Up­ping sticks for the best schools

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Markets -

Pop­u­lar catch­ment ar­eas can be pricey, but for these fam­i­lies it was well worth the move, says Fred Red­wood

It is the start of an­other school year, and young par­ents in Lon­don and the Home Coun­ties will be scan­ning the prop­erty web­sites for those parts of the coun­try where the price of a fam­ily home is not be­yond the dreams of avarice. Many have made the move al­ready. The num­ber of peo­ple flee­ing Lon­don in 2016 alone reached 300,000, ac­cord­ing to Sav­ills – 80per cent higher than five years ago.

These émi­grés, most aged between 29 and 39, come in search of many things – open coun­try­side, gas­trop­ubs and a solid com­mu­nity, to name a few. But the ed­u­ca­tion of their chil­dren is of up­per­most im­por­tance. Un­likely to be able to af­ford to­day’s in­de­pen­dent school fees (ap­proach­ing £40,000 a year for board­ing), they as­sid­u­ously seek out the top state gram­mars, acad­e­mies and com­pre­hen­sives in­stead. This comes at a price – a study by the Sut­ton Trust this March found a house price pre­mium of 20per cent near the top com­pre­hen­sives. Many be­lieve it is money well spent.

If you want to judge which state se­condary school is best for your child, help is at hand. Re­fer to the Of­sted re­ports if bland is your thing; The Good Schools Guide is more read­able. For bare sta­tis­tics, study the league ta­bles of the per­cent­age of pupils gain­ing five GCSE grades between A* and C, in­clud­ing maths and English.

Also seek ad­vice from wellinformed lo­cals, as Lindsay Hey­don did when she and her fam­ily moved from Wilt­shire to the wilds of Pem­brokeshire. She found prop­erty search agent Carol Peett, who rec­om­mended Ys­gol y Pre­seli, a school in the vil­lage of Crymych that teaches in Welsh, for daugh­ter Grace. Hey­don ini­tially had mis­giv­ings about the bilin­gual teach­ing and the pos­si­bil­ity of Grace, now 16, be­ing co­cooned from the wider world out­side their ru­ral idyll. She need not have wor­ried.

“Grace was up to speed in Welsh within two years of ex­tra lessons,” says Hey­don, 56, who runs an IT con­sul­tancy and web­site de­sign com­pany with hus­band Jon Stran­groome. “The school is very English-friendly, and the staff have been noth­ing short of in­spi­ra­tional. Grace has won prizes for English and IT, and the school or­gan­ised a visit from Oxbridge for the high achiev­ers. She saw her goal and she wants it now.”

Here fol­lows some of Eng­land’s best-per­form­ing lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties at GCSE level, as well as a sam­ple of the most sought-af­ter se­condary schools out­side Lon­don. It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that Buck­ing­hamshire is a selec­tive author­ity, which means about one in five of the lo­cal chil­dren is se­lected by abil­ity. That’s fine if you are con­fi­dent that your child will pass the en­trance tests, but an area such as New­bury in West Berk­shire may be a safer bet. There, the high-fliers at 11 have a chance of get­ting into the Read­ing gram­mars, such as Ken­drick and Read­ing Schools, while oth­ers are likely to do well at some ex­cel­lent com­pre­hen­sives.

Ken­net in Thatcham has been trans­formed by one of the na­tion’s “su­per-heads”, Paul Dick, and academy St Bartholomew’s in New­bury is an ex-gram­mar that even teaches lacrosse. Look for homes in out­ly­ing vil­lages such as Buck­le­bury (where the Duchess of Cam­bridge grew up). Fur­ther south, in Winch­ester, King’s is the best-re­garded com­pre­hen­sive – deemed “out­stand­ing” by Of­sted – and St Cross, where houses go for between £1mil­lion and £1.5mil­lion, is one of the more sought-af­ter ar­eas. Steeped in his­tory, an hour from the coast and 40min­utes from the New For­est, Winch­ester has plenty to of­fer out­side school hours, too. In Chel­tenham, Pate’s Gram­mar tops the GCSE rank­ings with­out be­ing an ex­am­i­na­tion fac­tory: all Year 7s get a birth­day card from the head. At Bal­car­ras, a com­pre­hen­sive in the Charl­ton Kings area, exam re­sults are ex­cel­lent, and it of­fers ev­ery sport from rugby (four pitches) to cy­cling on its own speed­way track. No won­der it gets tre­ble the num­ber of ap­pli­cants for its 194 places. It also ex­plains why a four-bed­room, mod­ern house within its tiny catch­ment area last month that was for sale at £695,000 im­me­di­ately at­tracted eight bids, one of which was fiveper cent above the ask­ing price. The same style house in the same road sold for a mere £470,000 in 2010.

In Bath, gram­mar schools Beechen Cliff and Hayesfield hold sway. Houses in nearby Poet’s Corner, a favourite with artsy and me­dia types, sell for £500,000 to £600,000 for a three­bed­room Vic­to­rian ter­race. Suc­cess­ful com­pre­hen­sives have cre­ated their

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