The statistics vary slightly from year to year but approximately a quarter of parents with school-age children have bought or rented a house because it lies within the catchment area of a specific school. A further 30% of parents are considering moving for this reason within the next two years. Both in London and in the country house market, this can add a significant premium to property prices in areas close to top-performing schools.
National Offer Day—when hundreds of thousands of parents find out which secondary school their children will attend—falls in early March each year. For many whose children are approaching the end of their primary school years, and don’t live within easy reach of a good secondary school, the date forms a trigger point of planning their next property purchase.
Research published in 2018 found that the average price of a property near one of England’s top 100 secondary schools costs 12% (or £26,860) more than comparable properties in the surrounding area. As competition to get the best education hots up, it’s a figure which experts believe is unlikely to go down.
Beaconsfield High School, a girls’ grammar school in Buckinghamshire, is currently the most expensive to live near compared to prices in the rest of the county: the average house price in the school’s HP9 postcode is just over £1m, while the average property price in Buckinghamshire as a whole is £610,000.
While the cost of private education has increased by an average of 49% in the ten years between 2008 and 2018—outstripping the rate of inflation over that same period by a huge margin—the option of getting a child into one of the high performing grammar schools that remain is becoming ever more attractive.
What is a grammar school?
They had existed for hundreds of years, but the modern-day version came about as a result of the 1944 Education Act which made provision for a system of secondary education that was free for all. Up until then, there were free places for poorer children at grammar schools but additional costs involved in going to these schools often prevented families from being able to take them up.
With the new system, secondary education up until the age of 15 (and later 16) was free for all. The idea was that the most academically gifted would sit the 11+ exams and go to grammar schools, while everyone else would go to secondary moderns or technical colleges (in reality, the latter were rarely established and the system was split into grammar schools and secondary moderns).
In 1965, a Labour government began phasing out grammar schools in favour of comprehensives. But either as a result parental pressure or decisions made at a local level, some authorities hung on to their grammar schools—particularly in Buckinghamshire and Kent.
Where are the best grammar schools?
In results published earlier this year, the top 10 grammar schools based on GCSE results include a concentration in popular commuter belt towns in the Home Counties surrounding London. They include Nonsuch High School for Girls in Cheam, Surrey; Beaconsfield High School and Dr Challoner’s High School in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire; and Kendrick School, Reading, Berkshire.
But for anyone looking to live somewhere with the widest choice of grammar schools, the top two areas to concentrate on are in Beaconsfield and Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
Buying near a grammar school
To get a place in one of the most sought-after schools, it will likely mean buying or renting a property that lies within a school’s catchment area. Most professionals advise parents to start researching at least a year or two before a child reaches Year 6. Some, dubbed “catchment chasers” go as far as to sell their house and rent in the new area while they search for a new home so has to have the all-important local address by the secondary school application deadline (usually the end of October when the child is in Year 6).
What’s the future of grammar schools?
In 2016, the Prime Minister Teresa May announced plans to allow grammar schools to expand and this was followed by a £50m growth fund launched in May 2018. There are now 11,000 more grammar school pupils in England than in 2010, according to research by the BBC. And by 2021, the number of extra places created will be equivalent to 24 new grammar schools compared to eight years ago.
Family properties for sale near grammar schools
Beaconsfield grammar schools, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
A Georgian-style recently-built family house in a central Beaconsfield Old Town location with four bedrooms and a private rear garden.
Nonsuch for Girls, Cheam, Surrey
A three-bedroom house in Tabor Gardens in the heart of Cheam Village with regular mainline services to Victoria and London Bridge.
Bishop Wordsworth’s School and South Wilts Grammar, Salisbury, Wiltshire
The Old School House in Alderbury, just over three miles from Salisbury, is an attractive six-bedroom period house with a garden.