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The only boys-only boarding school left in Scotland. Traditional, warm and personal school - small enough for everyone to know everyone. Blessed with lovely grounds, with the bonus of having Edinburgh on the doorstop. Make no mistake, rugby is still big here – 66 Merchistonians have played at full international level. Parents say, ‘hockey and football are becoming more popular but rugby is still the main sport’. Parents report that the boys ‘sing and dance with great enthusiasm’ and ‘they don’t think it’s uncool to be in the choir’... 


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What the school says...

Merchiston is the only boys’ independent boarding school in Scotland, offers the English curriculum, and has a global, outward-looking dimension. We take pride in specializing in the education of boys and preparing them for the world, as we have for over 175 years, developing aspirational, and sensitive, yet gentle-men! Think about a wonderfully caring and nurturing family environment, where they will learn to like learning more.

With an ethos based on traditional values, Merchiston encourages self-reliance and independence, as well as respect for and tolerance of others. Our main objective is to motivate pupils to try their hardest and to strive to achieve the highest levels possible in all areas - firstly academic, then cultural, sporting, leadership, and simply living together as part of a community.
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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.




What The Good Schools Guide says


Since August 2018, Jonathan Anderson, previously senior deputy head at Worksop College. Geography degree from Queen's Belfast; joined Christ's Hospital as a geography teacher and was promoted to assistant housemaster and housemaster. After nearly 14 years, he moved to Worksop. He is married with a young daughter.

Head of the junior school (Pringle) since 2012, Niamh Waldron, first came to the school in 2005. Junior school parents sing her praises and say that she’s ‘really wonderful, warm and motherly’, ‘fun with a great sense of humour and completely dedicated to the children’.

Academic matters

Junior school pupils start at J4 (primary 4, age 7/8) and stay in the junior school until they finish year 8 (S1, age 12). The tinies (age 7-9) are taught in the Pringle Centre classrooms and move up to take lessons in the main school aged 10. Set from aged 11 and follow three individual sciences from age 12. At 13 they move seamlessly up to the senior school without taking an entrance exam. Languages taught from the start, specialist teachers for maths, science and the arts. Pupils in the junior school also have access to a bank of iPads in the Pringle Centre.

School continues to follow the mainly English system. A few do sit a combination of A levels and Scottish Highers. In 2019, 73 per cent A*/B grades at A level, 57 per cent 9-7 at GCSE. Tiny numbers doing Advanced Highers and a small number Highers. All boys must do two separate sciences at GCSE and many go on to study science at A level. Maths still the most popular subject at A level. Sciences and English are also strong. No plans to change to IB; head says, ‘we looked at IB twice but it wouldn’t suit us and wouldn’t work for the majority of our boys’.

The science labs are well kitted out with full multimedia facilities and video microscopes - they are also equipped to do a certain amount of genetics work. Much to the delight of most of the boys there is also a menagerie of animals including a boa constrictor, a chameleon and a tarantula. Recent developments include Mount Olympus, a suite of classrooms for geography, classics and economics which also includes the popular Masterchef kitchen. This was launched in 2011 with the aim of preparing leavers for life after school. Each boy in his final year has six sessions to learn basic cookery skills. For the ambitious there is the annual, hotly fought and popular Masterchef competition where the boys can showcase their skills.

School supports boys with a range of needs - dys-stream, Asperger’s, ADHD. Broadly non-selective, but boys ‘must be able to access the curriculum’. Pupils’ support needs are assessed before admission and progress is monitored on an ongoing basis. Pupils are taught either individually or in small groups in timetabled classes in the learning support department. Support is there for actual diagnosable problems but also for getting some boys up to speed. Good feedback about this department - ‘it’s all dealt with’ and ‘good communication with the parent’s’.

Parents report that the teaching staff in general are ‘top drawer’ and ‘go out of their way to help the boys’.

Games, options, the arts

Merchiston has long been associated with a tradition of sporting excellence, in particular on the rugby pitch. Sport is played along traditional lines with rugby in the autumn and spring terms and cricket and athletics in the summer. The school is currently represented at national and international level in many sports, including athletics, cricket, rugby and target shooting.

Make no mistake, rugby is still big here – 66 Merchistonians have played at full international level. Parents say, ‘hockey and football are becoming more popular but rugby is still the main sport’. However with six senior and 12 junior teams, there are opportunities at all levels and everyone is given a chance to represent the school. Boys are enormously proud of their rugby heritage. We hear that at weekends boys don’t necessarily rush home when their rugby matches are finished - many choose to stay on the touchline to support their first team. Team tours, including overseas.

Sports facilities are good with a rifle range, golf nets, putting green, fives, tennis (three all-weather floodlit courts) and squash courts, an indoor swimming pool and sports hall. The boys are encouraged to be involved in sport outside the ‘core sports’ during the school week. Senior boys often help coach the younger children - works well, clearly popular with the younger ones and the coaches. School is embarking on the biggest sporting development for a generation which will include a new sports centre, 25m pool and a 3G synthetic pitch for football and rugby.

The school established a tennis academy in 2007 with 13 players and it has now grown to around twice that size. These players pursue a bespoke academic timetable and an individual tennis programme. Students join the academy by invitation, after passing an assessment.

The golf academy (in association with Kings Acre Golf Club) likewise provides an environment where young golfers can maximise their potential. The academy takes part in junior and senior tournaments throughout Scotland and the UK with plenty of success stories, and there's help with applying for golf scholarships in the US.

Strong DT department, subject available at A level. Super art, painting displayed in the department and around the school. Music for all. Two-thirds of the boys play a musical instrument. Chapel choir, choral society (over 120 pupils), jazz band, ceilidh band. Fantastic junior and senior pipe bands. Plus many other formal and informal music groups. Many of the weekday school assemblies include music performances. Parents report that the boys ‘sing and dance with great enthusiasm’ and ‘they don’t think it’s uncool to be in the choir’.

Flourishing CCF with rifle range built into school wall. Sister school - St George’s School for Girls - has recently joined as a cadet company and the schools train together at Merchiston during the summer term.

Drama in partnership with St George’s. At least two main productions each year, with a biennial musical, for all year groups. Merchiston Juniors also have their own musical in alternate years.


Traditionally a boarding school; 65 per cent of the boys are boarders and this rises to 80 per cent in sixth form. Junior school offers what they call ‘step-up’ boarding (flexi), reviewed termly - subject to beds being available. Pringle House (juniors) can sleep a maximum of 46 boys. Lovely cosy house, enclosed in its own secret garden. Homely dorms, spacious kitchen and comfy dayroom, supervised by the head of juniors, resident tutors, a housemother and a team of prefects chosen from upper sixth formers.

In the senior school the boys are divided ‘horizontally’ rather than ‘vertically’, so all in each year group are in the same house. Four houses: those for the first three years have a combination of shared and single rooms; when the boys reach lower sixth they move into the impressive Laidlaw House. Boarders are split between Laidlaw North and South, with Evans House accommodating the day pupils. Laidlaw is pretty super dooper. Modern and well furnished, all rooms are on-suite and more akin to a new-build hotel than a traditional boarding house - lucky boys. No wonder boarding numbers increase in sixth form. Six kitchens, in-house laundry, gym and stunning views of Edinburgh.

No step-up boarding in the senior school. A day boy may sleepover for up to three nights per week but beyond this he has to pay the full boarding fee, if beds are available.

Sixth form prefects are billeted to a house for the year to act as mentors. Parents report that the boys ‘look up to the prefects mentoring them’ and they are their ‘role models’. The boys have a different housemaster each year and have to learn to build a new relationship with a senior person, which is ‘an important lesson and skill to have,' say parents.

For boarders and day boys alike, Saturday is a normal school day. Lessons in the morning and sports fixtures after lunch. Entertainment in the evening - pizza/DVD evening, cinema or theatre trip, or an evening with a sister school - disco or ceilidh. Sundays have either a whole school service (boarders and day boys) or a morning or evening service for boarders only. Often there are Sunday trips for the boarders - into Edinburgh city centre, bowling, swimming, go-karting, hill-walking. Boys may go out and visit friends or family by arrangement with their housemaster.

This is a ‘proper’ boarding school, not one composed of flexi-boarders who empty out every weekend. Lots of weekend activities. Each house has telephones for pupils to use and set rules about mobiles. Computer available in Pringle for Skyping.

Background and atmosphere

School was founded in 1828 by Charles Chalmers. Moved to Merchiston Castle, an early 15th century tower, in 1833. In 1930 moved three miles down the road to the current greenfield site at Colinton, four miles from the centre of Edinburgh. Present day buildings date from this time, though the original Colinton House now houses the science department.

Buildings set within 100 acres of park-like playing fields. Beautiful mature trees and exceptional views - lovely setting. Compact campus, buildings all quite close together - easy for boys to get from A to B quickly. Nothing flashy but everything well kept and in good heart. Juniors in Pringle House are cosily tucked away in the south west corner of the school grounds but still have easy access to and use of entire campus.

Sick bay with visiting sports physiotherapist and own ultrasound machine. Dining hall with servery and buffet service. Boys quick to praise the food: ‘it’s good and there’s always enough’. First floor Memorial Hall doubles as chapel and dance hall. An impressive space with balconies all round and a stage at the front, it can seat the whole school - lots of tartan. Big on Scottish reeling. Girls are regularly bussed in from sister schools - St George’s (Edinburgh) and Kilgraston (Perthshire) - for reel parties and socials. Girls can visit at weekends and join the boys in the sixth form club.

Uniform of blue blazers, white shirt, tie. Dark, grown-up suits for sixth formers (popular with the boys - badge of honour). Kilts and green jackets for outings/special occasions.

Impressive website - information on just about everything. Full disclosure on academic results - by year and subject. A great window into the school.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The feedback that we got from both boys and parents about the matrons and the nurses was second to none - ‘top notch’, ‘fantastic’, ‘they’re lovely’, ’totally on it’. The boarders reported that they keep in touch with their previous house matrons as they move up the school.

The horizontal house system works well for controlling potential bullying. Good PSHE programme. Each house has a well-being prefect with whom other pupils are encouraged to confide.

Smoking dealt with on a case by case basis. Punishments: detention or clean up task. Smoking within school buildings results in suspension. The school tries to educate pupils about the risks in consuming alcohol, which is dealt with on a case by case basis.
Drugs: instant expulsion for supplying. Expulsion also for drug use except in ‘exceptional cases’, where a ‘supportive regime’ may be offered. However this option is ‘unlikely to be applied when drugs are used on school premises’.

Pupils and parents

Parents strongly middle class. Many have family connections to the school - former pupils. Plenty of first time buyers as well. Lots from Edinburgh but also boarders from further afield, Perthshire, Borders, Stirlingshire - many from Scottish prep schools. A few from south of the border. Around five per cent expats, 22 per cent from overseas - from 22 countries, particularly Hong Kong and Germany. The boys we met were all open, friendly, confident, well-mannered and proud of their school. Manners matter here.


Entry into junior school by assessment using computer based InCAS software - measuring reading, general maths and mental arithmetic. Online screening assessment also required, plus interview. Automatic entry to the senior school from the junior school (around 40 pupils per year).

Senior school entry at 13+ from preparatory schools via common entrance, or by mathematics, English and science exams, plus interview.

Sixth form entrance depends on GCSE or National 5 performance, or entrance exams, plus interview.


Some 20 per cent leaves after GCSEs. About a quarter to Scottish universities - particularly Edinburgh and Glasgow - and 70 per cent to English universities. Two to Oxbridge in 2018; others off to Berklee College of Music, Toronto University, Vancouver Film School and Santa Clara, San Jose.
Accounting and finance, economics, business management, engineering, social and political science top subject choices.

Money matters

Academic scholarships at 13+, 14+ and sixth form - school’s own examinations. All-rounder scholarships, music, sport, art & design. No money off fees - awarded for the honour alone. Parents may apply for means-tested assistance (up to 100 per cent of the fees). Reductions in fees for siblings attending ‘sister’ schools (St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh; Kilgraston School, Perth and Queen Margaret’s School, York).

Our view

The only boys-only boarding school left in Scotland. Traditional, warm and personal school - small enough for everyone to know everyone. Blessed with lovely grounds, with the bonus of having Edinburgh on the doorstop and well placed to attract good staff. Rugby is still very much a religion here but don’t underestimate the rest. They’re no slouches off the pitch either.

Special Education Needs

Merchiston has a Learning Support Department which gives intensive 1:1 and 2:1 tuition, particularly in the Junior School. Prospective pupils go through an in depth assessment so that we can ascertain whether Merchiston would be a suitable school for them. This ensures that we know precisely the level of each pupil. The support thereafter is ongoing and adapted to that pupil's needs. Essentially, we are a mainstream school which can offer to help bright pupils requiring specific Learning Support, but who can independently access the curriculum in the Senior School up to and including GCSE and AS/A2 Level. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
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
VI - Visual Impairment

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