Senior School

A world-class education at Watson’s

In our Senior School at George Watson’s College, pupils develop the knowledge, skills and attributes they need to thrive as adults enabling them to make their own contribution to the world. 

Our teachers lead some of the most forward-thinking, innovative and digitally focused learning and teaching found anywhere at secondary schools in Scotland.

The wellbeing of our pupils at the heart of life at our school. We help them build resilience, cope with change, through both teacher and peer-led support. 

And we encourage and empower pupils to think for themselves, to solve problems and understand how they, themselves, learn. At Watson’s we celebrate success but we do not fear failure; we learn from it. 

When it’s time to leave Watson’s, our pupils will have been supported to become engaged and successful citizens, with the social and interpersonal skills to make their own way in the world. 

Developing an international outlook, including access to international experiences is a core part of our approach to learning. We encourage every pupil in our Senior School to make at least one international trip during their time with us. There are opportunities to travel to Europe, the US, Africa, Asia and Australasia through a range of different programmes. 

We also encourage exploration beyond the classroom with a range of opportunities to learn outdoors.

An academic curriculum 

The Senior School curriculum builds on the learning experiences of the Junior School but is equally accessible to pupils joining our Edinburgh-based school from other schools.

Exceptional specialist teaching is offered within a structure that challenges pupils to explore links between subjects and understand the fundamental concepts which underpin their learning.

Across 19 different curricular departments, our pupils enjoy an unrivalled choice or subjects, taught in specialist classrooms designed for each purpose. This includes our Art School, Design, Technology and Engineering Centre, Centre for Sport, and Music School

Design, Engineering and Technology Centre
Pupils learning in our Design, Engineering and Technology Centre

Subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology are taught in very well-resourced lab environments, ensuring pupils are able to immerse themselves in the specifics of each subject.

Our approach has been recognised by recognition in The Telegraph newspaper’s ‘Top Ten Value’ schools in the UK.

You can learn more about each of our departments, here.

Aiming high with academic qualifications 

We prepare pupils for Scottish National Qualifications by providing a wide range of Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) courses in combinations that are designed to suit the needs of individual pupils. 

Pupils at Watson’s are encouraged to be ambitious for themselves. Our open presentation policy gives them the freedom to choose the examinations that are right for them and we do not prevent any pupil from taking a subject at examination level.  

Our approach delivers some of the best examination results in Scotland, with our pupils’ academic performance amongst the best in the UK. The vast majority of our pupils will progress to further education or university.  

Of course, that doesn’t mean that tertiary education is the right destination for everyone, and we provide support to those who choose a different path.

In addition to certificated courses, pupils study a core curriculum and older pupils may choose enrichment courses to further broaden their academic experience.

National 5s

In S3 and S4, most pupils study eight subjects for National 5s from the approximately 31 that are offered. Pupils usually take English, Maths and a foreign language within their choices. 


In S5, pupils usually study five Higher subjects including English and Maths from the approximately 32 different courses available.

Advanced Highers

In S6, pupils study a range of Higher and Advanced Higher subjects depending on their future plans. Again, a wide range of courses (including 25 at Advanced Higher) in many combinations is available.

Supporting pupils to success 

The health and wellbeing of pupils is an incredibly important focus at George Watson’s College. 

Working closely with parents and our pupils themselves, Form Tutors, skilled and experienced Pupil Support staff, a counsellor, school nurses and our network of trained peer-to-peer supporters combine to ensure that every pupil may flourish.

Senior 6 pupils in the Common Room
Senior 6 Common Room

We have a long history of helping pupils to overcome barriers to their learning and there is access to the expert support for learning that is required. 

Our careers team provides valuable information, advice and support to all pupils from Senior 1 to Senior 6, which enable them to make good decisions about subject choice and future destinations. 

Pupils also benefit from the opportunity to develop employability skills by taking part in a variety of activities and programmes such as Senior 4 Careers Day, Senior 5 Futures Week, and our Business Breakfast amongst other things. 

In S6 pupils choose their own Personal Tutor to guide their choices as they prepare for university, college or the world of work. Tutors have extensive experience of supporting our pupils as they prepare to move on to life after Watson’s. 

Enrichment opportunities 

Senior School pupils benefit from the extraordinary range of enrichment opportunities including some of the most extensive programmes of extra-curricular sport and music of any school in the UK, ambitious drama productions and highly successful clubs and societies.  

Drama rehearsals
Rehearsals in our purpose built Drama Studios

Our S1 pupils take part in a week-long residential orientation trip which helps everyone to get to know each other better. 

Pupils in S1 and S2 take part in our Global Education Fortnight,  including language trips for S2. Our international exchanges start in S3, they include exchanges with schools in Canada, Spain, and Australia.  

Also in S3, pupils participate in Projects, a two-week adventure with small groups taking to the outdoors across Scotland, engaging in a wide variety of activities. This near 60-year-old tradition is a key part of life at Watson’s.

Our Festival of Ideas is an annual opportunity for pupils to immerse themselves in wider, deeper issues. They hear from recognised and acclaimed thinkers who discuss pressing issues around a specific theme. The highlight of this programme is the annual public Caritas Lecture, which is delivered by someone with national or international distinction.