What to choose first, school or house?

When moving out to the countryside there are normally two driving factors – wanting your children to grow up out of a city with more space, and schooling.

Surrey ticks many boxes for families when choosing where to live as the commute isn’t too arduous, the countryside is beautiful and the county is peppered with pleasant market towns and idyllic villages, offering a choice of country lifestyle options for your family. The cherry on the top is that the schools are also fantastic.

So, which takes priority – your child’s school or your family home? It is a dilemma faced by many of our clients.

We’ve helped so many families with this quandary. In our experience the age of your child and time of year are the two most important factors in this decision.

If your child is nursery and pre school age (0-5)

If you have pre-school aged children you may not have their education on your radar. Having half an eye on catchment areas for schools even at this point is nevertheless a wise decision, as you don’t want to move to your ideal home only to find that you haven’t a hope of getting into the ‘outstanding’ primary school in the area. So, although at this stage finding a house can take a lead, knowing your catchment is a factor you should take into careful consideration (unless you are only considering independent schools). The Rightmove school checker is a useful tool for checking out local school catchments, although these do vary from year to year so it’s important to check with the school as well.

If your child is Junior/ Prep School age (5-11/13)

State Schools: As you may know, you have to apply through the council for your school place. For 4+ and 7+ (i.e. starting in Reception and Year 3) applications need to be submitted during the period November 2017 to January 2018 for entry in September 2018. You need to have exchanged contracts on your new home/ committed to your rental property in order to use it as your application address. Ideally that would mean moving in by Christmas at the latest, the year before your child is due to start the following September.

If you were moving outside these dates, you would also have to apply through the council approximately 4 weeks before you need the place. Your exchange document would need to state the completion date before the application is processed.

A key consideration at this stage is feeder schools. Most secondary schools’ key criteria are distance from home and sibling policy. However, if you are on the ‘edge’ of the catchment, whether your child is attending a feeder junior school is a determining factor. If you have one year left to run in a junior school and you have your eye on a particular senior school you are better at this stage to apply to the correct feeder school, so this needs to be considered when looking at houses.

Puttenham Church of England Infant School’s Headteacher, Miss Anna De Filippis says, “Places often become available during the school year, as families move in and out of the area, and indeed we have a few places available in each year group currently. So whatever time of year you plan to move, I would suggest contacting schools close to the house you’ve got your eye on to find out whether any places are available. In common with many schools, we run open mornings and tours throughout the year, so I would also suggest visiting local schools to see first-hand what they can offer your child. If your chosen school doesn’t have places available immediately, don’t fret, as things might have changed by the time your house purchase is complete. Your child will go on a waiting list and as soon as space becomes available you will be contacted to see if you still want the place.”

Independent Schools: As schools are not linked to your address, you could argue that the house could be chosen before the school. However, years of country lane driving from one side of the county to another based on being in the wrong location can be miserable. It is probably therefore advisable to choose the school and then working out what options that leaves you in terms of areas to house hunt. Most parents are happy to drive up to 20 minutes to and from school, so that can give you a pretty sizeable search area to concentrate the house hunt in.

Aldro Prep School in Shackleford Headmaster Mr James Hanson says, “Aldro offers standard entry places at 7+ and 11+. There may be occasional openings at other year-groups if space allows. We typically receive applications from parents between 12 and 18 months before a child would be due to start with us, and we begin the admissions process around 10 months before entry. Entry tests vary from school to school – ours is couched very much as a taster day. Thus they would be invited to spend a day with us, playing some sport, enjoying a few lessons and following a standard assessment in the key components of Maths and English (that they are used to doing on a normal school day), namely: spellings, reading, mental maths, creative writing and reasoning. Our aim is for them to love the day without seeing it as a test day. We do receive applications for start-dates other that September, and we would consider them if space allows, but the best advice for school entry is to register as close to 12 months in advance of a move / preferred start-date if you can. We always begin the school year with a few days of pre-season football training; this serves as a really good soft start for all boys, but especially for any new boys joining an established cohort.

Our advice for all schools like us is to arrange a personal visit to the school on a normal school day so you can see the school in action, meet the Head and other key staff or attend one of our Open Mornings. We always recommend taking time to think through what your children would love about school, and whether you could imagine them thriving in such an environment – it is a great chance to see the school through the eyes of your children.”

If you are looking at Senior school (11+)

State Schools: If your house move is tied to getting your child into a particular school, then it makes sense to focus your search area on the catchment for that particular school. If you are lucky enough to have a few good state school options, that allows more flexibility to focus on the house hunt first. As with primary schools, moving at a time that isn’t a normal entry point doesn’t mean that they won’t get in. People do move out of the area or change schools for a variety of reasons, so places may well come up.

Independent Schools: With approximately five to seven years of senior school to take into consideration and the flexibility that weekly boarding offers at some schools, the decision of whether to go for house or school first depends very much on whether this is a ‘forever’ home or ‘stepping stone house’.

If a forever home, why limit yourself to proximity to a school your child will attend for a while, particularly if boarding is an option? If it’s a ‘stepping stone house’ you may choose the school first, knowing that for the next couple of years most of your life will be based in easy reach and you can get more involved.

What to do next?

A lot of schools, both state and independent, are having their open days in the next three months. Get online, find out when they are and get down and start looking for yourself. If you miss the open days, all schools will be happy to offer individual tours which sometimes gives you the added bonus of seeing the school on a normal working day rather than an open day when the school is ‘on show’. Schools are as personal as houses – only you will know where is right for your child. Once a decision is made on schools it can make the house hunt easier as it is one less factor to try and accommodate, and choosing the wrong school for your child can have a far greater impact than choosing the wrong house.

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