Parents from as far away as Belgium jostle for places at top primary schools

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THE BEST primary schools are being swamped by applications from parents willing to move across the country in a search for better exam results, head teachers said yesterday.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, believes standards could be jeopardised if schools were forced to expand beyond their ideal size because of pressure from incomers.

He said competition to get into the catchment areas of the best primary schools had increased since the first publication of national performance tables four years ago. Tens of thousands of prospective parents will be poring over the primary school league tables, to be published on Wednesday, for the schools with the best scores in national tests.

Mr Hart said there was "no doubt" competition for places at the top performers had increased. "Successful schools at the top of the league tables do not necessarily want to expand ad infinitum," he said. "They simply want to provide a high standard for pupils they have.

"There are all sorts of undesirable consequences of the performance tables. They release unrealistic expectations among parents. Schools cannot just stand up to greater and greater parental pressures."

Problems arise because most local authorities use the distance between schools and parents' front doors as one of the main factors to settle which children can get places at oversubscribed schools.

Shenington School in the heart of rural Oxfordshire, has been flooded with enquiries from parents since it emerged as one of two at the top of last year's perfect 100 per cent score for maths, English and science tests, a feat it has achieved for four years running.

Parents from as far afield as Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, London and even a family from Belgium requested prospectuses. Coral Jessop-Burnell, the head teacher, said house prices in the village were around 10 per cent higher than in surrounding areas, because of the school's position. Many parents had to be turned away.

He said: "There is a terrible misconception that if your child is bright then you can get into the school. It makes no difference whatsoever. If you live here, you can go to the school.

"We did have somebody from Nottingham who said he had to come to the school and was going to take it to the Secretary of State."

Huw Dunsmore-Hardy, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, said finding the right school was an increasingly important factor when people decided on a home. "People will move to get into a catchment area if they can still get to their work."

Edward Rook, of estate agents Knight Frank, added: "There's definitely a high priority being placed on children's education and getting the best."

Research by the company last year found houses next to popular schools were worth up to 20 per cent more than equivalent property elsewhere.

Even the ultra-rich, looking at the country house market, would pay more to be near a good school, even in the independent sector, he said.