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As you would expect for the largest (joint) independent school in Europe, sport is massive. Great achievements in hockey with the 1st XI team winning the Scottish Schools’ Cup. We hear from parents that drama is ‘quite extraordinary’. It is part of the curriculum for younger pupils and can be taken up to Higher and Advanced Higher. Not really a toff school, although there will be a smattering. Taking over a third of Edinburgh’s independent secondary pupils, it is less elitist than some of its neighbours...

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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 The Mary Erskine School your daughter will flourish in an environment of academic excellence. She will work at a pace that suits her development. She will experience unrivalled opportunities to challenge and express herself. She will emerge a happy and confident young woman, ready to play a positive role in society. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since August 2018, Linda Moule, who 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. She spends part of the week in each school (separate campuses) with offices in both. After graduating in theology from Manchester University, she has held positions in the teaching profession in Bristol, Stockport, Manchester and was deputy head of Holy Trinity College, Bromley, before becoming vice principal of New Hall School, Chelmsford in 2004. She was appointed head of Mary Erskine School in 2009, and became vice principal of the ESMS in 2016. Mrs Moule is married with two sons, both of whom have attended Stewart’s Melville College.

Head since August 2018, Kirsty Nicholson, who has taught geography at both Stewart's Melville College and The Mary Erskine School, was a very successful head of house at Mary Erskine and, through her role on the management team in charge of S1 and of admissions for the whole school, has very much been its public face in recent years.


At age 11, 12, 13, fifth year and sixth form. Automatic entrance from junior school. A broadly non-selective school. Children are assessed (English, maths, verbal reasoning) before entrance. Numbers are up. The waiting lists remain ‘first come, first served’ and there are no plans to cherry-pick the more able pupils. The school was adamant about this.


Minimal leakage pre-Highers with most going on to university. Majority to Scottish Universities - Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews and Strathclyde popular. SATS (for American colleges) not a problem. One to Harvard in 2020. School has recently started promoting Dutch universities (Amsterdam, Groningen, Maastricht, Leiden) as an option - good transport links, less expensive than some UK universities. Two to Oxbridge in 2020, plus nine medics, one vet and a dentist.

Latest results

In 2019, 56 per cent of Advanced Highers awarded A.

Teaching and learning

ESMS follows the ‘diamond’ model of education. 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 their final year. The principal and her heads of school are all strong advocates of this system: ‘we can tailor the teaching for boys and girls’…. ‘boys and girls learn differently’. The pupils ‘look forward to sixth form and don’t lose contact with each other as they go through’. Class sizes of around 20-22 for first two years - S1 and S2 - reducing in size to 20 or less for S3-S5 and then between 12-15 for the final year (sixth form). Parents of boys and girls see it as a ‘better learning environment’ and pupils say that ‘the separation doesn’t affect the friendships between the boys and girls’. Many of the sixth formers say ‘we have the same group of friends, boys and girls, as we did in the junior school; we don’t lose touch’.

Pupils study for eight National 5 exams in S3 and S4. English, mathematics, a science and a modern language are compulsory at this stage. In their penultimate year (S5), they study for five Higher exams while in their final year, they study for Advanced Highers in twinned classes with Stewart’s Melville College. Girls can now take economics at National 5 and then progress to Higher and Advanced Higher.

Many pupils do three Advanced Highers (some do more) with considerable success. For these exams pupils have to undertake a dissertation and, in some cases, a scientific investigation which teaches them the skills of independent study that will be necessary at university. Recent results are strong. French, German, Latin and Spanish all on offer to Advanced Higher. The principal tells us ‘there is a strong work ethic here’. This was echoed by parents - ‘it’s a school that produces conscientious children’.

Firefly Learning, an online virtual learning platform, has recently been implemented throughout the school. This allows teachers and students to publish and access information from anywhere with an internet connection. Parents, staff and girls appreciate the effective system to keep track of homework, study tasks, school events and individuals’ progress in learning. Pupils do not bring in their own laptops but can sign out and use a school laptop (kept in school library) whenever they need to. However, pupils are still encouraged and expected to use books for their academic research as well as online resources (‘both are important skills’).

Pupils tell us that if there is anything academic that they need help with there are drop-in centres every lunchtime where a teacher is available to help them - in all subjects. Strong links with the Merchant Company, whose members offer all final year pupils mock interview practice. Big, bright custom-built common room for sixth formers and study areas available.

Learning support and SEN

Strong learning support both in and out of the classroom. We hear reports of ‘great classroom assistants’.

The arts and extracurricular

Outstanding drama - ‘sport and the performing arts are equally strong here’. We hear from parents that drama is ‘quite extraordinary’. It 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, at the Stewart’s Melville site, can seat audiences of up to 580. It's a renovated Victorian assembly hall - an impressive venue with comprehensive production, sound and lighting facilities. Drama is for all, with plays and performances throughout the year for all age groups with regular performances at the Edinburgh Festival. Masses of orchestras and choirs at all age groups (22 bands, orchestras, ensembles and choirs running). Annual house music and house rock competitions, both keenly fought with performances described by one parent as ‘bloody amazing’. Choir performs annually at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. More than 200 girls have instrumental music lessons and there are 45 visiting music teachers. Pipe band thriving.

A staggering variety of clubs and societies on offer to all. It’s all here - from video editing to curling and everything in between. These take place at lunch time and post school. Many of the clubs are sporting - squash, football, netball - but there’s certainly something for everyone in the lineup.

Voluntary CCF very popular with over 300 pupils involved. Strong RAF section - over 100. Even split between boys and girls. ESMS are the biggest provider over DofE in Scotland with over 70 pupils awarded gold recently.

Splendid art - and up to date displays around the school, wondrous paintings from this year’s art exams already up and framed on the walls. Schools often display fabulous art that we then discover has been hanging there for years. Here the boys and girls can see their creations being valued while they are still at school, when it matters most.

Design and manufacture is available as a Higher and Advanced Higher. Exceptional displays of the girls’ product design projects line the corridors.


As you would expect for the largest (joint) independent school in Europe, sport is massive. Great achievements in hockey with the 1st XI team winning the Scottish Schools’ Cup. There are successes across the more minor sports as well with national accolades in athletics, badminton, dance, curling and swimming. Dance is popular and available at Higher level. Basketball has also become very popular. For those not so enamoured with team sports, there are plentiful options, including cycling, golf, climbing and cross-country. The school offers 30 extracurricular sports clubs.


Only a tiny percentage of pupils board; this is still predominantly a day school. Erskine House accommodate up to 29 boarders most of whom are full-time. Occasional flexi-boarding if space allows. The house isn’t purpose built and it feels more like a large family house. The bedroom sizes vary and accommodate between one and three girls. Sixth formers may have their own room depending on numbers. The house is well furnished and very well equipped.

At weekends the boarders have planned activities such as surfing, cinema trips etc but they may also go into the city centre if they wish. The Sunday morning service in the local church remains compulsory to all boarders. They are free to use the school sports centres (pool and fitness suite) in the evening and over weekends.

Boarders come from Scotland, south of the border and also abroad, often with family connections to the school (offspring of FPs), expats. Predominantly UK citizens rather than foreign nationals.

Ethos and heritage

Mary Erskine was founded in 1694, as the Merchant Maiden Hospital, and moved to its present site in Ravelston in 1966, changing its name to The Mary Erskine School and amalgamating with the boys’ school (Stewart’s Melville College) in 1972. The majority of the buildings are from the 1960s (designed by William Kininmonth in 1964). White and cube-like (could be mistaken for a hospital), but light and spacious inside. These buildings surround the pretty, but somewhat overwhelmed, Ravelston House, built in 1800 by Alexander Keith in the late Adam manner.

The attractive grounds here are much more expansive than those at Stewart’s Melville (and there’s more car parking space too). This means that the girls play nearly all of their sport on site and don’t need to be bussed out to other playing fields.

Senior pupils share the site with the nursery pupils and the lower half of the ESMS junior school. Final year pupils who are back in the co-ed set-up with Stewart’s Melville are bussed to classes between the two school campuses (they’re situated about a mile apart). Mind boggling timetabling but, according to both pupils and staff alike, it runs like clockwork.

Coaches from Dunfermline, Bathgate, Eskbank and Haddington as well as around Edinburgh.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The school runs a tutorial system for the first year with groups of 20 girls led by their form tutor, after which the school is divided into six houses. Each has a head of house and an assistant head who together look after the girls as they move through school. These houses are common to both Stewart’s Melville and Mary Erskine, so the various inter-house competitions have mixed teams. Weekly inter-house challenges range from maths quizzes to basketball matches. Sixth formers are under the divided into small tutor groups with a personal tutor, under the umbrella of the director of sixth form.

Excellent anti-bullying policy. 'Cyber bullying in school aged children now more of a threat than normal bullying’ and that they have a full programme to educate the pupils and make them aware of the pitfalls. We hear from parents that ‘any bullying shenanigans or friendship issues are handled very well and quickly’, that there is ’fantastic pastoral care’ and pupils are made to feel ‘safe, valued and that they belong’. Sophisticated PSE programme throughout the school.

‘Zero tolerance’ and expulsion if pupils found in possession of, or dealing in, drugs of any kind. Booze and smoking normally end in suspension - principal says ‘unacceptable but not an issue in school’.

Pupils and parents

A real mixture of parents. Many first time buyers and children of FPs (former pupils). Parents report ‘a broad cross-section of families’, mostly from central Edinburgh and suburbs. Not really a toff school, although there will be a smattering. Taking over a third of Edinburgh’s independent secondary pupils, it is less elitist than some of its neighbours. Children living far out can spend the night when doing evening activities (as long as there’s room). Alumni include Tom Fleming, actor and broadcaster.

Money matters

Bursaries - up to 100 per cent - and 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

This is a big school with big ambitions. With terrific success stories on every front, not just academically, it is a formidable operation. Not every child will thrive as a small fish in such a big pond, and such a large operation may leave the non-conformist with less room to manoeuvre. However, its sheer size has tremendous benefits - parents report ‘the school pulls in great staff’ and provides pupils with ‘incredible opportunities’. Well-mannered, ambitious children leave the school with self-confidence and ‘a strong work ethic’. Parents across the board say they ‘can’t fault it’. An outstanding school 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 Y
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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