Scotland’s top schools 2023: St Mary’s Music School tops the league table

The Sunday Times has published its annual league table of the best schools in Scotland for 2023, based on the academic performance of pupils in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams. The list reveals the top 20 state and independent schools in the country, as well as the best-performing schools in each region. Here are some of the highlights from the report.

St Mary’s Music School: the best school in Scotland

St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh has been ranked as the best school in Scotland for 2023, with an impressive record of 95% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 91% achieving two or more Highers, and 62% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is the only specialist music school in Scotland and one of only five in the UK, also boasts a 100% pass rate in music exams at all levels. The school’s headteacher, Dr Kenneth Taylor, said he was “delighted” by the recognition and praised the “hard work and dedication” of the staff and pupils. He added that the school’s ethos was to “nurture individual talent and potential” and to “provide a rich and stimulating environment for learning”.

George Heriot’s School: the runner-up

George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh came second in the league table, with 95% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 78% achieving two or more Highers, and 38% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which was founded in 1628 and is one of the oldest in Scotland, is known for its academic excellence, as well as its strong tradition of music, drama, sport and community service. The school’s principal, Lesley Franklin, said she was “very proud” of the pupils’ achievements and attributed them to the “high-quality teaching and learning” and the “supportive and caring culture” of the school.

Scotland’s top schools 2023

Kilgraston School: the best girls’ school

Kilgraston School in Perth was ranked as the best girls’ school in Scotland for 2023, and the third best school overall, with 94% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 81% achieving two or more Highers, and 32% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is a Catholic independent boarding and day school for girls aged 5 to 18, also has a reputation for its sporting achievements, especially in hockey, equestrian and swimming. The school’s headmistress, Dorothy MacGinty, said she was “thrilled” by the ranking and credited the “outstanding” staff and the “motivated and ambitious” pupils for the success. She added that the school’s aim was to “educate the whole person” and to “prepare young women for life beyond school”.

Albyn School: the best co-educational school

Albyn School in Aberdeen was ranked as the best co-educational school in Scotland for 2023, and the fourth best school overall, with 91% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 78% achieving two or more Highers, and 30% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is an independent day school for boys and girls aged 2 to 18, also offers a range of extracurricular activities, such as music, drama, art, chess, debating and Duke of Edinburgh Award. The school’s headmaster, Ian Pirie, said he was “extremely pleased” by the ranking and attributed it to the “excellent” teaching and learning, the “positive” relationships between staff and pupils, and the “strong” parental support. He added that the school’s vision was to “provide a stimulating and challenging education” and to “develop confident and responsible young people”.

The best state schools in Scotland

The best state school in Scotland for 2023 was James Gillespie’s High School in Edinburgh, which came fifth in the league table, with 94% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 77% achieving two or more Highers, and 26% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is a comprehensive secondary school for pupils aged 11 to 18, also has a diverse and inclusive ethos, with a strong focus on pupil voice, wellbeing and sustainability. The school’s headteacher, Donald Macdonald, said he was “very proud” of the pupils’ achievements and praised the “dedicated” staff and the “supportive” parents and partners. He added that the school’s mission was to “inspire learning” and to “empower young people to make a positive difference in the world”.

The second best state school in Scotland for 2023 was Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow, which came sixth in the league table, with 92% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 73% achieving two or more Highers, and 34% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is a selective independent day school for pupils aged 3 to 18, also has a history of academic excellence, as well as a wide range of extracurricular opportunities, such as music, drama, sport and charity work. The school’s rector, Colin Gambles, said he was “delighted” by the ranking and credited the “hard work and commitment” of the pupils and staff. He added that the school’s aim was to “provide a first-class education” and to “foster a love of learning”.

The third best state school in Scotland for 2023 was The High School of Glasgow, which came seventh in the league table, with 93% of pupils achieving two or more National 5s, 71% achieving two or more Highers, and 37% achieving two or more Advanced Highers. The school, which is a co-educational independent day school for pupils aged 3 to 18, also has a tradition of academic excellence, as well as a strong emphasis on pastoral care, personal development and community service. The school’s headmaster, John O’Neill, said he was “very pleased” by the ranking and thanked the “talented” pupils and staff for their “efforts and achievements”. He added that the school’s ethos was to “encourage each pupil to achieve their full potential” and to “develop their character and values”.

The best schools in each region

The Sunday Times also revealed the best schools in each region of Scotland, based on the same criteria of academic performance. The regional winners were:

  • Aberdeen City: Albyn School
  • Aberdeenshire: Robert Gordon’s College
  • Angus: High School of Dundee
  • Argyll and Bute: Oban High School
  • Clackmannanshire: Alva Academy
  • Dumfries and Galloway: St Joseph’s College
  • Dundee City: High School of Dundee
  • East Ayrshire: Stewarton Academy
  • East Dunbartonshire: Bearsden Academy
  • East Lothian: North Berwick High School
  • East Renfrewshire: Williamwood High School
  • Edinburgh City: St Mary’s Music School
  • Falkirk: Larbert High School
  • Fife: St Leonards School
  • Glasgow City: Hutchesons’ Grammar School
  • Highland: Fortrose Academy
  • Inverclyde: St Columba’s High School
  • Midlothian: Lasswade High School
  • Moray: Elgin Academy
  • Na h-Eileanan Siar: The Nicolson Institute
  • North Ayrshire: Largs Academy
  • North Lanarkshire: Dalziel High School
  • Orkney Islands: Kirkwall Grammar School
  • Perth and Kinross: Kilgraston School
  • Renfrewshire: Gryffe High School
  • Scottish Borders: Earlston High School
  • Shetland Islands: Anderson High School
  • South Ayrshire: Wellington School
  • South Lanarkshire: Hamilton College
  • Stirling: Dollar Academy
  • West Dunbartonshire: Dumbarton Academy
  • West Lothian: Linlithgow Academy

The full league table of the best schools in Scotland for 2023 can be found on the Sunday Times website.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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