Merchiston Castle School
Merchiston Castle School is a private boarding school located in the village of Colinton in Edinburgh, Scotland. It has about 480 pupils and is open to boys between the ages of 8 and 18 as either boarders or day pupils; day pupils make up 35% of the school.

In May 1833, Charles Chalmers took a lease of Merchiston Castle (the former home of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms) " which at that time stood in rural surroundings " and opened his academy, starting with some thirty boys. Like his brother, Dr Thomas Chalmers, mathematician, physicist and theologian, Charles was also interested in Mathematics and Science so he included these subjects in the curriculum at a time when secondary education in Scotland was focussed more on the study of the classics. Over time, the number of pupils grew to over 200 and the Merchiston Castle became too small to accommodate the school. In 1930, the governors decided to move the school to Colinton House and the ruins of Colinton Castle, four miles south-west of the Edinburgh in the village of Colinton. The school opened its doors in Colinton later that year. Three years later, in 1933, Merchiston celebrated its centenary, attended by the Duke and Duchess of York. Fifty years on, in 1983, at a time of further expansion and with 350 boys on the roll, their daughter, Queen Elizabeth, in turn visited the School and honoured its 150th anniversary with her presence.

Academic performance
Over the last five years Merchiston has obtained an almost 100% A-Level pass rate, with 82% at A and B grades in 2008. The GCSE pass rate was 97% in 2008. In 2008 87% of pupils achieved entry to their first choice University through UCAS.

Sports and games
A range of sports and activities is available at the school; particularly in rugby union, which over 60 Merchistonians have played at international level. The former 1st XV coach, Frank Hadden, who was at the school from 1983-2000, was the head coach of the Scottish national team from 2005-2009. The school has won the Scottish Schools' Rugby Cup several times, including in 2007. In addition to rugby, Merchiston pupils have received international recognition in the past few years in the following sports: athletics, fencing, skiing, cycling, cricket, shooting, tennis, basketball and squash.

Over the past twenty years structural additions have been made to the school, including a music school, technology block and library. In January 2009 Merchiston introduced a new Sixth Form Boarding House, admitting current Sixth Form boarding pupils at the start of term. The architect aimed to challenge perceptions of traditional boarding schools by designing 126 en-suite bedrooms, with storage, shelving, trouser presses, desks and study areas with views of the grounds. There are kitchens and open plan social areas on each floor, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls to create a feeling of space and light. On the top floor of the House there is a café area where boys may come together to relax, socialise and watch television. There are also a multi-gym in the basement, seminar and study rooms, with internet and network access in each bedroom.

Progression through the School
The horizontal house system used by Merchiston keeps a year group together throughout their time at school, as opposed to the vertical system which would split them up. The names of the houses are: Pringle Centre
  • Pringle House
  • Chalmers West
  • Chalmers East
  • Rogerson
  • Evans
  • Laidlaw
In the final year, boys who are appointed prefects are spread throughout the Houses, as they have responsibilities with the younger year groups.

Middle School
At the end of the Third Form (S1), boys leave Pringle and move to the Middle School where they are joined by other pupils entering the School for the first time, many from prep schools. The Fourth Form (S2), house is called Chalmers West House, which, along with all the other Houses, is located at the heart of the Senior School. Historically, there have always been more boarders in the Senior School than in the Junior School. However, as was the case in Pringle, the day boys are integrated with the boarders by having study and recreation areas allocated to them in the residential accommodation. At the end of this year a decision is made regarding the subjects taken forward to GCSE. The year in Chalmers West sets the pattern for most of the rest of his school career in that a boy will stay for one year in this House with the Fourth Form Housemaster before moving on again to the adjacent House, Chalmers East House for his first year of the GCSE programme, with a new Housemaster. At Merchiston this is known as his Shell year. The advantages claimed for this system are that the boys get to know each other, the Housemaster is able to construct a social and co-curricular programme tailored to the needs of the year group, and the House has spaces and furnishings considered appropriate for the boys at each stage of their development. In Chalmers West and Chalmers East, dormitories are sub-divided into semi-private areas for 3-4 beds. After Chalmers East comes Rogerson (Fifth Form). This is the year in which the pupils take their first public exams: the GCSEs. Here, the boys are provided with individual bedrooms and the opportunity to manage their own time.

Senior School (Sixth Form)
Following Rogerson, pupils will enter the Sixth Form. In the last two years in the Sixth Form, individual study bedrooms with en suite facilities are provided for each boarding pupil in Laidlaw House. Day boys have their own base in Evans House, an area within the School for both Lower and Upper Sixth Form day boys. The House offers boys an individual study space with desk, wardrobe, and bed, providing flexible options for study and prep. The House has a day room and kitchen, and Sixth Formers can access the facilities within both Evans and Laidlaw. In the final year, elected Heads of Houses or Prefects, who are boarding and live with the younger boys, are provided with recently-upgraded individual study bedrooms. Each Boarding House has common rooms, games rooms and kitchens. Quiet times are provided, but students are expected to take responsibility for managing their time and organising their studies. Each pupil has an Academic Tutor who works with the Housemaster. As well as spending his leisure hours in and around the House, a pupil does his homework here each evening under supervised conditions until the end of the Fifth Form. Day boys also make use of this provision. Lower Sixth Form and Upper Sixth Form non-prefect students come under the supervision of the Head of Sixth Form, with responsibility for academic work and the organisation of free time transferred to the student. School uniform is no longer worn, rather a suit with the Sixth Form tie. The students have opportunities for overnight leave, general leave outs, and in the Upper Sixth, late leaves.

Links to other schools
Although Merchiston is an all boys school, there is a wide range of curricular, co-curricular and social links with girls’ schools, in particular St George’s School for Girls, in Edinburgh, and Kilgraston School, in Perthshire. These links include inter-departmental initiatives, such as Modern Language events, careers conventions and fun days for the Junior School. Joint drama and music productions are undertaken and there are many social functions, from Burns Suppers and Scottish Country Dancing to discos.

Notable former pupils (Merchistonians)
  • Sir Donald Acheson - Chief Medical Officer to the Government from 1984-1991
  • Air Marshal Sir John Baird - Surgeon General UK Armed Forces 1997-2000
  • Sir Peter Burt - Governor & Chief Executive of Bank of Scotland from 1996 to 2001, Former Chairman of ITV
  • John James Cowperthwaite - Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971.
  • James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 - 1940
  • Samuel Cunningham, businessman and Senator of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, 1921”“1945
  • Louis Leisler Greig - royal equerry and prominent member of Fascist January Group
  • Gordon Roddick - co-founder of The Body Shop.
  • Lord Laidlaw - Scottish businessman, and Former member of the House of Lords.
  • John MacGregor - Former UK Cabinet minister
  • Sir David Milne-Watson, 1st Baronet, Businessman
  • William Grant Stairs - Canadian explorer, soldier, and adventurer.
  • Charles Wyville Thomson - professor of zoology and chief scientist on the Challenger expedition.
  • James Wilson Robertson, former Governor-General of Nigeria.
  • The Hon. Lord Robertson TD, a Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland, 1966-87. He was also chairman of the Merchiston Board of governors between 1970 and 1996.
  • Danny Bhoy - Comedian
  • Ben Clarke, The Apprentice candidate in 2009
  • George Baillie Duncan, evangelical minister and conference speaker
  • Sir James Marjoribanks, career diplomat who presented Britain's successful application to join the European Community in 1967

International rugby union footballers
Merchiston has produced 63 international rugby union footballers ”“ 56 for Scotland, 4 for Ireland and 2 for England. These include Roger Baird, Ronnie Eriksson, Iain Fullerton, Phil Godman, Duncan Hodge, John Jeffrey, Craig Joiner, Jamie Mayer, William Neilson, Thomas Anderson and Peter Walton. The defunct rugby club Merchistonians FC used to cater for former pupils of the school.

Notable former staff
  • Frank Hadden - former head coach of the Scottish national rugby union team 2005-2009
  • Kenneth Houston - International rugby union player for Ireland
  • Arnold Spencer-Smith taught here at the beginning of the twentieth century. He lost his life exploring the Antarctic.

Notes and references


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