We’ve all heard those seemingly absurd stories about school applications. You know, the ones about parents who will do ANYTHING to get their little darlings into the ‘right’ school:
- Putting their parents’ address on the school application form rather than their own
- Developing a sudden keen interest in the church a couple of years before their child starts school
- Moving to the next street along to ensure they’re in the right catchment area or parish for ‘that’ school
This kind of behaviour can certainly prompt an onslaught of tutting and eye rolling. That is, until you become a parent yourself…
Playing the system to get into a school is nothing new, but the number of parents who are willing to take that risk is gripping the nation like never before.
The financial crisis has meant that independent schools have become less affordable for many, and parents that would have gone down the private education route are up for a fight if it means securing a place at a well-performing state school. In some areas, the most popular schools are receiving more than ten applicants for every available place.
Are you willing to pay the premium?
Buying a house is a huge decision in anyone’s life – and catchment areas merely add to the stress.
According to a survey conducted at the end of last year by Santander Mortgages, one in four families move house simply to get their child into a specific school. The study showed that 26% of families with school-age children have either bought or rented a property in order to have an address within a preferred catchment area.1
Even more revealing is the fact that parents are typically prepared to spend an 18% premium to be close to their chosen school. That works out at an additional £32,000 more compared to average house prices.2
And it’s the same story with renting. According to estate agent PrimeLocation, monthly rentals within one of the top 50 school catchment areas are typically 7.8% higher than the rest of the UK.3
But it’s not just an expensive new address that parents end up with. The Santander survey also indicated that of the parents who had made a catchment area house move, 17% also found themselves looking for a new job, 20% were living in a smaller property, 21% had moved away from friends and family, and 22% had over-stretched themselves financially.
Suffice to say, catchment areas have given the concept of location, location, location a whole new meaning.
New house, new investment
All of this might sound absurd to some people. After all, who in their right mind would pay way above the odds for a property that potentially only ticks one box? Someone who has the financial means (obviously). And someone who sees it an investment.
The key is to buy wisely and to view the purchase as a long-term investment. Spreading the £32,000 over the duration of your child’s school years might make it a little easier to swallow.
A child will be at primary school for a total of seven years. Spread the additional cost over that time and you’ll have paid £4,571 a year (or £380 a month). Plus, the price of the property could increase over the years too.
According to figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research in July this year, the average UK house price could increase by £40,000 between now and 2021 – easily covering that £32,000 premium.4
If, on the other hand, you decide to stay put but are not happy with the local state school, you may opt for an independent primary school. You may avoid the cost of moving house, but analysis from the Good Schools Guide in May this year reveals you’d have to pay around £15,500 in school fees annually.5
When you’re looking at seven years of £15,500 a year, an extra £32,000 can suddenly sound rather appealing.
Looking at the situation in these very simplistic terms highlights why paying a premium to live in a certain catchment area has become so widely accepted. It’s not a watertight investment, but bricks and mortar tends to give good returns – especially when the property is near a good state school.
But rest assured, school is not the be all and end all. Your child’s development relies just as much on the environment they grow up in. If they feel happy and are getting the right support at home their enthusiasm to learn will know no bounds.
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