Parents pay half a million in housing premium for state school education

Wealthy parents are inflating property prices in areas surrounding good state schools, pushing poorer families out

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The Independent Online

Poorer children are being priced out of the best state schools because wealthier parents are paying a property ‘premium’ of up to half a million pounds for houses in school catchment areas.

While state education is supposed to be free and equally accessible to all, new research by Lloyds Bank highlights how people buy their way into certain areas in a bid to get their children into the most sought-after schools.

Parents pay an average of £21,000 extra compared to average property prices in neighbouring areas, if they want to live in the same postcode as a top 30 state secondary school in England, the report found.

The postcode for Beaconsfield High School in Buckinghamshire attracted the biggest premium – with people paying £483,031 more than the average asking price for nearby properties.

Every pupil at the school got five or more A* to C grades in their English and maths GCSEs last year [2013] – far above the national average of less than two in three schoolchildren.

The property ‘premium’ for living close to Beaconsfield High School is part of a wider national picture across England, according to the analysis of government statistics of exam results and property prices in the post codes of the 30 top performing state secondary schools.

The data, released today, also highlights vast differences across the country. Demand for homes varies and is affected by factors such as the supply of good schools in the area, employment and the relative wealth of local people.

Half of England's top 30 state schools are in places where the average property price is lower than nearby areas. Homes in the postal district of Heckmondwike Grammar School, Kirklees, are the least expensive at £99,063 – compared to the average of £156,930 in neighbouring areas.

But the Lloyds Bank study warns: “Those on average earnings are finding it difficult to purchase a property close to many of the best state schools.”

This comes amid growing concern over the way in which wealthier families are exploiting the state school system to their advantage. 

Being able to pay inflated prices to live in a catchment area is just one tactic used by middle class parents seeking to get the best state school places and save a small fortune in private school fees.

Other tactics used include buying or renting second homes and using the new addresses to apply for a place, and paying for private tuition to help their children pass 11-plus exams to get into state grammar schools.

Conor Ryan, director of research at education charity the Sutton Trust, said: “This research confirms that access to the best state schools is too often linked to family income ... where comprehensive schools prioritise proximity in admissions, they close off access to many who can't afford the high house prices.”

He called on schools to adopt “fairer admissions policies” and consider “random allocation”, giving priority to pupils from poorer families, as part of their admissions policy.

State comprehensives with the best GCSE results give places to half as many children eligible for free school meals as the average school. When it comes to state grammar schools, pupils from private schools are four times more likely to win a place than those on free school meals according to research by the Sutton Trust. Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described grammar schools as being “stuffed full of middle class kids” last December.

In a bid “to support social mobility” in state education, the government announced new proposals last month to allow school admission authorities “to give priority for school places to disadvantaged children.” In return, schools would get a ‘pupil premium’ worth £1,300 for primary pupils and £935 for secondary schoolchildren.

In a statement, a Department for Education spokesperson claimed: “children now have their best ever chance to study in a good or outstanding school” and added: “We are increasing the number of good places by tackling underperformance and opening new schools in areas of need.”