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School catchment areas: How they work and how to check them

School catchment areas: How they work and how to check them
What's the biggest 'must have' on your London property wish list?

A sprawling kitchen diner?

A nearby railway station?

Development potential?

For many, number one on that list will be a good school.

And buyers are certainly prepared to pay a premium to get one.

A survey from Santander in 2018 showed parents were willing to spend an additional £26,860 to secure a home in a good school catchment area.

In London, this figure rises to £70,675.

So, if you're prepared to part with that kind of money to secure a good school place for your children, you'd better know how school catchment areas work, right?

Let's take a look...

School catchment area rules: Everything you need to know

School catchments can be complicated.

Essentially catchment areas are based on your children's permanent residential address, forming an area around a certain school.

So, if you live within that area, you're guaranteed a place at the school within it, yes?

Not quite...

How do school catchment areas work?

It's true that, often, you'll need to live within the catchment area of a school you're keen on if you want your children to have a chance of a place there.

But there are many other factors at play when it comes to school catchments.

They could include:

* Whether your child already has a brother or sister at the school
* Whether your child went to one of the school's official feeder schools
* Your child's religion
* Your child's ability academically
* Any additional needs your child may have

Just being in catchment of a certain school doesn't guarantee your child a place. In schools where demand for places is high, you could be offered an alternative despite living in a certain catchment area.

And with some London school catchments being extremely tight areas, the difference between one catchment and another could be the space between two house.

It's also worth pointing out that you'll need to apply for your chosen schools by a certain deadline, so doing your research early is key.

How are catchment areas decided?

Good question.

And this is where it gets really complicated, so strap in!

Straight Line Catchments

This is not quite as it sounds, but this kind of catchment measurement is basically a circular area around a school and while it can change from year to year, the properties inside the circle would be 'in catchment'.

Once a school has established how many places it has left after sibling offers, they will offer those remaining places based on an 'as the crow flies' distance between the school and properties within the circle.

Walking distance catchments

This method of catchment works in the same way as the straight line method, but a property's distance from school is measured by walking route rather than a straight line.

It can be far more complex as the route the council measures may not be the route you would actually take as a parent.

Priority Admission Area

Some schools use a fixed area when deciding admissions and then offer any remaining places to applicants outside of that area.

Nearest School Priority Area

In areas where there are several schools close together, a Priority Admission Area is devised around those individual schools. Applications are then prioritised by their proximity to each school.

How to find school catchment areas

We've already established that you might have to pay a premium to live in catchment of a particular school.

And we've also established that places are certain schools are still not guaranteed even if you do live in catchment.

So, before spending big on a new London home simply because of its catchment area, do your research.

Starting online is a good place to begin, but there is a risk that the catchment areas, which do change from time to time, are not up-to-date.

Start with the local authority's website in the area you're looking and, if you're really keen, try a website like AdmissionsDay, which offers catchment area searches in return for a fee.

So, once you've established the schools you're interested in and their catchment areas, speak to each school directly to establish whether the area you're looking to buy is still within catchment.

Speaking directly to each school is also a good time to find out useful information on how popular they are and whether they have a history of being over-subscribed.

Tips to ensure you're in catchment

Once you're certain the area you're looking to buy in is your desired catchment area, you need to make sure you can find a property and complete the sale.

Competition can be fierce when it comes to properties in certain school catchments, so making sure you're attractive to sellers is vital.

If you're planning well ahead of your child starting at a school, consider moving into rented accommodation for a short time so you're buying with nothing to sell.

This could put you ahead of the pack in a seller's eyes.

And make sure you're in touch with local estate agents in the area you're looking to buy.

If the agents know you're actively looking, they'll be far more likely to tip you the wink when a brand new property comes on the market.

Deadlines for 2020 school applications

The deadline for primary school applications for those needing their child to start school in September 2020 is January 15 2020 - so the clock is ticking.

You can apply for a place online.

Secondary school applications can also be made online, but application deadlines are earlier than for primary schools, closing on October 31 2019.

If you are looking for a property to buy or rent get in touch with your local Ellis & Co branch who will be happy to help you find your dream home.