Dreaded school catchment!

Maybe you’ve had a baby, or you’re pregnant or planning one day to have a baby. You’ve maybe bought a house and had children and now need to move as you’ve realised you are now out of any known school catchment area by a kittens whisker . So what do you do?  You could sell the house and move or more easily sell the baby and start again as the money for the baby might pay for the stamp duty second time round….we are sort of kidding!

The desperation and absurdity of school catchment areas in London has reached boiling point and unless you’re wiling to home educate and move out of any known school catchment area you’re trapped by that straight line from your house to the schools front door.

Well it is a very difficult excercise of chicken and egg too as one is never quite sure which to choose first house or school or both really but unfortunately the housing market doesn’t let you be that specific either sometimes. Read our article and understand what we all feel both as parents and as house buyers about what to do in the long run.

We recently had a reader ask how does one even choose a good school? She’s moving back to the UK soon with two children and will be looking to buy/live in London. Our first piece of advice would be to rent first, as if you haven’t lived in the UK for a very long time you need to find your feet and see if you like an area first before committing long term. In addition applying for the mortgage takes a minimum of 6 months in country before you’re able to apply for one and secure it anyway. With mortgage rates at their lowest, its worth securing the best mortgage you can in the long run because the only aim in house buying now is long term as short term is barely promising a return on this kind of investment.

So before diving into the tools available in house searching, we felt it worth addressing the idea of school catchments and buying a home from a parents perspective too in this article. When choosing the right school for your child or gauging an idea of what your options are, the challenge is while primary school may be the main focus, secondary often feels further away and harder to research. I mean how to even gauge a secondary school option when your 14month old is crawling around your feet emptying the contents of your kitchen cupboards onto the floor is near impossible. There are parents out there adamant only the Ofsted “Outstanding” will do, but we took the approach that a “Good” school may have more to offer our children. One school we considered was “Good” and when looking at its reason for failing to get Outstanding it came down to the administrative reporting they felt could be improved. We felt it was the atmosphere and relaxed attitude of this school that won over the teachers needing to spend more time doing administrative work and we haven’t looked back since we chose it. We are experienced as much as any parent is with an 8yr old and 4yr but, one thing we’ve learnt is studying Ofsted ratings and how well presented the kids look in their uniform going in each morning doesn’t necessarily equal a good learning experience that’s best suited to your child. With  a huge shortage of teachers and the increasing pressure they work under to deliver, our hope with any school  was that all important good teacher and frankly there is no formula to choosing the right school and therefore choosing the right teacher. The right teachers could appear in any school and with 5 years of primary school alone ahead, one of those years may not be a great year for your child.

So what else warrants an outstanding school? League tables I would argue when they are drastically close in data detail, isn’t really an accurate gauge especially when you realise these league tables go up and down each year to. Sadly by the time you start doing the open day rounds between September – October of the year before your child can start reception, completing then on a house post this period is near impossible with school applications due in January.

If you have your heart set on a specific school then you have to know your radius. However do note that with sibling preference and/or religious places preceding this, one never really knows how many places will be available each year.

There is a lot of debate nowadays over whether you child really has an advantage from one school to another and many argue more of our children’ learning really happens at home. GrowthMindset is the key word of the moment, as many schools start to concern themselves more over confidence and happiness in the school environment creating happy learners. It is being more understood that academic excellence doesn’t equate to success but actually children’s perseverance and a positive attitude to failure (mistakes make the brain grow stronger) gives them the tools to drive themselves better through life. So as I get asked how do you tell what is a good school, all I can suggest is visit the schools during term time busy days and determine whether your child version of you would be happy there or not.

www.schoolcatchment.co.uk is one of a few portals you can use to search via a postcode and gain a sense of which schools you may be within the radius for to gain a place.

It also shows you year on year changes and which schools are over or under subscribed.

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Many parents also join the local online Facebook groups of local parents to ask around and see what advice people have shared in the past. It’s always worth getting to know the area well prior to applying for school places and even sit in a local coffee shop after school drop off and accost a few mums who don’t work but meet up after for coffee for advice.

Rightmove.co.uk have pulled the school catchment information into their property searching tool under “School checker” with two tabs for Primary and Secondary but you still have to have a marker to work off so its based on viewing a specific house for sale/rent. However, it doesn’t show the radius, just simply orders the schools from 1 onwards starting from which school is the nearest moving outwards by distance.

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Then for those who want to compare schools on a league table we found the easiest to follow was through www.gov.uk/school-performance-tables which again can show minimal difference between schools. One has to remember too what the data doesn’t record is how many struggling kids a school accepts and how far and well it teaches to the point of exit. Now thats called good teaching its the journey you take them on from start to finish.

So what about choosing that all important house. With school catchments being an added huge bonus to a home, we are readily seeing house prices climb in certain areas close to sought after schools. Likely you’re going to be up against a fellow young family with the same plan in mind.  It’s not always guaranteed though that there will be added competition and in many areas which border a radius of good schools your choice of home will be far better. This is a personal choice from this stage onwards. We personally were able to buy a larger house slightly outside the catchment area and took a risk which paid off as we were prepared to wait right up until the last few weeks into summer and beyond to gain a place. One friend bought a house only a few doors away and got to the top of the list in a day and a place a few weeks later to moving as she slotted into No1 on the waiting list. There is considerable movement on waiting lists in densely populated areas with up to 6 school preferences requested by some Local Authorities. However, we would argue that the home you buy is a big family commitment and likely to be lived in for decades so don’t compromise more than you have to.

So regarding school catchments, know your area and know your schools and give yourself plenty of time to explore. We don’t agree that parents with 2 month olds should start searching, but in the very competitive and fearsome market called “Parenting” many start early. Education is very important for future generations but with the ever changing world we live in what that should look like for our children in 5yrs, 10yrs or 20yrs is anyones guess, however your’e likely to own the same home for the next 20yrs!

 

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