School Catchment Areas: are they worth paying for?

School Catchment Areas: are they worth paying for?

School Catchment Area

Property in the UK can attract premiums of up to 15% simply by being in close proximity to an in-demand school. Given the London housing market being what it is, this has led to some parents paying up in an attempt to get their children into the top performing state schools in the capital.

Naturally, all parents want the best education for their children, but is paying this premium actually worth it? To find out, let’s take a closer look at how catchment areas actually work, and compare their cost against other traditional types of paid education.


How do catchment areas work?

In the UK, one of the main criteria that non-selective, non-fee paying schools look at when admitting students is the proximity of a child’s home to the school in question. Therefore, living in certain postcodes increases the chances of your child attending a particular school.

Catchment areas are not as simple as “live within 5km of x school and your child is guaranteed a place there”. Rather, living within a school’s “catchment area” is a requirement for your child to go there, but does not guarantee that they will get a place there.

State school admissions depends on a number of factors including proximity of your home to the school (you are generally given priority if the school in question is the closest one to your home) and whether you live in a school’s “high priority neighbourhood”.

It’s also important to remember that not every school has the same catchment area, rather it is measured on the size of the school, and population density of the area that surrounds it. 

To make things even more complicated, the way that catchment areas are measured varies from local council to local council, with some using walking distance, some using raw distance, and others using predetermined areas. Schools’ catchment areas can also change from year to year.


Catchment area premiums vs private education

Typically, in cities at least, you can expect to pay around a 15% premium to live in the catchment areas of the most popular schools.

Now, consider private education, the average cost of private day schooling in the UK is around £17,000 a year. Over a child’s secondary school career, this amounts to £119,000.

Therefore if the price of a family home in your area is significantly over £800,000 on average, then private schooling may be a more cost effective option than chasing a catchment area. Admittedly, not all private schools offer the education of a top-performing state school, but there are plenty of highly academic private schools available.

Private tutoring could also be a cost effective option to ensure a better quality education for your child. This could be particularly useful if your child struggles at certain subjects specifically, or if their school isn’t geared to teaching certain subjects well. Getting the extra support could provide a better rounded education without that 6 figure cost.


Some problems with paying the “catchment area premium”

Ultimately, given that catchment areas are not an official policy, and that they are subject to adjustment year after year, it may not actually make sense to pay a huge amount of money just to increase your children’s chances of going to one particular school.

Add to that the fact that schools quality can fluctuate a lot over a seven year period, and chasing catchment areas often just does not make sense.

If you do have your heart set on a particular school, you should ask yourself the following questions before you make a financial commitment to it:

  • What are the quality of your other local state schools? Is the best one in the area massively better than what is available?
  • How steady are the school’s results? Do they have a track record of quality or are they a flash in the pan?
  • How likely does moving to a certain postcode make your child’s acceptance into a particular school. It would be worth talking to local estate agents, the local council, and the school itself about this.
  • What local private schools are available and what are their costs and average results?
  • What local private tutoring is available.

Guest post from Dwell Estate Agents.

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