Independent Schools Guide: Choose to play to your child’s particular strengths
The area educates nearly 30,000 pupils, meaning that 3.9% of Scottish pupils attend an independent school, according to the latest annual SCIS census.
Despite the obvious recent challenges, there is no sign of this figure decreasing. What makes the sector particularly attractive for families?
“It’s the choice before us,” says SCIS director John Edward. “It’s being able to find a school that suits the child rather than the other way around.
“We have schools with half a dozen students and schools with more than 2,000 students. We have schools that do Scottish exams, English exams or International Baccalaureate, or a combination of two or three.
“In the special needs sector, we have schools doing ASDAN, National 4, and more.”
Information can be found on each school’s website, in leaflets and flyers, however, the best way to find the right person is to come to the school in person.
These tours have been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19 restrictions, but this term the doors are wide open.
“Over the last few years we’ve had online open days and they’ve been really massive bursts of information,” says Andrew J McGarva, rector of Morrison’s Academy in Crieff, Perthshire – who recently started offering the business activities and program.
“This time, people come to see the school as it is and meet the students, parents and teachers. This gives an idea of how the school works, its philosophy and its community. It’s really important because it’s the very essence of who we are.
A day school that embraces its countryside surroundings, McGarva emphasizes that Morrison’s supports family life by allowing students to enjoy time with loved ones during school hours.
Dundee High School also offers day education, where students can take advantage of a city center location and engage with local businesses to focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM ), as well as on creative subjects.
Principal Lise Hudson emphasizes that visitors are welcome throughout the year, but the school’s open day is an opportunity to engage with its staff and students.
“The transactional elements are easy for parents to find out, like what kind of school we are, what our vision and strategy is, what we are committing to. What’s more in the ether is just that feeling of whether or not this is an environment your child can thrive in.
Dundee High School students guide each family on their visit, and Hudson suggests parents ask as many questions of students and staff as possible. “The decision they make is very important and so we expect parents to come and question us, given the investment they are making,” she adds.
Mark Becher, principal of the Compass School in Haddington, echoes this advice. This small primary school in East Lothian prepares youngsters for secondary education and has recently benefited from trips abroad as well as closer to home following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
Becher says, “When you go around the open house, there’s so much to see and do, so we’re not at all embarrassed if parents want to pull out their notebooks or their phones and ask questions. These are the questions that are important to them and for me, it is important that they have the chance to ask themselves them.
“By having our school guides there, parents can see clear evidence that children are confident, independent and passionate about their school, and enjoy interacting with visitors.”
Melvyn Roffe, Principal of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, also largely agrees: “The main thing we encourage people to do is take a good walk around campus, meet lots of people and try to see here and find out where you see yourself within the school in a few years.
When joining college, students are encouraged to focus on the excitement of becoming a Watsonian, and there is a buddy system in place at the school to eliminate any anxiety.
Elsewhere in Edinburgh, St George’s School is a girls’ day school and boarding school, with boys in kindergarten to P3.
Carol Chandler-Thompson became its new manager last month and is impressed with the family atmosphere at her Houldsworth boarding house, where mates and a busy weekly schedule of activities ensure the children settle in well.
“If I was counseling my own daughter, I would ask her to look at the relationships at school and see how students relate to staff and each other,” she explains. “How well known are the students at the school? This says a lot about the quality of relationships and pastoral care at school.
For those considering a single-sex upbringing, Chandler-Thompson says the presence of role models is empowering: “There is a complete absence of gender stereotypes. Here, everything is for the girls: football, hockey, physics, cooking, maths.
She argues that girls-only education is still pioneering – not because of the concept, but in the way it listens to student voices – and points to the school’s growing network of alumni who support students from St George and each other.
If an international program is a priority, the virtual and in-person Open Day at St Leonards School in St Andrews will be of interest. Recognized as the Scottish leader in the International Baccalaureate (IB), it is the only one in Scotland to offer the IB Sixth Year Diploma program and its career-related programme.
“Both pathways mean young people can really tailor their own learning and learn about what interests them,” says St Leonards director Simon Brian. “With the IB, we can really deepen really meaningful learning with our young people.
“We find that the IB curriculum, in terms of process, really prepares our young people well for life and gives them a qualification to enter any university in the world.”
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The IB is also fostered by Fairview International School in Bridge of Allan, Stirling. Nestled in a wooded landscape, it is a coeducational school for all ages.
“We invite you to explore our campus and begin your IB journey at our next Open Day on Thursday 27 October,” says Principal David Hicks.
“As part of an international family of schools, we offer a ‘year-round’ admissions process, to make it easy for families around the world to relocate.
“You can also contact us by e-mail [email protected]or by calling 01786 231951 to find out more about what Fairview International School has to offer.
For some independent institutions, a tailor-made visit is preferable. Wellington School in Ayr runs individual tours throughout the year and schedules them at times that are most convenient for families.
Director Simon Johnson says: “It’s best for people to make individual visits. Over the past six months, the frequency of family visits is the highest I have seen in seven years. We push for individual tours so they have an experience that’s a little more tailored to them.
Wellington prides itself on its rich international curriculum and recently the all day school received generous funding from the new Turing scheme for international opportunities in education.
The school also promotes its approach to individual catering. Johnson concludes: “We see ourselves as a family school that thrives on the fact that everyone here knows each other very well and all the staff know the students.
“The size of our school means there are no invisible children here – all will be supported.”
Fettes College, Edinburgh
Fairview International School, Pont d’Allan
George Watson College, Edinburgh
Morrison Academy, Crieff
St George’s School, Edinburgh
Wednesday September 21 (virtual), Friday September 23 and Wednesday September 28 (both in person)
St Leonard’s School, St Andrews
The Compass School, Haddington