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  • St George's School (Edinburgh)
    Garscube Terrace
    Murrayfield
    Edinburgh
    EH12 6BG
  • Head: Mrs Alex Hems
  • T 01313 118000
  • F 01313 118120
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.stge.org.uk
  • An independent school for girls aged from 3 to 18.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Edinburgh, City of
  • Pupils: 740; sixth formers: 150
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: Day £8,970- £14,700; Boarding £27,315 - £30,435 pa
  • Open days: October and March and May, visits welcomed at any other time
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review

What says..

School describes itself as ‘the best of British’ - a girls-only school that offers both the English and Scottish system, depending on what best fits the bill for the individual pupil. The reasoning, they say, is that ‘unis value Highers and Advanced Highers’ but English GCSEs are more substantial. School’s inclusive approach to PE is based on ‘come along and we’ll believe in you’, though one pupil had a bit of a grumble, feeling that...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1888 by the pioneers of women’s education in Scotland, St George’s is now Scotland’s largest all girls’ school and the only all-through girls’ school in Edinburgh. We have girls as young as two and as old as eighteen.

Situated ten minutes from the heart of Edinburgh on a beautiful campus, the school provides an outstanding education both inside and outside the classroom.

Our distinctive character encourages each girl to be herself in an environment expressly designed for girls. Through a wealth of opportunities and an ethos promoting high expectations, girls gain in confidence and develop ambition so that they may achieve their full potential.

With a Junior School size of around 200 girls (and a whole school of 750), St George’s is relatively small though the Upper School and Sixth Form are substantial. For their primary education girls are taught in small classes - but, at around 16 - 19, big enough to provide interest and dynamism.

Top standards are expected of all St George’s girls and the high level of individual attention they receive enables them to achieve good results. Examination results have been consistently outstanding over many years and we are regularly top of the Scottish Independent Schools for our Advanced Higher results.

The School received an excellent report from Education Scotland in 2015. It was awarded the highest possible grading of 'excellent' in three categories.

The school is recognised for its pioneering International Exchange Programme: students enter into exchange programmes with schools in many different parts of the world.

Academic excellence is valued. We offer a mixture of Scottish and English qualifications, and St George's is consistently one of the top independent school in Scotland for Advanced Highers. Almost all of our sixth form go on to take degree courses, some after a gap year, and our destination of leavers is published on our website http://www.stge.org.uk/about/leavers-university-destinations

Emphasis is placed on personal achievement, responsibility, diversity and on partnerships. Girls, staff and parents work cooperatively throughout the school. Together, we aim meet the needs of the outside world as well as those of the individual.

Boarding is popular and Houldsworth House provides a comfortable home-from-home within the school for up to 60 girls.

The co-curricular programme is extensive and includes activities such as CCF, Duke of Edinburgh, drama, music, Model UN, debating, sailing etc.
...Read more

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Other features

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.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since January 2017, Alex Hems. Previously deputy head of Wycombe Abbey. English degree from Oxford, then an English teacher; has also been head of sixth form at North London Collegiate, head of senior school at St Paul's Girls and deputy head at Francis Holland.

Her main areas of focus so far have been reviewing both the curriculum in the lower school (10–13 year olds) and the GCSE exam process (15–16 year olds), with classroom time extended in English and maths to ensure good habits are established early. Changes include P6s and S1s now having double periods of specialist science teaching, and language carousel from P7.

‘Mrs Hems is approachable and professional, a leader,’ said a parent. She is married to William and they have two daughters at the school. William is a research chemist and teacher.’ Reads ‘a huge amount’, loves walking in the countryside and some sport, ‘if I have the time’. Quietly spoken and down-to-earth, she is like many working mums in constantly trying to balance between work and family time - ‘I’m always juggling,’ she laughs.

Entrance

Entry via nursery or interview aged 4 or 5. Plenty of clever clogs, going by exam results, but they consider all girls able to keep up with the pace of academic life. Entry by assessment, school report and interview. Entry to sixth form is by entrance assessments and a school report; external pupils by interview and previous school report. These sixth form places are in high demand.

Exit

Almost all juniors move up to the senior school with few leaving after GCSEs/National 5s; otherwise a gap year, uni, or higher education of all sorts. Scots law popular, as are the sciences, medicine (three medics and a dentist in 2020), engineering and business management. Around 60 per cent opt for free Scottish universities, eg Aberdeen, St Andrew's, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Rest to universities in England and around the globe. Around 90 per cent get into their first choice of uni or college. One to Oxbridge in 2020.

Latest results

In 2020, 57 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 87 per cent A/B for Highers; 96 per cent A/B for Advanced Highers. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 50 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 82 per cent A/B for Highers; 89 per cent A/B for Advanced Highers.

Teaching and learning

School describes itself as ‘the best of British’ - a girls-only school that offers both the English and Scottish system, depending on what best fits the bill for the individual pupil. The reasoning, they say, is that ‘unis value Highers and Advanced Highers’ but English GCSEs are more substantial - ‘You have to work harder and they distinguish excellence. Content is greater and they work over two years to develop these skills and have a good overlap with Highers. They really get to know the subject.’ Small numbers still do Nat 5.

Super-duper results. The HPQ (Higher Project Qualification) also proves popular - an independent research project in lower 6, studied alongside GCSEs. This enables pupils to extend themselves in a cross-curricular project and to learn project management skills. Head calls it a ‘special opportunity to do something different and good prep for Higher and Advanced Higher.’

One-to-one interviews to discuss GCSE subjects with the girls. Most take eight subjects, leading to nine, but some take seven. Curriculum is designed around pupil choices with column structure designed to reflect that. All girls take at least one science, one language and one social science - ‘It is often said that no two girls take the same subjects in upper 6 due to the bespoke nature of our provision’. Art A Level more popular than the Scottish Higher: ‘Prepares them better for university,’ say head. Around a third of girls go into STEM subjects.

P7s (which they call ‘remove’) have a secondary experience, moving from the primary classroom to specialist teachers, and experience the language carousel from P7. Mandarin, French, Spanish and German all the way through. Serious language teaching from P5. All choose one language at exam level. At Higher, about a third take a language. Can accommodate variety of languages eg Russian and Mandarin.

Staff tend to stay, with longest-serving member of staff having taught there 37 years. But also young teachers with creative ideas. Senior management team has three men among six women.

Work experience is co-ordinated by the head of careers who has lots of contacts on the St G’s network (an online network of current and former pupils). Career education starts in junior school; lower school has World of Work day; upper school has weekly lunchtime sessions where pupils can talk about what they want to do.

Learning support and SEN

Strong EAL department and much-praised learning support. ‘No sense of stigma,’ said a pupil, while one parent couldn’t rate the school enough for her dyslexic child – ‘a very shy pupil that has gone on to achieve great things’. Support, added the parent, was ‘tailored to meet my child’s individual needs’ and ‘my child is treated in a holistic way with a person-centred approach.’

The arts and extracurricular

Junior (including nursery), lower and upper schools each have their own music facilities, with the Robertson Music Centre, a 200-seat auditorium with its own recording studio at the centre of things. Hosts oodles of individual music lessons and performances from 22 ensembles (brass, strings and wind), as well as orchestras, and jazz, ceilidh and concert bands. Just a trickle at exam level, but at A grade.

Vibrant art department, with art offered at both A Level and Higher (more do A Level than Higher - either fine art or textiles). Drama to Advanced Higher, though numbers small. Lots of participation in schools shows – recently Mary Poppins (junior and lower school), Iben’s A Doll’s House (upper) and creative shows directed by sixth formers, who often join forces with Merchiston Castle boys.

CCF runs jointly with Merchiston, with its summer camp for U4–U6s. Outreach outdoor education from P5. Tons of after-school clubs including the popular Model UN club. Trips too reflect the school’s international outlook, ranging from local experiences such as an Edinburgh museum to NASA and Foreign Exchange programmes (from age 12) in Canada, Hong Kong, Australasia, New Zealand and South Africa. ‘They have many formal and informal gatherings and fantastic opportunities to take part in the exchange programme, ski trips, cultural trips and global support projects,’ said a parent. ‘Also being in the heart of Edinburgh means they have a whole city on their doorstep – a huge advantage for rural girls like ours.’

All of S2 do DofE Bronze, with around 30 doing silver and only a few less than that doing gold. Youth Philanthropy Initiative popular in S3.

Sport

School’s inclusive approach to PE is based on ‘come along and we’ll believe in you’, though one pupil had a bit of a grumble, feeling that sport should be encouraged to ‘help those more who excel’. School explains that it is ‘not an elitist sporting school - unlike some others in the local area - but with good success.’ Marvellous facilities - the sports hall with its viewing area over the squash courts, lacrosse and all-weather pitches for hockey and tennis. Everyone gets a chance to play all sports and local sports clubs use the facilities, such as Grange Junior Hockey. Wide variety of sports and not just the usual suspects for girls - includes lacrosse, judo, athletics, cricket and fencing. All free except for sailing (a coach-ride away), judo and fencing.

Boarders

Houldsworth House comprises a couple of converted Edwardian villas with views of Edinburgh castle. Full, flexi, termly, weekly and occasional boarding. Houses around 50 girls aged 11¬–18 years old. Attracts those from the Scottish islands, London market, international students and British families. Around half the boarders are from the UK, rest from overseas. Array of nationalities but higher numbers from Hong Kong and mainland China than most. No closed weekends and over half will be there on a Saturday night. Full boarders can stay with day girls for the weekend, providing permission is sought from both sets of parents. Head tries ‘to make it feel as much like a home experience as we possibly can’, though this is the mantra of pretty much all boarding schools. After-school care in boarding house. Very flexible and girls can board during exams if they choose or if transport is compromised, for example when the Forth Bridge closed. Sixth formers have struck it lucky with their own bungalow, which resemble uni halls of residence, with each girl having their own room – though they do have to do their own laundry to prepare them for the future. After-school club for younger boarders and oodles of cultural and recreational outings at the weekend for all. Security code entry to all buildings. A parent told us: ‘the Boarding House offers a safe, caring and supportive environment with flexibility’.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1888 by a sparky bunch of female Victorian campaigners, headed by Dame Sarah Mair, leading the way for the admission of women to Scottish universities and raising educational standards for school-age girls. Moved to its current location in leafy Ravelston and Murrayfield in 1914. Set in 15 acres of landscaped grounds, comprises a beautiful colonial neo-Georgian 1914 complex, created by the Scottish architect A F Balfour-Paul, juxtaposed against more modern additions – swish extension for junior school complete with dance studio and a dedicated nursery area with its cantilevered first floor. School is divided into three departments based on age and stage - junior, which encompasses the nursery, plus lower and upper schools.

Edinburgh’s only all-girls school with a tradition of excellence and an international take on things. Suited to a wide range of abilities, though most are high achievers. Small school that operates around knowing everyone and establishing a family community. Suits families who don’t want their daughters to compete or be distracted by boys. There’s something in that – the girls stood out from most we meet on our tours. Respectful and well-mannered, yet they expressed their feelings with gusto, giving unfiltered and honest opinions. They made this editor laugh with their teenage grumbles about the food or that sport could be better. However, felt like they could be successful women of the future, unafraid to express their opinions (and this is definitely not always the case on our school visits).

Casual navy and red uniform for the junior school. Uppers with tartan skirts and maroon blazers, but no ties. One pupil quipped, ‘Everything is laidback here.’ Sixth formers wear clothes of their own choice within a dress code. Given the relaxed uniform, quite strict rules around make-up and unnatural coloured hair (both big no-no’s).

Charities committee with representatives drawn from each year group to organise wide ranging charity work, such as Kids Love Clothes, which sees the school piled high with laundered and specially wrapped parcels of clothing to help those in need. The nursery visits care homes and lots of cake and candy stalls, raffles etc.

The St George's Foundation is an online network of former and present friends and colleagues. The latest news and updates are posted as well as careers advice, networking events and socialising. Head says, ‘The network prepares girls for their future and offers ongoing support, and to keep in touch with other professionals.’ She adds that it ‘offers internships and helps them get up and running by drawing on a resource of old St G’s girls, who keep in touch for life.’

As one parent put it, ‘Our overall impression of St G's is that it produces strongly academic, empowered and aspirational young women.’ We concur. School magazine, aptly named ‘Independent women’ (watch out Beyoncé) and monthly e-newsletter to parents, which includes the head’s blog, school news and events, and advice, such as making subject choices. One parent felt communications could be stronger.

More than a few outstanding women who were notable former pupils: Alice Thompson (novelist), Annie ‘Spitfire’ Penrose (Britain's most famous fighter plane was named after her), Candia McWilliam (author and Booker prize judge), Cordelia Fine (academic psychologist), Emily Dudgeon (athlete), Felicity Hammond (opera singer), Margaret Houldsworth (British campaigner for women’s education and a philanthropist), Kathleen Scott (sculptor, pupil of Rodin), Kay Adams (television presenter), Marie Stopes (author, palaeobotanist, academic, eugenicist, campaigner for women's rights, and pioneer in the field of birth control), Phyllis Bone (20th-century Scottish sculptor), Sheila Burnford (author).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Team of heads of year are on hand for lower and upper school who track the personal, social and academic development of students. They are supported by a team of tutors who meet weekly to discuss any concerns. Their goal is that every student is known well by at least one member of staff and for the girls to feel that they are supported and always have someone to turn to. The apron strings are loosened for senior pupils to prepare them for life beyond school. Parents say it works, with one reporting that ‘the school is happy to deal with problems directly’ and is ‘lead by a strong management team, where any issues seem to be well investigated and sensible, fair measures put in place.’ No exclusions.

Reports for each year group each term, as well as parents’ evenings and form tutor meetings. Six school houses. Food prepared by school chef, with all staff eating with the girls. We had a memorable meal with staff, accompanied by fresh strawberries and lashings of cream - however, one of the girls thought that their food wasn’t always as nice as it is in the boarding house. P1s sit with teachers and are served; everyone else is buffet style.

Pupils and parents

Typical St G’s girls may come across as gregarious high-achievers but they do accommodate a range of pupils. ‘My daughter is the polar opposite of that, shy and introverted who would hide in class, and has grown and developed into a strong, caring, independent women,’ a parent told us. ‘Both my daughters are quite different and were encouraged to follow their individual paths,’ said another.

Parents are not all Edinburgh bourgeoisie. ‘The school would suit a wide variety of families – I would say St George’s has a very diverse parent group and isn’t a one model fits all – they offer flexibility, a broad curriculum and opportunities that suit many families,’ says a parent. Mostly a local bunch with a mix of international boarders.

Free shuttle bus tuns rom Haymarket, otherwise (vastly subsidised) buses operate from Colinton, East Lothian, Portobello, Inverkeithling, Southside and West Lothian. Surveys are sent out to parents so they can meet their needs.

Money matters

Tuition fees are inclusive of textbooks, stationery, junior school day trips and personal accident premiums. Examination fees charged by SQA, GCSE, AS and A Level exam boards are charged as an extra cost. Extras are kept to a minimum but extra is charged for individual music lessons, after school and holiday club, English as a second language, external examination fees and some activities where an external instructor is hired. For three or more sisters, the third sister will receive one-third off tuition fees. Discount scheme for those with brothers at Merchiston. Third child discount does not apply for nursery. Limited number of means-tested bursaries, for up to 100 per cent of school fees, awarded on the basis of financial need. Maintains its charitable status since 2013.

The last word

Widely regarded as the best girls’ school in Scotland, and the only all-through girls’ school in Edinburgh (except for boys in nursery) with an international outlook. Produces gregarious, academic, independent women, which focuses on finding their strengths as individuals.

Special Education Needs

Provision for additional support needs at St George's School for Girls is overseen by the Faculty of Support for Learning, which encompasses Additional Support Needs (Learning Support), ESOL, gifted and talented and student tracking. The Faculty of Support for Learning is a whole school resource which works with students from three years old to university entrance, upon the basis of their individual difficulties and requirements. The Learning Support department works with all areas of Support for Learning, but has a particular regard to individuals with special educational needs. The ESOL department works closely with students who have English as their second language and prepares students for appropriate examinations through Cambridge English Language Assessments and IELTS. Identification of additional support needs is undertaken through the school's screening programme, combined with parental/student referral and contact with the teaching staff. Provision for students with identified needs, ranging from specific learning difficulties to ESOL, is undertaken through individual tuition, small group work and co-operative teaching in whole class situations. A drop-in service is also provided for students who do not require the provision outlined above, but who at times may require assistance with a specific area of work. The Learning Support department has experience of working with a range of specific learning difficulties, behavioural disorders, learning difficulties and difficulties on the autistic spectrum.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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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