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The Mary Erskine School Review

With a beautiful Edinburgh location, this all-girls’ school combines a single sex education with plenty of co-ed opportunities in its extra-curricular and arts programme; it equals a well-rounded education with plenty of Scottish tradition.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
No rating
Curricula taught
Availability 2022/23
Availability 2023/24
Annual fee average
GBP 14,000
Annual fees
GBP 13,950–13,950
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1694
School year
Aug to Jun
Principal
Mrs Kirsty Nicholson
Owner
Erskine Stewart's Melville Schools
Community
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The Mary Erskine School
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
No rating
Curricula taught
Availability 2022/23
Availability 2023/24
Annual fee average
GBP 14,000
Annual fees
GBP 13,950–13,950
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1694
School year
Aug to Jun
Principal
Mrs Kirsty Nicholson
Owner
Erskine Stewart's Melville Schools
Community
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With a beautiful Edinburgh location, this all-girls’ school combines a single sex education with plenty of co-ed opportunities in its extra-curricular and arts programme; it equals a well-rounded education with plenty of Scottish tradition.

The Mary Erskine School is a day and boarding school in Edinburgh which offers a Scottish curriculum balanced with an excellent outdoor learning programme to girls aged 12 to 18 years.

This popular all-girls’ school is part of the Erskine Melville school group, which owns five independent schools for three- to 18-year-olds in Edinburgh.

The group has a ‘diamond model’ of teaching that offers a combination of single-sex and co-ed education. Girls and boys are taught together in the co-educational ESMS Junior School, then separately from Years 7-11 (at either Stewart's Melville College, Edinburgh (SMC) or the Mary Erskine School for girls), and then in mixed classes again in the Sixth Form. 

Mary Erskine offers your daughter the advantages of a single-sex education – without gender stereotyping, where courses can be tailored to boys’ needs and interests, and where boys have the freedom to learn at their own pace. A downside of an all-girls’ school can be the lack of interaction with boys but, as part of the ESMS family of schools, Mary Erskine is closely twinned with SMC for boys.

It brings students together for house activities, trips, shows, concerts, orchestras, bands and societies. There is also a co-ed Sixth Form which helps to prepare the girls for university life, by encouraging greater independence and giving them the opportunity to work and socialise alongside the opposite sex.

Outdoor education is part of the school’s DNA, and students are challenged, develop life skills and confidence, and improving their mental wellbeing too. A forest school, residential camps, outdoor learning days and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are built into the curriculum.

A highlight for every student is said to be the Carbisdale experience, “an eight-day, unplugged adventure in the Scottish Highlands” where they enjoy art, canoeing, environmental studies, orienteering, technology, mountain-biking, two-day expeditions, history, hillwalking and geography.

Curriculum

Like many independent schools in Scotland, Mary Erskine follows the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the national curriculum for three to 18-year-olds that is offered in all Scottish state schools and the majority of its independent schools. Students study a broad range of subjects until the age of 16 (much broader than the GCSE curriculum), before specialisation in three to five subjects for the last two years of their education.

In the senior phase curriculum, from S4 to S6 (ages 15 to 18), students begin to sit Scottish national qualifications – National 4-5, Highers and Advanced Highers. Typically, students sit five Highers at the age of 17 and then sit three Advanced Highers in their final year of school. This is broader than the English system, where students typically study three A Levels over two years, aged 17-18 years.

From S4 to S6 (ages 15 to 18), students sit Scottish national qualifications awarded by the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) – National 4-5, Highers and Advanced Highers. 

Sport and the arts

Girls get plenty of opportunity to develop their creative side at Mary Erskine; music in particular is one of the key ingredients in SMC’s all-round education. They regularly perform as the official Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Choir, and in over 50 choirs, orchestras, ensembles and bands – many are run as co-ed clubs and groups with the boys’ school.

The school performs really well on the sports field, too. The trophy cabinet showcases many sporting success in hockey, football, swimming, and cricket, and you’ll find that most girls are involved in at least one sports team. The school is large enough to field over 70 teams covering 20 diverse sports, including orienteering and fencing, which is pretty impressive. Its sports facilities include a swimming pool, tennis courts, cricket squares, rugby and hockey pitches and floodlit AstroTurf pitches.

Beyond the classroom

Scotland is a stunning place to study, with its exciting landscapes of mountains and rivers, castles and coastline that offers so many opportunities for outdoor learning.

Mary Erskine takes full advantage of its location to offer an outdoor education programme that involves mountain biking, hillwalking, sailing, kayaking, rock-climbing, river-tubing, canyoning and surfing. There’s also an active Skiing Club. SMC is in a prime location for all the outdoor activities completed as part of the Combined Cadet Force and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards scheme, too.

There are many other activities in Mary Erskine’s extra-curricular programme (over 90 in fact), including debating, sound and lighting, ukulele band and the very Scottish tradition of curling.

Academic results

2022 Higher and Advanced Higher results

An education at Mary Erskine is a springboard to studying a degree at universities worldwide; around 30% typically attend English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities, 60% attend Scottish universities and some Sixth Formers go on to universities in North America. 

Boarding

There is boarding on a full-time, weekly, termly or temporary basis, for both boys at SMC and girls at The Mary Erskine School from Primary 6 to Sixth Form.

All students stay in the boarding house, Dean Park House; this has room for 30 students in segregated study bedrooms and separate floors for boys and girls. It’s located in the grounds of Stewart’s Melville College, which means just a short walk to class each morning.

Admission and fees

Annual day fees are £13,950 for Secondary; annual full boarding fees are  £27,993.

Our view

Good for: There’s no typical Mary Erskine students, and its broad curriculum will interest and benefit students with a range of interests; girls go on to study an interesting mix of degree subjects from law and accountancy, to zoology, nursing, fashion and film.

The school’s diamond model means that girls can enjoy the best of both worlds, a single sex education for academic results and co-ed for a well-rounded education. They may also prefer the more traditional style of education here, with plenty of Scottish tradition. One of the school’s strengths is its outdoor education programme too, which means your daughter can be kayaking on Loch Lomond, skiing in the Cairngorms and playing golf in St Andrews in between studying for his Highers.

Not for: This is a Scottish curriculum school, so if you would prefer your daughter to study A Levels or the IB Diploma Programme, there are other schools in Scotland to consider. Scottish independent schools offer students a choice of three different curricula and qualifications – English, Scottish and the International Baccalaureate – which all lead to internationally recognised qualifications by universities. There’s only a small boarding community of around 30 students here, which helps to build a very close-knit community of boarders but so may not appeal if you’re looking for the full boarding experience.

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