Education Quandary

'Should we move to get our child into a good primary school? We don't really want the upheaval, so how can we find out whether it is really worth doing?'
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Hilary's Advice

Many families are doing just that. In fact, in some areas, being in a good school catchment district can add up to 10 per cent on the price of a house. Of course, the more it happens, the more it's going to happen: this sort of movement inevitably increases the social apartheid between schools, making increasing numbers of parents feel that they have to move. But it is not something to be considered lightly, especially if you are settled where you are.

Look very carefully at the school for which you would be moving. Exactly how good is it? Don't rely on gossip. Visit it, ask pointed questions about its intake, its test results, and, particularly, the value that it adds to its pupils' achievements between the time that they join the school and the time that they leave (any school can do well with good pupils). Consider whether the children seem happy and engaged. Imagine your children at this school. How much happier and more successful do you think they'll be as a result of going there? Also, find out which secondary schools pupils there tend to move on to.

Then visit your local schools, the ones that you will be moving to avoid, and follow exactly the same procedure - you may find that they are not at all what you have been led to believe. In addition, find out about any changes in the pipeline. A school whose outstanding head moves on can quickly slide back into being mediocre, while a failing school that gets an injection of enthusiastic new teachers and money to improve its buildings can fast become a local favourite.

Balance up your whole family's needs - in both the short and the long term. Will what you lose now, if you make the move, be worth it for what you feel you are going to gain? And don't forget to factor into this equation both the financial costs of moving (especially into a pricier area), and the priceless peace of mind that will be yours if you are confident that your children are happy at school.

If you decide to move, be sure of your facts. Popular schools measure catchment boundaries in yards, and fill up fast. If you move into the wrong street, or into the right one but too late for a place, the whole exercise will have been pointless.

Readers' Advice

In what way are your local schools not good? I applied to a "very good" primary school and was rejected, so my children (now teenagers) went to a primary with socio-economic difficulties, but I committed myself to the school, became a governor, helped the PTA, befriended other parents, etc. My children achieved academically, and have continued to do so, and matured and developed socially -it was a happy, productive time in their lives. Support your local school, and your children will benefit in the long run.

Patricia Doyle, Bath

We didn't move for a school. We wanted to support the local school, and thought that it would be good for our children to have a mixed group of friends. However, the school had so many social problems that standards were low, and our children became frustrated and disengaged. They used up a lot of energy trying to fit into a culture that wasn't really their own. If we could do it again, we'd move. The price is too high not to.

Melody Eversedge, London

Parents need to realise that the school their children go to doesn't matter nearly as much as what they get at home. If parents back up a school by reading to their children, encouraging them to learn and try new things, and telling them how much education matters, their children will do well. Primary-school heads despair about the way parents wind each other up about good and bad schools, when often their information is erroneous, and little more than hearsay.

Veronica Gaines, Hertfordshire

Next quandary

'Our son is starting to look at possible universities, but is already discounting his first choices because "only one applicant in 10..." or "one in 17..." gets in. He says that there is no point in applying to popular universities, and that he will only apply to where he has a hope of getting in. Isn't this defeatist? We think that he is just scared of rejection.'

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 8 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser