Four things you need to know before moving home to get your child into a good school

Thinking of moving home to get your child into a good school. Here are four things you need to know first – and how to tell if a catchment-area premium is worth the money.

In the UK, parents and couples planning families are looking to pay increasingly larger amounts of money to live in areas that increase the chances of their children being accepted into top-performing schools.

Recently, The Times suggested that in certain parts of London, parents are paying an additional £290,000 to live in the catchment area of their desired school.

This is not exclusive to London. Wider regional reports claiming that relevant proximity to a high performing school can increase the sale price of a home up to 15%.

Of course, when it comes to our children’s education, we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that they get the highest quality teaching possible. So paying extra to send your child to a top performing school makes sense.

But catchment areas can be a complex topic to navigate, and getting it wrong could end up costing you a lot of money.

Here is a breakdown of what to consider if you are looking to move home in order to send your child to a better school.

1) Catchment areas are not guaranteed

Perhaps the most important point to remember about school catchment areas is that they are not as sure-fire as they may at first seem.

When schools select their intake they look at a number of factors including your address, whether a child has any siblings at that school (preference is usually given to children with siblings currently at the school) and the amount of applicants that they and other local schools receive.

So while the location of your address does play a role in whether a school will admit your child, it is not the only thing that they consider. Therefore living in a certain postcode does not guarantee that your child will be admitted to a certain school.

That being said, there are undoubtedly correlations between living in a certain area, and your children’s chances of being accepted to a particular school, but you need to research exactly how much your desired school favours a particular postcode and calculate this risk accordingly.

2) Catchment areas vary from school to school

Each school measures their catchment area differently. This depends on a number of factors including the population of schoolchildren in a given area, the amount of schools in that area, and how popular each of those local schools are.

To complicate matters further, while some schools assign priority to children who live within a certain distance to the school, others have “priority postcodes” where living within that postcode makes your child more likely to be accepted, regardless of what the actual distance is from the school.

Catchment areas are also subject to change, sometimes on an annual basis.

3) The quality of a school is not set in stone 

When looking at catchment areas, it can be easy to just look at the school ratings over the last couple of academic years.

This can neglect the fact that the quality of schools can fluctuate over the course of your children’s time there. A school’s best teachers can leave, their funding can be cut, and the governance can change. All of these can affect a school’s performance significantly in only a matter of years.

If the quality of your chosen school dips while your child is there, this not only means that their education will suffer, but it can also affect the value of your home if you paid a premium to live in the catchment area of that particular school.

That is not to say that these catchment area premiums are a complete false economy, as there are many non-fee paying schools that are consistent top performers over decades.

Rather you should look into the performance history of a school and speak to parents of children who have been there in the last 10 years or so to make sure that it will retain its quality while your child is there.

4) In some instances private education may be more cost effective

If we go by the figures that homes in desired catchment areas run at a 15% premium, then there may be some instances where opting for private education may be more cost effective than moving close to a high quality non-fee paying school.

The average cost of a private school in the UK is around £17,000 a year. Over the course of a child’s secondary school career, this comes out to £119,000. This means that if you are looking to move to an area where the average price of a family home is over £800,000 (which is the case in some parts of London), then a private school can be a cheaper option.

All this being said, it is far from guaranteed that a private school can offer the same level of education as a top performing state school. The best performing private schools tend to have intakes that are based on academic ability, so your children will have to pass certain exams at age 10 to get in.

For most areas outside of London, sending children to a high-performing state school will be ideal, both in terms of cost and quality of education.

The best ways to ensure that a catchment-area premium is worth it

Although there are a lot of variables to navigate, a solid understanding of your local schools, and the way that they give weighting to the location of their potential intake can mean that paying a premium to live in a certain catchment area is a worthwhile investment.

To maximise your chances of getting this buying decision right, you should:

  • Research the schools in your area, both state and private, and compare their exam results. It may be that parents are paying a premium to send their children to a school only marginally better than what is already available to you.
  • Talk to local estate agents, and admission teams of schools themselves to see how they prioritise certain catchment areas.
  • Look into what private education options are available and their cost.
  • Do not assume that a high-performing school guarantees that your child will achieve academically. Your input into your child’s education will always be the biggest cause of their success.

Photo by Anita Jankovic