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Junior school boy students smiling

Your son will mainly study the English Curriculum of GCSEs and A levels, although Scottish Qualifications are also available in some subjects if that would suit him better. He will follow a curriculum based on the traditional liberal principles of breadth and choice.

Your son will receive plenty of individual attention both inside and outside the classroom; he will be known and taught as an individual thanks to our class sizes. In his GCSE year and in the Sixth Form, he will be able to benefit from the tutorial groups, ‘clinics’ and revision classes arranged in addition to his timetabled lessons.

It is important that your son also acquires ancillary skills, such as a basic understanding of ICT, a practical knowledge of foreign languages, and strong written and oral communication skills. We place a real emphasis on gaining these essential life skills as they will serve him well in the classroom and beyond.

At GCSE, your son will be expected to study English, Mathematics and the Sciences, alongside a language and two or three other subjects. The latter may include one or more of the humanities, such as History, or the creative arts, physical education or computing, depending on his interests.

At A level, he can choose subjects based on his interests; we try to accommodate as many combinations as possible so that he can study what suits him best.


At Merchiston Juniors your son will benefit from a curriculum designed with the following principles in mind: 

  • Challenge and enjoyment 
  • Breadth 
  • Progression 
  • Depth 
  • Personalisation and choice 
  • Coherence 
  • Relevance

Although the curriculum content is largely based on the English National Curriculum Key Stages 2 and 3, we are very aware of the aims of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. We, strive to develop its four capacities via a wide variety of learning experiences in and out of the classroom.

The 4 capacities:

  • Successful Learners 
  • Confident individuals 
  • Responsible citizens 
  • Effective contributors

Where appropriate, we are committed to integrating Assessment is for Learning, active and collaborative learning and cross-curricular work into our existing curriculum and will tailor our lessons to the learning and teaching style of your son. We believe in the principles of Literacy and Numeracy across the Curriculum; staff are committed to developing your son’s literacy and numeracy skills.

Our Academic Tutorial system in the First – Third Form ensures that your son has someone overseeing his overall progress. He will have dedicated meetings with his tutor to discuss learning skills and set appropriate targets. We will provide him with a variety of types of activity within the classroom to ensure he has opportunities for individual study, creativity, leadership, co-operative learning, self- and peer assessment and target setting.

Thanks to co-curricular activities in the arts and sport your son will have many other opportunities to be challenged, to flourish and to succeed. We believe that the wide range of opportunities will allow him to thrive and develop in a rounded manner.

The Merchiston Juniors' curriculum is overseen by our Merchiston Juniors’ Deputy Head – Academic, Ms Juliet Vaughan.

Fourth Form - Pre-GCSE Year

Think of the Fourth Form as your son’s foundation year for the GCSE courses which follow.

The academic programme is broad-based; it is intended to give him a thorough grounding in the fundamental areas of each subject, further develop study skills, and bring out his talents. It embraces, and goes well beyond, the National Curriculum.

Your son will take the following subjects:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • History
  • Geography
  • Computing
  • At least two modern foreign languages
  • Art, Design & Technology
  • Electronics
  • Music
  • Religious Studies
  • Physical Education, including Swimming.

Latin, Classical Civilisation and Classical Greek, are also available. Full details are available in the Fourth Form curriculum booklet.

During the course of the year, your son will be asked to make some important decisions about which 9 subjects he wishes to study over the next 2 years for his GCSE courses. These decisions can have implications for his Sixth Form, university, and career plans, so we will give him plenty of help when the time comes so that he makes the right  choices.

Shell & Fifth Form

On completing the broad foundation of the Fourth Form your son will move into the Shell to start a 2-year course of studies leading to his first set of public examinations, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or the International GCSE.

Selecting GCSE subjects is the most important decision your son will yet have been asked to make, but it’s an important part of the education process. It can be daunting, particularly if he is trying to balance interest and abilities across a range of subjects, and wants to keep options open for future study and career paths. That’s why we help by providing a clear idea of what is involved in each subject in terms of content, structure, and approach.

Why does he have to choose?

The demanding, in-depth programme of academic study at GCSE precludes your son from continuing with all of his current subjects to this level. Since everyone has individual academic strengths and interests: it is sensible to build on these by studying preferred subjects in greater detail than has been possible so far.

Keeping options open

Since few pupils know at this age what career path they are going to follow in later life, we advise following as broad a range of subjects to GCSE as possible. This makes for a good base for further specialisation in the Sixth Form.

The curriculum at Merchiston is designed to help your son keep his options open. The National Curriculum has a set of compulsory, core subjects at GCSE level; we have extended this core at Merchiston to: 

  • English Language
  • English Literature (or English as an Additional Language (EAL))
  • Mathematics 
  • At least 2 Sciences
  • At least 1 Modern Foreign Language (unless Support for Learning is required) 
  • Physical Education (non-examined) 
  • Religious Studies (non-examined) 
  • Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE)

GCSE/IGCSE Subject choices

Sixth Form

In the Sixth Form, your son will follow a 2-year A Level course with public examinations at the end of the Upper Sixth.

Typically, he will take 4 A Levels in the Lower Sixth, dropping to 3 in the Upper Sixth. If he wishes to retain a breadth of study, he can take a combination of A Levels or Scottish Highers in Upper Sixth.  We will discuss these options with him towards the end of Lower Sixth.

Sixth Form Subject Choices:

The table below shows an example of the subject choice columns for Sixth Formers. It is very flexible and is frequently updated to take into account particular requests and specialisations. It offers your son an extremely large number of subject combinations; we take great care to recommend combinations that fit his abilities, career aims and university entrance requirements.

Other classical and foreign languages are also available, should there be sufficient demand, e.g.

  • Classical Greek
  • German
  • Polish
  • Arabic
  • Japanese
  • Russian
  • Italian

University applications and careers guidance

In his Lower Sixth year, your son will have many opportunities to find out about careers and university/college courses through mechanisms such as:

  • Sixth Form societies
  • Careers Café
  • Links with Industry scheme.

Much care and time is given to careers guidance and to the choice of university or college courses and the application procedure through UCAS. You and your son will also have an individual consultation about university and college applications. This usually takes place in January / early February of the Upper Sixth to coincide with the UCAS process.

Project work

In the Sixth Form, project work may well form an integral part of your son’s course. To this end, we arrange study courses and outside visits, and there are Sixth Form societies centred on departments with expert guest speakers. Your son will have the opportunity to discuss the topic of the talk in small groups with the speakers who are drawn from universities, industry and public life.

lower sixth subject choices