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Fettes College

School rating 4 / 5 by

Carrington Road Edinburgh Edinburgh EH4 1QX United Kingdom
6th to 12th
6th to 12th


Fettes College review by .

Fettes College regularly comes top of the examination leagues for schools of its kind in Scotland, and high up UK leagues. Education in the Prep School focuses upon a strong education in the basics, with most classes being in English and Maths, and a reading hour every day. History and Geography are supported with plenty of field trips and interesting activities. French and Latin are introduced in the latter years, but the programmes for these tend to repeat every year to cater for children who arrive having not studied them before (and to consolidate basic grammar for everyone else). The faculty is now almost all exclusively based in the Prep School, and trained in primary teaching (rather than the situation I recall of young Senior School teachers arriving and teaching us beyond our abilities!). In the Third Form, the curriculum is very broad to allow students the most enjoyable year before they have to choose GCSE choices. Everyone studies English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Business & ICT, Art, Music, Drama and Physical Education, with ICT skill taught in practical projects. Students also choose two languages from French, German, Spanish or Mandarin, and either Latin (plus Classical Greek for the top set) or another class in Art, Classical Civilisation, Drama, Music and PE. At GCSE, all students take English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and ICT. They also choose four from: Art & Design, Business Studies, Classical Civilisation, Classical Greek, Drama, French, Geography, German, History, Latin, Mandarin, Music, PE and Spanish. They must do at least one modern foreign language. Parents entering children specifically for their GCSE years should bear in mind that the list doesn’t reflect the real possible choices, which are limited by timetabling. They should ask for the ‘columns’ to find out what the real options are. In the Sixth Form, students may take A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate. Both are taught by the same senior members of faculty, and no streaming distinction is made in recommending either to children and their parents. The choice of the narrower or broader curriculum really depends on the pupil’s temperament and intentions. Full details of the column options are available on the website (www.fettes.com), but all the subjects available are: English, Maths, Further Maths, History, Geography, Government and Politics, Classical Civilisation, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, German, Beginners’ Mandarin, Business Studies, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Art, Drama, History of Art, P.E., Music, and Critical Thinking. The humanities departments are very strong, and regularly place students at excellent universities. The science departments also get very good results in exams, but seem to suffer from neglect in the sixth form so that students don’t get the careers advice necessary. The Art and History of Art Departments are recognised nationally as particularly strong (several Fettes art students have been amongst the top 5 nationally at GCSE and A-Level, and a Cambridge college has said that the H. of Art students from Fettes are the best it receives). Class sizes are small throughout the school, usually under 15 in all subjects. Students are expected to work hard during class time, and discipline in classes was remarked by many new students to be stronger than in their previous schools. While the school is concerned that students shouldn’t be spoon-fed and then be ill-prepared for life at university, this desire hadn’t translated into action in the A-Level programme when I left. Having a tutor to constantly prod me into activity when I slacked off was useful at school, but left me with some bad work habits when I started university. However, the school is excellent at pushing students to encounter post A-Level/IB standard work. Those of us applying for English at any university were given extra classes and encouraged to take the Advanced Extension Award, a school to university bridge examination, and similar projects were available in other departments. Some people took part in programmes for subjects other than their intended major, out of interest. Fettes’ excellent faculty are certainly good at inspiring interest in learning. The higher streamed classes have quite a competitive academic atmosphere. However, this never becomes the dominant tone of the school, largely because of the competing frameworks of house loyalty and the importance of non-academic activities. From early on in the Prep School, classes are streamed, which allows for very high level of specialist tuition for the best students (who often take examinations a year or years early) and good support for the weaker pupils. There is also a large Learning Support Dept with resident specialists, to diagnose and help pupils with learning difficulties. In the humanities at least, sixth form classes are no longer streamed. I this found helpful on a personal level but detrimental to my academic performance, as the element of competition with lots of other very bright peers disappeared. On the other hand I think it was helpful to people who had been streamed into lower classes at GCSE. They became visibly more confident over Sixth Form at finding they weren’t on the other side of an unbridgeable gulf from the best students, and several took advantage of the disruption of hierarchy to become known as very talented and achieve better exam results than expected. Homework (prep) is set from the earliest classes, with significant amounts (2-3 hours per night) in later years, but time is set aside every evening for boarders (and day pupils if they wish) to complete this in a monitored quiet environment in house. Tutors are in house during prep time to discuss work loads if these are getting on top of their tutees, and routinely talk to subject teachers to monitor pupils and make sure they aren’t falling behind or feeling hopeless. While Fettes continues to attain the best examination results in Scotland, and pupils are worked hard, the atmosphere is not the highly pressurised one of some of the southern schools. Since careers and higher education advice begins before GCSE it is impressed upon pupils that universities are increasingly looking to GCSE results for more information about candidates. However, having met alumni of some English academic hothouses, I am sure that Fettesians suffer much less work-related stress and upset. The school is also anxious to develop students’ more general learning skills, with PSE classes on work habits and a programme called Quest for the younger years. This encourages exploring and learning around the rich resource that is Edinburgh. Since large amounts of time are set aside for extra-curricular activities, there is rarely a conflict of interest between these and academic life. Teachers’ own involvement in these and in house activities as tutors mean they have a real enthusiasm for developing pupils’ interests outside the classroom.

College Counseling

Fettes has an excellent reputation for getting children into the university of their choice, and....

Sample insights on college counseling

  • They have contacts at most of the major universities and feel perfectly comfortable picking up the phone and advocating for a student to get accepted somewhere they feel is a good fit for that student. However, these counselors are certainly not magic bullets. They cannot guarantee that a student will get into an Ivy League university...
  • For those wishing to move on to Oxford or Cambridge, the provision is second-to-none. In the months running up to application and interview, every subject faculty offers classes (often run by former Oxbridge tutors) exploring further areas of their subject as well as offering advice on personal statements, interview technique and more...

Admissions - Getting Accepted

Pupils may join the school at any stage, although most usually between ages 7 and....

Sample insights on admissions

  • For the interview, dress conservatively. Try to be very clean and put together. Also, I was a tour guide for two years and at the end of every tour, we were asked to evaluate the candidate so if you think the tour is not apart of the process, you are very wrong. Ask questions and be interested. Also, tip for the parents: the kids speak on the tour. Do not ask their questions for them...
  • Most younger siblings have an easy time in the admissions process. I can only think of one case of a younger sibling not being admitted. About half of the students who entered with me had come from public schools. The remainder came from private K-6 schools, or had transferred from other New York private schools The Elizabeth Morrow School and St. Bernard were two of the larger feeder schools...

School Life

Rolling renovations of the boarding houses, and the construction of the sixth-form house (Craigleith) have created some of the best boarding accommodation in the country. Boarding pupils share rooms with progressively fewer others each year, enjoying the sociable dormitory experience in the lower years and receiving privacy for work in the later years. Day pupils are as much as possible mixed in with the boarders when they receive their space in house (there are always beds set aside for day pupils should they wish to stay overnight to attend a late social event or suchlike). There are great entertainment facilities....

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