So house prices in England are at a record high according to a new report from the Office for National Statistics this week. But moving home is still one of life’s most stressful experiences and a positive shift in house price tags will only go some way to compensate for the anxiety of moving. Throw small people in to the mix and the journey from A to B and becomes even more complicated. Obsessive Catchment Disorder, a modern anxiety about being in the right area for the right school at the right time, is growing among UK parents and school
is now as important for many movers as transport links, extra bedrooms and, that other 21st century obsession, the open plan kitchen.
Once children arrive on the scene a house is never just a house again. It’s a house “within walking distance of the most sought-after secondary in the city” or a house “with good proximity to excellent schools.” Priorities change; and those of us who fall in love with a property with little regard for where our little darlings will learn to read and write, do so
at our peril.
Belinda Aspinall, founder of LifeAfterLondon.com, an online network that connects people moving to a new area, gets a huge amount of enquiries from parents wanting to get information on schools before they move. She says Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are the most popular search areas for parents and finding local knowledge on options for their kids' education is key. “There are two distinct types of parents: those who know exactly what school they want for their children and need help finding the right area to live; and those who have decided to move and now quickly need to get up to speed on local schools.”
So only half of the UK parents have property OCD? “Actually parents often move out of London to get away from the whole catchment area issue and are surprised that getting their child in to the right school isn’t a walk in the park elsewhere,” she says.
Indeed, reports of micro school housing markets are in no way limited to London. Just last week the Financial Times reported pockets of Oxford, Newbury, Winchester and North Surrey are seeing large numbers of buyers prepared to pay up to 50% above the value of a house to secure access to a good school.
It’s not just parents who are pushing up house prices either. Would-be parents seem to be fine-tuning their good school radars too. Sunday Times Home ran a first-time buyer special edition at the start of September and added the following to their #my1sthome tips: ‘Plan ahead and think SCHOOL. One day choosing the best place for your child will be your biggest priority.” Maybe this isn't surprising as the average age of a first time buyer is 35.
Whether it’s your first home or fifth, it’s vital, however, not to just focus on the perfect primary. Little children aren’t little for long and as many parents with older children know, the secondary application is where things get serious. Friends with older children tell me this all the time. The joy over a hotly contested Reception place can pale into insignificance when faced with senior school Open Days and finding the educational establishment that will prepare your child for the big wide world of university or work. I’m looking for my own son right now, and often recall a tweet from one of my favourite writers, Caitlin Moran, on the pain of picking the right senior school:
“Finding a secondary school for the kids is the second most stressful thing ever, after that time I cut my legs off.”
So, perhaps a little Obsessive Catchment Disorder is no bad thing. Be prepared; plan ahead and if you are thinking of moving, make a school-savvy estate agent your new best friend.
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