Skip to main content

What says..

Outstanding arts provision and incredible breadth of extracurricular. A parent reported, ‘It’s an exciting week when choosing extracurricular activities, and makes for good dinner-time chat. Can’t imagine them doing mountain biking, pottery and singing in the Edinburgh Tattoo elsewhere.’ Sport is a big deal here, with successes in local, national and international arenas. Biggest amongst the boys is undoubtedly...

Read review »

What the school says...

Stewart’s Melville College is part of ESMS, a vibrant, friendly, family of schools, set in beautiful grounds in the heart of Edinburgh.

We are a diamond school with a co-educational Junior School. Boys move into Stewart’s Melville College for the early years of secondary school where teachers understand how to motivate and nurture boys so that they thrive. At Sixth Form the pupils then return to a co-educational learning environment to prepare them for life after school. This allows us to give our pupils the best of both worlds.

We offer our pupils a rounded education and an unrivalled opportunity to discover and develop their natural talents. We run an extensive outdoor education programme and offer over 90 extra-curricular activities.

At Stewart’s Melville College pupils leave school with lifelong friendships and the strength of character, social skills, imagination and self-belief they need to find success in whatever they turn their minds to.
...Read more

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2021, Anthony Simpson, previously at Giggleswick school, first as a teacher in his early career then - after a period of teaching in a range of inner-city academies – as deputy head and with responsibility for child protection, safeguarding and welfare issues. He joked about returning to the school where he first started his career: ‘I’ve done everything you shouldn’t do, but always done what has felt right.’ That includes moving to Scotland, with the support of his wife, a proper Yorkshire girl ‘who only wanted to move north’. He has two daughters, both of whom attend the ESMS family of schools, and a black Labrador named Tessa. ‘A perfect move for his family,’ he says. A keen triathlete, he has represented Great Britain in both European and world championships.

Interim principal since 2022, David Girdwood. He runs the twin senior schools (Stewart’s Melville College and The Mary Erskine School) with two heads and the head of the co-ed junior school. Has long association with ESMS, having joined Stewart's Melville College in 1987 as head of chemistry, later becoming head of upper school and most recently a governor. Attended St Andrews University followed by teacher training at Jordanhill (now Strathclyde), then MEd at Stirling. Was Rector of St Columba’s School, Kilmacolm, for 15 years. He is deputy lieutenant of Renfrewshire and chair of governors at St Columba’s, and has also been a governor of The Glasgow Academy and of Lomond School. He and his wife Lisa have two daughters, both of whom attended ESMS Junior School, and a much loved working cocker, Rhu, who is a retirement dog. Interests include rugby and walking.


At age 11, 12, 13, fifth year and sixth form. Selective but automatic entrance from junior school. Children are assessed (English, maths, verbal reasoning) before entrance. Numbers are up.


Minimal leakage pre-Highers with most going on to university. Some 55 per cent to Scottish universities, the rest to English, Irish, European or American universities. SATs (for American colleges) not a problem. In 2021, students went off to Harvard and Princeton. Back in the UK, St Andrews, Glasgow, Bristol, Durham, UCL, Glasgow School of Art and LSE all popular. In 2021, 13 medics. Usually a few to Oxbridge.

Latest results

In 2021, 94 per cent A-C at National 5; 92 per cent A-B at Higher; 87 per cent A-B at Advanced Higher. In 2019 (the last year exams took place), 60 per cent of Advanced Highers awarded A and 64 per cent of Highers awarded A.

Teaching and learning

ESMS follows the diamond model of education. So the boys and girls are educated together at the junior school, separately in the senior school from 12–17, and back to a co-ed set-up in S6. All based on the school’s principle that ‘boys and girls learn differently'. ‘It didn’t mean that much to me initially but seeing how they teach the boys and engage them, I now believe them,' said one parent. In contrast to the girls’ school (which has a more formal approach to teaching, according to some parents), a parent told us, ‘In the boys’ school, the teachers seem to engage with them on a more conversational level, with discussion and debates. The boys enjoy the banter with their teachers, especially in sixth year.’ Indeed, we were lucky enough to observe this on our tour in a superb S3 Latin lesson – embracing the latest technology, the boys were using their personal devices interactively in the lesson (though they were put away for noun revision). Relaxed, chatty atmosphere and pupils very much at ease. But it was the physics lesson that stole the show. The young dynamic teacher has his own YouTube channel, Answer Me with Mr B, and we were treated to a lesson on ‘Physic is true, ya,’ where he performed on the ukulele to the tune of ‘Hallelujah’, finished off with a round of applause from the class of boys. An exemplar of modern teaching that keeps boys engaged and interested.

In general, teaching staff are rated highly by parents and pupils for their subject knowledge and passion for teaching. As one parent put it, ‘I’ve not come across the teacher who is doing it just to pay their mortgage.’ Another reported, ‘They know how to educate boys and really like boys. Incredibly positive about being male.’

Class sizes of around 20-22 for first two years, reducing in size to 20 or fewer for S3-S5 and then 12-15 for S6. Following the Scottish curriculum, all pupils study for eight National 5 exams in S3 and S4. English, maths, a science and a modern language are compulsory at this stage. In S5, they study for five Higher exams (they must do Higher English) while in their final year they study for Advanced Highers (usually three) in twinned classes with Mary Erskine. French, German, Latin and Spanish all on offer from S1 to Advanced Higher.

Firefly Learning is their online virtual learning platform, used to keep track of homework, study tasks, school events and individuals’ progress in learning, and proved invaluable as a teaching hub during the lockdowns during the pandemic. Keen to embrace the best of technology, all pupils are provided with their own learning devices.

Learning support and SEN

Strong learning support both in and out of the classroom. Numbers are below the national average because it’s a selective school. Natural transition into the senior school. A small number will take National 4s instead of National 5s and drop a language for learning support, depending on the child’s individual needs. No dedicated hub, but ‘SfL has been extremely helpful and supportive,’ one parent told us.

The arts and extracurricular

Outstanding arts provision and incredible breadth of extracurricular. A parent reported, ‘It’s an exciting week when choosing extracurricular activities, and makes for good dinner-time chat. Can’t imagine them doing mountain biking, pottery and singing in the Edinburgh Tattoo elsewhere.’ Staggering variety of clubs and societies on offer to all – from Warhammer to music tech and board games, all with specialist teachers. A parent told us, ‘At least once a month the mountain biking club goes down to Glentress. The teachers take all the clubs and get really involved, forming really good bonds with the kids.’ CCF is very popular with over 300 pupils involved – particularly strong RAF, with over 100. Biggest provider of DofE in Scotland with large numbers completing gold.

Masses of orchestras, bands and choirs at all age groups. We caught the extracurricular concert band in full swing, performing a foot-stomping rendition of the spaghetti western classic, Moment for Morricone. Pupils describe the annual house music and house rock competitions as ‘such fun’. By all accounts the choir performing annually at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is something really special (and our tour guide told us not just for tourists). More than 200 boys have instrumental music lessons and there are 45 visiting music teachers.

Drama is part of the curriculum for younger pupils and can be taken up to Higher and Advanced Higher. The Tom Fleming Centre for Performing Arts, a renovated Victorian assembly hall with a series of beautiful arched windows, can seat audiences of up to 580 and offers full production, sound and lighting facilities. We also visited the stunning, newly acquired Dean Church on our tour, where we saw the thriving pipe band - another breathtaking performance venue, with its original pipe organ, that is starting to welcome parents back to school concerts and choir recitals. Drama for all, with plays and performances throughout the year for all age groups during normal times and with past performances at the Edinburgh Festival. Productions in 2021 include the Little Shop of Horrors and We Will Rock You.

Parents speak highly of the art department, with pupils’ artwork proudly displayed on the walls.


Sport is a big deal here, with successes in local, national and international arenas. Biggest amongst the boys is undoubtedly rugby, with a whopping 27 teams, and not only for the most talented. A parent told us, ‘My son is not a first team player, but it doesn’t matter. He’s still enthusiastic and there’s a real team spirit there.’ Masses of FPs that have made it in the sporting world have framed pictures in the Sporting Honours Wall in the large sports centre to inspire current pupils. On our tour we caught a glimpse of a charity football match being actively supported as well as extracurricular activities in table tennis (popular with the younger students) and seriously dedicated indoor rowers. The main sports of rugby or hockey and cricket or athletics are compulsory for the younger pupils, but the choice widens further up the school so there is something for everyone – as well as swimming (there’s a 25m pool on site), cricket, badminton, cross country and many more. The pitches at the front of the school are used mostly for PE lessons, but for training and matches the boys are bussed to the pitches at Inverleith.


Predominately a day school that offers a small boarding option, mostly attractive to older pupils (over half are S5s/S6s). Housing up to 32 boarders, Dean Park House has the feel of a grand house with stunning original features combined with luxurious modern amenities – think contemporary kitchen, common rooms with a touch-table computer and an electric piano. This is the swishest boarding accommodation we’ve seen. Boarders follow a normal timetable the same as day pupils. Boarders in S4 and under have to hand in their devices in the evening and wifi is switched off at bedtime. Sleeps up to 11 girls and 21 boys in small dorms as well as four single rooms and one double.

Flexibility is a selling point for the older pupils, who tend to occupy themselves at the weekend, hanging out or staying over with friends. For younger pupils, planned weekend activities involve trips to the cinema, paintballing, local beaches or a treasure hunt around Edinburgh. Handily located on site, boys only have a few minutes’ walk into their classes each morning. Flexi-boarding if space is available. Boarders are a mix of Scottish, UK and international pupils.

Bit of a grumble from one parent about the food, but otherwise high praise, particularly for the boarding housemaster. 'He is excellent,' we heard from a parent, 'as are all the staff - their kindness and warmth of personality make all the difference. He is also a pleasure to work with as a parent and he instantly provides confidence.’

Ethos and heritage

Stewart’s Melville campus is based around the magnificent Daniel Stewart’s Hospital. Designed by David Rhind, it was opened in 1855 by the Merchant Company of Edinburgh. When Daniel Stewart (whose wealth came from India) died in 1814, he left a sum of money and instructions that, once it had reached £40,000, it should be used to create a hospital for needy boys within the city. The hospital was transformed into Daniel Stewart’s College in 1870. In 1972 the school merged with Melville College. The David Rhind main building is large and Victorian Gothic in design. Think fairytale pile, now surrounded by some necessary modern additions. Games pitches to the front, mostly used for PE and by the junior school, and car parks front and rear, chock full at the time of our visit.

Senior pupils share the site with upper junior school of ESMS. Sixth formers, who are back in the co-ed set-up with Mary Erskine, are bussed to classes between the two campuses, about a mile apart. A very large, traditional school with the best of modern teaching methods, parents told us that good academic outcomes is the expectation. One parent reported, 'It’s quite no-nonsense but in a good way.’ Another said, ‘Wouldn’t suit a very bohemian family who don’t believe in rules.’

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

School is divided into six houses, which they stay in from S1–S6. Each has a head of house and an assistant head. These houses are common to Stewart’s Melville and Mary Erskine, so the various inter-house competitions have mixed teams. From S1–S2 pupils have dedicated tutors and sixth formers are divided into small tutor groups with a personal sixth form tutor.

Working towards the LGBT gold charter – the head was wearing a Pride badge. He told us, ‘We accept pupils for who they are,' and said they can choose which pronoun the school should use, can adjust the uniform to suit and move to Mary Erskine if they prefer. School acknowledged they were listed on Everyone’s invited but are unaware of the circumstances. Toxic behaviours and gender violence are discussed in PHSE, but they have also subscribed with the Scottish government’s initiative, Equally Safe at School, to bring greater focus to the issue. With 15–20 per cent of pupils from BAME backgrounds and a pupil-led equality and diversity committee, they recently undertook a large survey to celebrate different religions, festivals and celebrations to ensure that all pupils see themselves represented around the school.

Pupils and parents

Pupils seem ambitious but modest and well-mannered. As for parents, we spoke to a real mixture, from those with a pupil receiving bursary support to first-time buyers, children of FPs (former pupils) and families living in the local neighbourhood. Attracting over a third of Edinburgh’s independent secondary pupils, it is less elitist than some of its neighbours. Coaches from Dunfermline, Bathgate, Eskbank and Haddington as well as around Edinburgh. Few grumbles that a later bus doesn’t run, meaning some kids miss out on extracurricular activities, depending on where they live. But children living far away can spend the night when doing evening activities (as long as there’s room).

Money matters

Bursaries of up to 100 per cent, as well as scholarships throughout. Those doing well in the entrance exam are invited to sit a scholarship exam. Music scholarships (together with free music tuition) are also available.

The last word

Undoubtedly a big school, but its sheer size provides tremendous benefits. Parents praise the staff as being very knowledgeable and dedicated to their subjects and as having a focus on academic rigour. Immense array of extracurricular activities and sporting successes too. An impressive school with terrific 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

Who came from where

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.