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Q+A: Merchiston Castle School, UK

Q+A: Merchiston Castle School, UK

Merchiston Castle School, located near Edinburgh, is an independent boarding school for boys, offering the English National Curriculum. Here, the school answers our questions and takes us on a guided tour...

What happens when parents visit the school?

Please come and visit Merchiston. A personal tour around the campus will allow you to experience our unique atmosphere and learn more about our school philosophy. Visitors have the opportunity to meet staff and pupils and gain an insight into the close relationships we create. In addition to a tour, your son may like to spend some time at the school himself, to experience something of life at Merchiston. This involves anything from a day to a week spent here. Please contact the Admissions Department to arrange a tour or a taster visit.

What facilities do you offer? 

Merchiston stands on the edge of the picturesque riverside village of Colinton, some four miles south-west of the centre of Edinburgh, in about 100 acres of exceptionally beautiful and spacious, part-wooded grounds, shadowed by the stunning Pentland Hills.

Within the school grounds, boys can be free to enjoy the parkland, woodland, sports fields and excellent facilities. Such facilities include: 2G floodlit AstroTurf, sports hall, IT centre, library, theatre, music department, indoor swimming pool, squash, rugby fives and tennis courts, shooting range, rugby, football and cricket pitches, athletics arena, art and design centre, science labs, Masterchef kitchen, history and languages centre, Memorial Hall/Chapel, dining hall, medical centre, school shop, the Pringle Centre for Merchiston Juniors and one junior and five senior boarding houses, including Laidlaw, a 126 en-suite bedroom purpose-built sixth-form boarding house.

What curriculum do you follow?

Merchiston is the only boys’ independent boarding school in Scotland offering the English curriculum, and has a global, outward-looking philosophy. The all-through curriculum is designed to enable students to progress and demonstrate achievement.

Continuity and progression within our planning enables us to meet the needs of every boy, whatever his range of abilities, and varied rates of learning. Communication is at the centre of our curriculum and impacts on all teaching and learning.

Merchiston’s curriculum has evolved over many years, and has its genesis in the best of the Scottish and English systems. It is designed to provide maximum opportunity for boys to do the best they possibly can, in a safe and caring environment.

What is the teaching programme in your Sixth Form?

In the Sixth Form, a pupil follows a two-year course of A Levels. Typically a boy will take four in Lower Sixth, dropping to three A Level courses in the Upper Sixth.

Throughout the Lower Sixth year, opportunities are given through Sixth Form societies, our ‘Careers Café’ and the ‘Links with Industry’ scheme to find out about careers and university/college courses. Much care and time is given to careers guidance and to the choice of university or college courses and the application procedure through UCAS.

In the Upper Sixth year, there is a further consultation with parents about university and college applications on a individual basis, early in the Autumn Term. Oxford and Cambridge make offers to candidates after interviews in December. Other universities have differing procedures with regard to offers and interviews, but all offers should be issued by the end of Lent Term of the Upper Sixth.

In the Sixth Form, project work may well form an integral part of the course and study courses and outside visits are frequently arranged. There are Sixth Form societies centred on departments, with guest speakers who are experts in a particular field. Pupils have the opportunity to discuss with the speaker the topic of the talk in small groups. Guest speakers are drawn from universities, industry and public life.

Do you do much work in the community?

A sense of being part of the wider community is a key component in the education of boys at Merchiston. How this is achieved is always under development, but central to this has been the Koinonia Programme (teamwork with the Community), which has been integral to the Lower Sixth experience at Merchiston for a number of years. Through this programme, our senior students are afforded the opportunity to gain experience of working with people and organisations beyond the Merchiston environment.

As an example of this, students have been involved with Saint Catherine’s Homeless Project in Edinburgh, where they have helped prepare and serve meals and deliver goods from our Harvest Festival.

Students also engage with the elderly in our community through visits to a local retirement home.

Pupils have involved themselves in a number of gardening projects: for example, one such project helped develop the facilities of a retirement home for ex-servicemen.

A long-standing project has been with Braidburn School, where some of our students spend time helping the pupils, who have a range of learning difficulties, in class and with other activities.

In recent years, we have developed ties with four of our local primary schools and our students have offered some classroom support, and mentoring of pupils through the Place2Be charity.

It is our firm belief that Koinonia provides an excellent opportunity for boys to gain invaluable skills and experiences of a variety of working and living situations which they might otherwise not experience.

What is your homework policy?

Each pupil coming to Merchiston is encouraged to work hard. Prep is set for each evening and the weekend, with the amount graded by Forms. Prep time is supervised in the Houses. In addition, in the GCSE year, and more particularly in the Sixth Form, the pupil must expect to have to devote some of his free time to his studies. At this stage work is set for the holidays.

How are pupils with English as an additional language supported?

About 20 per cent of our pupils are international students from approximately 22 countries. The Head of EAL liaises with the Head of the Faculty of Support for Learning, the two other members of the EAL department and other academic departments to support international pupils. All pupils are assessed by the Head of Department and receive a tailored programme to meet their needs, including small group or one-to-one support.

How can parents get involved?

The Parents’ Forum is a group of nominated parents from each year group, formed to help produce ideas for the development of the school. This group normally meets once a term.

Parents and visitors are very welcome at all our Sunday Services, and coffee and refreshments are available after all Services. They are also welcomed at numerous sports matches, concerts, play performances, social events and many other school occasions.

Formal communication with parents is made regularly. All parents are invited in to discuss their son’s academic progress on an annual basis. Should parents have any concerns at other times of the year, they are welcome to contact the School to arrange an appointment with the Deputy Head Academic, Head of Department or individual subject teachers.

What co-curricular activities do you offer?

In Merchiston Juniors and the Middle Years, every pupil is encouraged to participate in team and individual sports. In the Autumn and Lent Terms, the main sport is rugby; in the Summer Term, cricket and athletics. In addition to the three major sports of athletics, cricket and rugby, the school runs specialist academy programmes in tennis and golf.

In all of the school’s co-curricular activities, we offer opportunities for the boys to discover their talents and we aim to provide the pathways for them to achieve excellence. These opportunities are provided through our compulsory sport and activity programmes throughout the working week. These normally include chess, computing, debating, design, drama, electronics, Masterchef, mountain biking and music. There is also a range of sports, such as badminton, football, golf, hockey, rugby fives, sailing, shooting, skiing, squash, swimming and tennis. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme is also flourishing at Merchiston. In the Senior School boys can attend a number of concerts, theatre productions and gallery visits in Edinburgh offered through the Arts Programme.

In the Fifth and Sixth Forms, the boys have a choice within their sporting programme. The major sports are not compulsory; however, they must participate in physical activity on three afternoons a week, and they are encouraged to reach their potential in their chosen sport. In addition, Sixth Form pupils can gain experience working with people and organisations through the Koinonia Programme (Teamwork with the Community). A full range of other sports and activities is available, as is the case further down the school.

How important are Music and the Arts in your school?

Merchiston has a strong tradition of choral music, with on average 140 boys as members of the Choral Society. The Chapel Choir and Close Harmony Group perform regularly at School Chapel, and at school occasions. Major concerts are given each term both in the school, which has a purpose-built Music School, and at other venues in and around Edinburgh.

Drama is popular at the school, and throughout the year there are drama options, offering technique and workshop skills. Boys enjoy taking part in the full theatre experience, including stagecraft, stage management, sound and lighting, and can also assist with direction. These options allow them to learn skills in a variety of areas which can then be applied in full-scale school productions.

Drama and Music frequently combine in the production of large-scale dramas and musicals in collaboration with one of our sister schools, St George’s School for Girls, in Edinburgh.

Do you have a wide range of food options?

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Dining Hall. The day pupils’ fee includes lunch and dinner.

The Dining Hall is self-service and we aim to offer a wide selection of healthy meals. Merchiston was one of the first schools in Scotland to gain the ‘Healthy Living Award’ from the Scottish Executive. There is a daily vegetarian option and whenever possible we use Halal meat. If your son has any special dietary requirements, or allergies, the General Manager is happy to discuss these with you.

Each House has a kitchen where snacks can be prepared. Before the mid-morning break, supplies are delivered to the Houses, which may consist of milk, bread, cheese, fruit, butter, jam etc.

Do you have a ‘House’ system?

Merchiston has a unique House system that allows boys to remain with their peer group as they progress through the school; day boys are fully integrated into this system. In this way, the senior year groups generally experience a new boarding house and Housemaster at the start of each Autumn Term. This horizontal arrangement means that boys have the best possible opportunity to make friends, and spend time with others with similar interests.

In the Upper Sixth year, boys who become prefects are allocated to each of the boarding houses to lead the younger pupils in the school. Prefects provide excellent role models for the younger boys and valuable support to the Housemasters and Tutors.

What are your medical facilities like for children who are boarding?

The Medical Centre is staffed by four registered nurses and a Health Assistant; the school doctors hold surgeries in the school Medical Centre twice a week, as does the visiting physiotherapist. Appointments are always available at the surgery outside those clinic times; the local practice is adjacent to the school. The Medical Centre is staffed between 7.45am and 7.00pm on a daily basis.

Overnight, a nurse becomes resident if a child should require overnight nursing care and cannot go to a parent or guardian. Boys cared for in the Medical Centre deemed well enough may return to the boarding house in the evening. Those who require continuous nursing care will be assessed according to their individual needs. In the event of a serious illness or accident, boys are accompanied to hospital and parents and/or guardians are informed immediately by the Medical Centre or Housemaster.

All images courtesy of Merchiston Castle School.

Please go to this link to view Merchiston's profile on Winter's.



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