The school catchment factor - how housebuying and school places come hand-in-hand
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Several dynamics come into play when hunting for the perfect home; but for families with children, the quality of local schooling is paramount when relocating. Words: Andrew Bullock
As the summer term kicks in at schools around the UK, families thinking of moving house over the summer and placing the kids in a new school come Autumn will probably be in the thoes of manic research right about now. The catchment system has always played a part in the correlation between a child’s home, and where they go to school. Twenty years ago, drastically uprooting your family over the summer holidays in order to re-plant yourselves firmly within the patch of a particular body of education might have been seen as extreme. Today, the link between living and learning is progressively synonymous - and shows no sign of letting up.
The process of gaining a place at one’s preferred school is an increasingly cut-throat matter, turning house-hunting parents into tag-teams worthy of The Hunger Games. There is a parental trend of investing way above the average amount, in both property and school fees, so that one’s child can be placed in a particular school. The most recent statistics (carried out by Santander last autumn) deduced that one in four UK-based families have moved home deliberately to be within a desirable catchment area. To add to this slightly hedonistic approach, one in six have purchased or leased a second home for this reason (although many authorities are clamping down on this tactic).
Does the level of a child’s education come at a greater cost? While it may be safe to assume that those able to add a second mortgage to their portfolio will gladly do whatever it takes to place their child in a particular school, a quarter of these buyers also admitted to living beyond their means in order to accomplish this. Many had to work overtime or even seek a higher paid job to balance out the new level of expense; others had to make their own “lifestyle sacrifices” for the sake of their children.
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Schools themselves are becoming more aggressive when it comes to accepting potential candidates. Location plays a large part in state school admissions, with the term “catchment” used in the most literal sense. Proximity to a school is key, with entrance granted to those living closer. London comes out the worst, with fewer than 60 per cent of first preferences allocated in several of its boroughs.
Last summer, the pinch was felt mostly amid secondary school subscriptions, overtaking the previous squeeze faced by primaries. Exclusivity has also become a sticking point - those schools gaining certain academic levels from their students (such as GCSE grades A* - C) will offer less places during the admissions process, presumably to ensure this level of attainment is upheld.
This could be seen as a marketing tactic; so panic-stricken parents are being far from melodramatic.
What has this scramble for schools and homes done for the marketplace? In London, parents have been paying higher premiums of around £77,000 on a house costing £474,000, to put it into perspective.
Catchments are almost now a form of security to the house-hunting parent investing in both a new home as well as their child’s future. The market is notoriously tipping up and down; but if you are able to secure a home within close proximity of your dream school, your home is likely to be worth 25 per cent more than the average for the wider region. Those without children, living a mere skipping distance from the school gates, can command that heftier premium on the parents so desperate to get their children in a classroom beyond those gates.
In return, parents are indeed making strong investments. Perusing the Ofsted databases is now part of the process of buying a home. While this kind of purchase might seem extreme in the interim, it is arguably a money-maker in the long run. And if the market does face a dip, there will always be parents looking to school their children. These parents will happily pay for the luxury - whatever the state of the economy.
However, local authorities reserve the right to change the rules. Nowhere is it written that in 15 years time, when the children have graduated school, flown the nest and left their parents with a house they’d like to cash in on, the factors surrounding catchment regulations will be the same.
State schools are a game of chance for the 93 per cent of children in the UK who attend them. A child can be eligible to attend a certain state-funded school based on which end of the road they live on. This flaw in the system leads to poorer children having to attend the schools that their parents haven’t been able to buy into in terms of property investment or fees.
Are changes on the horizon to increase state funding for such establishments? Only time will tell; but those that pay higher council taxes to live in an already desirable catchment area will surely only see the benefits reaped in the schools that already have a glowing track record, bringing things back to square one. Perhaps this is too localized, and that the boom in both babies and property will help fatten the local authorities’ purses and raise the bar all round.
Adam Golder, MD, JW&Co Langleys in St Albans: “St Albans is very popular for parents and young couples looking to have their children placed in one of over 40 schools in this catchment area. Prices tend to be stronger close to schools and to the City railway station, although St Albans, in particular, also offers a high standard of living, rolling countryside and a rich history. A key factor in securing a home near the best schools is the ability to proceed with a purchase, as demand is strong for the very best schools. I appears that competition for school places is as hot as the demand for properties close by.”
Henry Prior, property specialist for the BBC: “Estate agents know the difference that the right catchment area can make and the some do as Rightmove, the biggest of the property portals do and include catchment areas on their website. It can be a make or break issue for some families looking to move and it’s not unheard of for some to deploy dirty tricks to try to qualify. As we all know, it’s all about location, location, location and the right location for many families is in the right school catchment area. As a professional buyer, it’s something I see often and it’s one of the non-negotiables.”