Should you move to a catchment area or opt for a private school?

Published Dec 8, 2018 – 3 mins read

Should you move to a catchment area or opt for a private school? Many parents agonise about moving to a catchment area versus private schooling when they are considering their children’s education at the same time as a potential property purchase.

There is absolutely no easy answer to this one and inevitably the position can involve some complexities.

In what follows, we’ll identify some of the key themes that you may wish to consider and put forward some ideas.

State schools and catchment areas

Definitions here can vary tremendously and might be different from one local authority to another as well as by the individual countries of the United Kingdom.  For example, the Scottish education system is entirely separate from and different to, its English counterpart.

So, unfortunately, some generalisation is inevitable here.

Recognising that, the following is a summary of how schools and catchment areas relate to each other:

  • in theory, a state school will have a general catchment area surrounding it. This may be largely notional and therefore highly flexible or in the case of some local authorities, it may be rigidly enforced.  In the case of schools where demand for places is high, you may find it very difficult to get your children into the establishment concerned if you are outside of the catchment area;
  • in some cases, even if you live within the catchment area, if the demand for places is high due to higher population levels, it may still prove difficult to get your child into the school;
  • there have been reports of some children failing to get into their local school even though they reside as little as 50 to 100 metres from it. This indicates the typically high demand for the more successful establishments.

Some buyers adopt a strategy which is to find the right property and then attend to school issues afterwards.  Others wish to have the schooling situation clear before starting to refine their property searches.

 Ancillary factors

In some cases, school admission factors are taken into account that are not necessarily directly related to the position of a property vis-à-vis the catchment area concerned.

Some of the best state schools may have entry requirements which might not be specified in academic terms but which might be influenced by other factors. For example, 19% of secondary schools are faith-based and 72% of all places at faith secondaries are subject to religious admissions criteria.

Advice with state schools

Most schools will welcome contact in advance from people who are looking for a property in the area.  They will outline their various considerations relating to admission criteria and catchment areas.

It may be important to start the principles of your application for a place in a particular school at an earlier stage, though you may struggle to achieve final confirmation if you remain unclear as to whether or not you will be successful in purchasing a property within the catchment area.

Private schools

Good private schools are widely distributed around the UK.  There is a relatively high chance that there will be one within a manageable commuting distance of a property you are considering.

Each individual private school will have its own unique entry criteria but it is possible to make a few generalist observations in advance:

  • they may have formal academic achievement entry qualification requirements. Although not necessarily all such schools apply this type of reasoning, many may be inclined to restrict entry to average or above average students;
  • unless your child is likely to benefit from a grant or scholarship, there will be fees to pay and schooling fees at the better private schools can be high;
  • many of the top schools in this category are heavily subscribed. Finding out the entry requirements and starting your application is something you may wish to consider doing as early as possible;
  • international schools – such as The American School in London – are typically very popular and there may be a long waiting list;
  • the good news is that many private schools may not operate a fixed view of catchment areas as such. That means you may be able to be much more flexible in the locations you are considering for your property purchase, while still retaining potential access to the school of your choice.  However, do note that unless the school was able to offer boarding facilities, they may expect to see that you are planning to purchase a property within a relatively sensible commuting distance of the school.


If you’re worrying about a move to a catchment area for a school, that is understandable.  It is not an easy situation to manage in advance.

Nevertheless, with appropriate research and assistance – which we at Garrington can provide – you can put yourselves in the best possible stead for your child to enter your choice of school.

Similarly, we often assist our clients finding homes that are within the locality of their desired private school, factoring in the reality of the daily journeys.

Please call us today on +44 (0)207 099 2773 for more information.