Students looking for an excellent education within the stunning surrounds of the Scottish capital should seriously consider a boarding life in the turreted (and superbly equipped) campus of Fettes College.
Founded in 1870, Fettes has been co-ed since 1981 when it welcomed girls. The school is split across two campuses: Fettes Prep (Year 1-7) and Fettes College (Years 7-13), and they are just 200m apart. Around 25% are international or British expat students (the global appeal is wide, with students coming from more than 40 countries) and 60% come from Scotland.
It’s a mid-size school with around 750 students aged seven to 18 years; 70% of students are boarders in Fettes College and 24% in Fettes Prep. The school’s youngest students (described as “busy bees” across the school’s website) learn in a fantastic environment set within woodland and complete with their own chickens and vegetable gardens.
With its distinct uniform (the girls wear tartan skirts and the boys wear pink and brown-striped blazers), Fettes has a rather lovely traditional feel to it. There’s a close-knit, caring community here, helped in part by a well-established house system; while in the minority, day students are given that sense of belonging by being assigned to a boarding house and having their own study area too.
Helen Harrison is the first-ever female Head at Fettes College and since being appointed in 2019 (she as previously a geography teacher at the school), she has been a strong advocate for students being Curious, Creative and Kind – the school’s three core values. Charles Minogue (currently Head of Moor Park School in Shropshire) will join as the new Head of Fettes Prep in August 2022, succeeding Adam Edwards, who has been Headmaster at the school since 2003 and will be retiring.
All Scottish schools are inspected by in terms of teaching by Education Scotland in the same way as state schools, while the Care Inspectorate monitors boarding accommodation and the care provided. In its 2017 Care Inspectorate report, boarding at Fettes College was rated Excellent, and inspectors praised the Prep school’s “nurturing and child-centred” approach and the “very wide choice of activities and opportunities” offered to all boarders.
The curriculum combines features of the English, Welsh and Scottish education system but unlike several of the leading independent schools in Scotland, it does not offer SQA exams. Students are encouraged to develop independent learning skills (“developing self-motivation is as important as academic results" here) and the school keeps a close eye on their progress with subject teacher ‘one-to-ones’ and twice-termly grades for effort and attainment.
Technology is everywhere; every College student brings their own laptop, and teachers share prep, learning resources and announcements through an easy-to-use app.
There’s a strong emphasis on the core subjects’ maths and English from Prep, specialist teachers from age seven, and a broad curriculum with a wide choice of languages (French, German, Mandarin, Spanish, Latin and Greek) until students come to choose their GCSE options. Sixth Formers choose to take either A Levels or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, giving them the choice to specialise or continue with a broader area of study; around 50% choose each pathway.
GCSE options focus more on the traditional, including art and design, drama, music, Latin, classical civilisation and languages; there are some ‘newer’ subjects such as PE and economics. At A Level, the choice widens to include psychology, computer science and politics, and most students also complete the Extended Project Qualification.
Class sizes are small throughout the school; the maximum class size in Prep is 18 and classes are typically no more than 15 across the Senior School. The school is very traditional in keeping Saturday morning as part of the teaching timetable; Prep have lessons until 12.30 and the College has lessons followed by sport until 3pm.
Timetabled sports focus on traditional British sports: rugby, hockey and cricket for boys, and hockey, lacrosse and netball for the girls, as well as tennis and athletics for both. Hockey is really big here, and students benefit from the school’s close links with national league club The Grange, and so is rugby. Fettes has won the Eclipse Conference for the past three years, and several students go on to play for Scottish rugby union. Other sporting activities offered include a great choice of outdoor pursuits including sailing, shooting, horse riding, golf, skiing and cross country, and the school fields team in many of them.
Facilities are excellent; there’s a full-sized floodlit water based Astro turf hockey pitch (called the McMurray), a second full-sized floodlit all-weather playing surface which is used for hockey in winter and for tennis in summer, two squash courts, two fives courts, an outdoor basketball court, a swimming pool, and a climbing wall. The huge campus is also home to mountain-biking tracks and the recent addition of a low ropes course with 14 obstacles.
Similarly, there’s huge investment in the arts, and Fettes offers students plenty of opportunities to perform, act and create. Corridors are filled with the sound of the Chapel organ, instrumental practice, choir rehearsals (and, quite often, the bagpipes); students explore their creative side in double height arts studios, a specialist library, ceramics room and permanent gallery space; and there are performances as diverse as Beauty and the Beast and Guys and Dolls. Fettes students regularly perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and its popular Pipe Band has been called on to play at Holyrood Palace as well as international venues. As one student says, “It’s easy to be creative here.”
Students are encouraged to broaden their horizons through a wide variety of extra-curricular activities including Duke of Edinburgh, CCF, anatomy club, shooting, baking and bellringing. If a club doesn’t exist, students are encouraged to set one up.
There are frequent school trips both home away, and the school encourages outdoor learning across the Prep curriculum. As the school says, “How much easier is it to explain geography to an 11-year-old after you've led them to the top of a mountain?”
2021 GCSE: 81% of GCSE grades were 9 - 7
2021 IB: The average score was 39.4
2021 A Levels: 88% of grades were A*-B at A Level
Fettes is one of the top 10 IB schools in the UK, and a top performing school for both GCSE and A Level. 89% of student accepted places at their first or second choice university, and seven students received offers this year to study at Oxford and Cambridge, with places for courses across the STEM subjects and in the humanities.
Fettes is a full boarding school, and there are currently no options for flexi or weekly boarding. There’s a huge boarding community here, and students stay in 10 boarding houses: two for Juniors (housing around 70 students), four for Senior girls, four for Senior boys (total of 550 students), and a Sixth Form house (100 students) with en-suite study bedrooms.
With its 90 acre woodland campus on the outskirts of Edinburgh, students enjoy all the benefits of having a bustling university town on their doorstep (you may spot a school-branded golf buggy in pink and brown making deliveries from one campus to the other).
Thought by some to be the inspiration for Hogwarts (JK Rowling was living in Edinburgh while writing Harry Potter) the school’s turreted buildings certainly have a magical charm. Inside, there are grand staircases wood-panelled libraries and floor-to-ceiling fireplaces), alongside plenty of modern facilities to accommodate the school’s forward-looking vision including science, music and art blocks.
The school is oversubscribed in most year groups, and parents are advised to apply early. Prep students get automatic entry to the College, and almost all students do move up here at 13. For other students, the key points of entry are 13+ (students sit the Common Entrance or Fettes’ own exam, plus an interview) and at 16+ (students sit papers in three subjects of their choice).
Discounted fees are offered to families in the armed forces, and a recent increase in bursaries makes an education here more accessible to more families.
Fettes says it is looking for “bright, motivated, curious students who possess imagination, energy, a willingness to get involved, a concern for others, and a commitment to academic and personal growth.” It gives an indication of the type of student to fit in well here – a child with a hard work ethic but also a passion for exploring non-academic interests.
If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.
Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information