Living in certain catchment areas for schools is essential to parents with school age children, if they have a preferred school for their child. It can be so important to them, that according to Santander, 25% of parents of primary school age children buy or rent within the preferred school’s catchment area to ensure their child is given a place at the school. The Department of Education has stated that there are currently 3,700 council run schools and colleges in the UK that are rated as ‘outstanding’.
So What Exactly Is ‘a Catchment Area’?
The catchment area is a clearly defined geographical area from which the school accepts applications for student places. You may well live in the catchment are for one school or more, but if you live outside the catchment area of your preferred school, it is very unlikely that you will secure a place for your child there. It is important to note that catchment areas are not ‘set in concrete’ as they can increase and decrease in size depending on demand.
The papers have talked about the chances of getting a place for your child at your first choice of school as being like ‘a postcode lottery’ – which is a little unfair because in 2018, 91% of primary school children secured a place at their preferred school and 82% of secondary school students were able to attend their chosen school.
Do All Schools Have a ‘Catchment Area’ Policy?
Not all schools in the UK do use a ‘catchment area’ policy, but prefer to use ‘distance from school’. Whilst for some schools the distance could be several kilometres, for other really popular schools in a built-up area, the distance can be less than half a kilometre.
Many schools also give preference to children who have siblings already in the school or, with faith schools, preference is given to students of the same faith, whose families practise that faith. Some schools give priority to children who have attended their ‘feeder school’.
Whilst this can be quite confusing, if you log onto www.admissionsday.co.uk you will be able to assess the chances of success for your application to a certain school.
How Do I Check That the Chosen School Is Good?
There are a number of ways to check which are the best schools in your area. These range from going online to standing at the school gates to chat with parents! A good overall view of your chosen school can be gleaned from the school’s own website, its Ofsted rating and such informative websites as the Good Schools Guide. Other good websites to read include https://www.gov.uk/schools-admissions and https://www.mumsnet.com/education/choosing-a-primary-school.
Do I Have Plenty of Time to Consider Options?
Sadly, where school applications are concerned, time is not on your side if you are planning to move to a certain catchment area for the academic year that begins in September 2021. For applications for the 2021 academic year, the deadline to have submitted your application is October 2020. Whilst this may sound workable, in reality it means that you will need to have either bought or be renting within the catchment area and be actually living in the property (or on the verge of doing so), by the time you apply – it cannot be just your plan!
You will have to support your application with at least two of the following documents showing your home address in the catchment area:-
- Your Council Tax assessment or copy of a Tax Credits letter for the current year.
- A current copy of your tenancy agreement.
- A copy of the letter stating your benefits/ child benefits that is less than one year old.
- A current utilities bill or one that is less than three months old.
- Your current TV licence.
What If We Do Decide to Relocate as a Family?
You certainly will not be alone, as many parents buy or rent in the catchment area of ‘outstanding’ school’s so that their child can receive a really good education. Ideally you should be living at the address within the catchment area BEFORE you apply for a place there, but with such little time, it is possible to have your application accepted even if you have not physically moved into your new home.
The rules are strict. You will need to provide a letter from your solicitor detailing the new address and move in date, or if you are moving into rented accommodation, your new tenancy agreement – which must be at least for one year. You will also need to provide evidence that you no longer have any ties with your previous property – such the fact that there are new occupants.
Although some families do try different tactics to secure school places, it is unwise to do so! Cross references are made by the school and the council and both respond to ‘tip offs’ from other parents. The common trick used is to make the application from a relatives address or to use a short-term rental address. The council does have investigators in each area, so it is easy to be ‘caught out’. Councils also stipulate the minimum tenancy allowed for parents renting within a catchment area.
If you have a lovely family home, that you would rather like to keep, have you thought about renting it out whilst you rent a similar property in the desired catchment area? This could work well, although rental prices of properties near ‘outstanding schools’ are always higher. There will be income tax implications on rentals too and a maximum of 20% mortgage interest tax credit offset on rental income.
If you happen to live in a popular catchment area, but do not need to for your own family, as they are past school age, you could consider renting your property and downsizing to somewhere you would really like to live. This would give you an excellent opportunity to capitalise- with the best return on your investment.
Unfortunately, where school admissions are concerned, there is no absolute guarantee to success. You may relocate your family at great expense or give many hours to the local church to improve your chances and then suddenly there is an unexpected change in the school admissions policy and all your efforts will not have helped at all... hey ho.