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Independent School Admission Process

Edinburgh’s independent schools have always been enormously popular. And for good reason. In order to survive and thrive, they have had to adapt and compete, which has driven up standards. This has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. Even when in-person teaching was not possible, these schools proved remarkably adept at rising to the challenges of remote learning. Thus, pupils continued to receive a structured and varied education, albeit at home.

The Scottish capital boasts an incredible array of independent schools, which vary considerably in size, age range, character and atmosphere. Most parents hail from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. Some make tremendous sacrifices to afford the fees; others receive financial assistance. Independent schools have a long tradition of achievement and regularly record glittering results in academic subjects, sport and the arts. It is often thought that they teach only highly academic children. However, most cater to children of all abilities, and some specialise in supporting children with additional needs. For their common aim is to help each pupil realise their potential.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a school. Naturally, a school’s academic record matters. But the best institutions also promote good manners, courtesy and mutual respect. So the culture and atmosphere of a school are often as influential as its statistics. Outlined below are some key factors to consider when choosing a school for your child. Our comprehensive ‘School Listings’ will help you decide which schools meet your criteria.


There is no doubt that school fees are a significant commitment for families. Fees are usually quoted as an annual sum and in three termly instalments. However, most schools allow parents to pay monthly by direct debit. School fees will usually increase a little each year with inflation.

Do check to see whether the fees are “all-inclusive” or whether a separate charge applies for items such as lunches and books, and what other “extras” you can expect. All schools will charge separately for optional activities such as individual music lessons and trips abroad. To widen access to independent education, schools now offer means-tested bursaries or assisted places rather than financial scholarships on academic merit. Most independent school nurseries are not in partnership with the council, so you will need to pay full nursery fees.

St Georges School


All independent schools prioritise the furthering of each child’s potential, so it is in everyone’s interest that the school should be well suited to your child. See our SCHOOL CHECK LIST to help you establish which school can match you and your child’s aspirations. You will also find the ‘School Profiles’ LISTINGS which summarise each school’s fees, facilities and much more.

Other factors that will influence your choice may include:



Would your child do better at senior school without the potential distraction afforded by members of the opposite sex? Or would a co-educational school better prepare them for life in the real world? Most independent schools are now co-educational, but there are still some single-sex schools for you to consider.



If you are considering boarding, you need to decide whether you would like your child to be a full boarder or to come home at weekends. Ask the school about all their boarding options. It is worth finding out how many of the students at the school are boarders and how many are day pupils. By doing this, you can find out whether a large number of pupils or just a handful stay at the school during weekends. Children do not usually board before the age of seven or eight.  



Entry can usually be at any age, depending on the school’s capacity. Traditional entry points are the start of nursery, primary or senior school. Some children join a school in the last year of primary, so they are settled before moving up to senior school. Every school has its own admissions policy, entry requirements and procedures. These you will find clearly outlined in the school’s prospectus and on its website.

Nursery School (age 3+)

Entry at nursery level can be a great way of getting a feel for the school. It also increases the likelihood that your child will be offered a place in the primary class. However, a nursery place is not a guarantee that your child will be offered a place in Primary 1.

Primary 1 (age 5+)

Most schools have a large intake of four and five year olds in P1. Your child will usually be invited to the school early on in the year for an informal, play-based assessment session.

Prep School (age 7+)

This is the typical age for a child to start preparatory schools that don't have a pre-prep year groups.

Primary 7 (age 10+)

At this age most schools will invite a child to interview/assessment and possibly to sit entrance exams.

Senior 1 (age 11+)

This is the best entry point to secondary school. Most schools will, however, try to consider applications at later stages to accommodate families moving to the area. Entry to senior schools is usually by way of a written exam, often combined with an interview, although schools may admit pupils from their primary school without examination.



Entry for pupils who have qualified for Highers and Advanced Highers, A-levels or IB is mainly based on exam results, an interview and previous school reports.

Edinburgh Academy


Ideally, you will be able to visit your shortlisted schools. You can attend an open day, or you can arrange a personal appointment to meet the Head of Admissions. Meeting the Head in an individual interview will give you a sense of the school’s ethos, but you will need to go equipped with the day-to-day questions that are specific to your needs. You should also be able to get a feel for the school and be able to see it “in action” as you take a tour. Open days can be slightly surreal occasions as the school will have spent time “setting the scene” for visitors. The advantage is that you will see more of the teachers and pupils. You will be able to ask more questions and explore the school’s facilities uninterrupted.



Applications for entry are usually made in the autumn of the year prior to admission, and many schools hold their open days during the autumn term. The usual advice is that it is never too early to apply, especially for a pre-school place. Nursery and some school places are allocated by date of application. So some parents put their child’s name on the waiting list soon after birth. But most schools give priority to siblings and the need to ensure a good balance of boys and girls. Schools generally require a deposit of around £75 per application. And while most parents will want to avoid making multiple deposits, it may be worth securing a back-up option.




Each independent school has its own admissions policy and entrance procedures. Some schools simply have a first come first served bases without having an assessment or your child sitting an entrance test. There are no fixed guidelines regarding how each school assess your child, but our research shows that entrance tests are rarely as bad for the children as they seem to adults. Furthermore, schools endeavour to make the process as painless as possible. The purpose of these tests is to ensure that your child will be able to cope with the academic expectations of the particular school. After all, there is no point trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.




Each school have slightly different time lines so make sure you confirm deadline dates with the school you are interested in. Schools will accept late applications and mid-year applications only if they have spaces.


September / October - School Open Days

November/December - Application Deadlines

November to January - Entrance Assessment/Tests ( dates vary depending on entry point)

February - Offers Made 


Offer dates and acceptance dead lines are made by agreement with Edinburgh’s independent schools and a deposit is usually taken when you accept the place offered.

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