together at junior school, separately from age 12-17 – gains for girls (being able to get on with learning) and boys (feeling free to talk about poetry etc) – then the social etc plus factors of co-ed for sixth year and all activities. 'Not a highly selective school,' however, described by an educationalist as a 'grade one academic machine.' Classes of up to 25 (20 for practical classes) setted, with groups subdivided to extend the most able. School has embraced the new Advanced Higher in depth – greater analysis, independent study, projects and dissertation. Mr Clark – glad that so many students do three Advanced Highers with considerable success - notes that, in recent years, as admission to Scottish universities has become very competitive, there remains a strong desire to undertake further Highers. Recent results show a pleasing number of As and Bs across the board in both schools, with some outstanding successes in history, sciences and maths. Higher results impressive (85 per cent A/B in 2017), particularly at MES 'on the languages front' and for SMC in history, English and science. French, German, Spanish and Latin on offer to Advanced Higher Grade.

Very good links (still) with the Merchant Company which does masses of business breakfasts and links with professional firms around Edinburgh. Single IT network across all three schools with 'massive schools' intranet', interactive whiteboards galore and close on 1,000 computers. Biology dept links with the horticultural dept of the world-famous Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Impressive careers structure across both schools and excellent library facilities. Pupils can sign in for private study.

Schools combine for sixth form, most extras, and pastoral structure. In the interests of integration sixth formers have to take academic courses from both schools – a feat resulting in limitless (almost) variety of course permutations, miraculous timetabling and a quite a few bus journeys. Outstanding back-up for those with learning difficulties; school uses its own educational psychologist; 'will never abandon anyone.'

Games, options, the arts

Big is beautiful; providing a list of over 75 different clubs for all – from goldsmithing to Greek, costume design to curling and cross-country – lunch time and post school. Popular. Major sports have separate clubs for ages/stages and 27 rugby teams. Good at football too. Girls prefer hockey and basketball, still better at shooting than boys and both sexes join the voluntary CCF (trillions of girls, over 400 members in all). A second super new floodlit Astroturf at MES, 'so everyone gets a chance,' dramatic wavy roofed swimming pool (at Stewart's Melville) with co-ed sixth form slump-out room adjacent, new gym (at MES), cricket pavilion (MES again). FPs and current pupils share sporting facilities at MES; extra games pitches at Inverleith. Needle matches in almost all disciplines, with FPs representing both county and country across the board. Smart dining room complex serves all juniors and 80 per cent seniors opt in. Sixth form coffee bars with stunning overview of school and pitches.

Incredibly strong drama – regular performances at the Edinburgh Festival and throughout the year at the Playhouse etc. Masses of every sort of orchestras. Pupils can learn to fly, ski (Hillend and the real thing, the Alps, Canada); brilliant debating team (regularly the Scottish Debating Champions, European Youth Parliament finalists) and SMC has represented Great Britain abroad all over the shop. Good home economics. Arts spectacular. Dramatic art room atop MES (with adjoining pottery and greenhouse). £3.5m performing arts centre's opening splash was Snowman composer, Howard Blake and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Centre took 12 years in the planning – seats 800 with a retractable stage and dividing walls, replacing the old assembly hall – which was huge and impressive – and jolly nice in its way.


Two boarding houses, Dean Park House and Erskine House, furnished like large (and very well-equipped) family houses and based on the edge of the Stewart's Melville campus. Tremendous family feel, boarders are encouraged to invite friends home, caring house parents and only 60 boarding places. Boarders organise most of their own out-of-school activities eg quiz nights, weekend outings, summer barbecues.

Background and atmosphere

Stewart's Melville campus is based round the magnificent David Rhind-designed Daniel Stewart's Hospital which opened in 1885 and merged with Melville College in 1972. Fairy-tale Victorian gothic with a cluster of necessary modern additions surrounded by ever-decreasing games pitches and car parks. The old chapel is now a library complete with organ and stained glass windows. Stewart's Melville is also home to the senior department of the junior school – see separate entry.

Mary Erskine was founded in 1694, as the Merchant Maiden Hospital, moved to Ravelston in 1966, changing its name to The Mary Erskine School, and amalgamated with the boys' school in 1978. (Girls wear charming Mary Erskine tartan kilts.) MES clusters in decidedly 1960s architecture with, now, quite a lot of more modern extensions, round the pretty but sadly overwhelmed Ravelston House (1791): swimming pool, tennis courts, games pitches, Astroturfs etc. The last much used by FPs. The nursery department and the youngest classes of the junior school are also based here.

Regular buses from East and West Lothian and Fife service both schools, which operate as one, under the auspices of Erskine Stewart's Melville Governing Council. Each school, though, is fiercely proud of its individual heritage.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Both schools have a tutorial system for the first year, followed by house system in upper schools. Houses are common to both schools and house competitions have mixed sex teams. Good links with parents. Brief is that 'all children have a right to be happy here.' Code of conduct established by consulting pupils so 'they know exactly where they stand.' Excellent anti-bullying policy: wary pastoral staff and peer-support group 'with professional training' stop 'children slipping through the net.' Sophisticated PSE programme right up the school, including study skills. Buddy system for those coming up from junior schools. Automatic expulsion, 'zero-tolerance,' for those bringing in illicit substances - 'those on the periphery of the same incident will not necessarily be excluded but can come back in as long as they agree to random testing'. Fags 'unacceptable and pupils suspended'. Booze 'not an issue in school'.

Pupils and parents

Edinburgh hotch-potch of New Town and suburbs, with many first-time buyers and lots up from England. Siblings and FPs' children. Taking over a third of Edinburgh's independent secondary pupils, it's less elitist and perhaps less dusty than some city schools. Children living far out can spend the night when doing evening activities. Parent-teacher group ('the red socks brigade') slightly better organised into a Friends of the School group, fundraising, ceilidhs, 'good cash cow.'


At 11,12, 13 or sixth form - otherwise 'by default.' Automatic from junior school. Entrance assessments held in January but can be arranged at any time. Waiting lists for some stages but just go on trying. Entrance to upper school is by interview, plus school report plus GCSEs/National grades (five credit passes for S5 entry.) Numbers up overall.


Minimal leakage pre-Highers, most sixth year go on to university (gap years growing in popularity, especially for girls), most opt for Scottish universities but a few go to Oxbridge (one to Oxbridge in 2017, and two medics), London, Bristol etc. SATs (for American colleges) not a problem; some students also go to European universities. One to Illinois on a golf scholarship in 2017 and one to Texas. Art college, music/drama are popular alternatives.

Money matters

Scholarships/bursaries available, some linked to the Merchant Company, others sibling directed. 'No child will be left wanting in a (financial) crisis.'

Our view

A glance at the school mags, Merchant Maiden and The Collegian, sums it up: bags of boys' poetry, multiple hockey, rugby and cricket teams, several Oxbridge places, fabulous art, photos and writing plus fascinating glimpses from boys and girls reporting on the same activities with subtly different views.

An outstanding school; happy pupils, happy staff - focused on self-development with impressive results.

Special Education Needs

We offer support for learning, both in class and in small extracted groups. In the first year some pupils are given the option to do one modern language instead of two, allowing support to be delivered instead. Further up the school, some pupils will continue to follow a reduced timetable depending on their needs.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability Y
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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