Painful lessons for postcode parents

With competition for school places becoming ever more intense, it\'s no wonder that many parents mortgage themselves to the hilt to buy homes in good catchment areas.

But this can disrupt local property prices and recent developments in school admissions could frustrate such attempts.

A poll for Teachers TV last year showed that nearly a third of parents were willing to think about moving nearer a school, 19% considered renting a property closer to a school and an astonishing 14% were prepared to fake it by claiming an alternative address for their kids.

With the best schools often located in the most affluent areas, in some areas admission by postcode has become the norm. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the premium for properties near good schools is 16,000.

But catchment areas can change by the year and so can admissions policies. A couple of weeks ago, about 600,000 10 and 11 year olds found out if they had won a place at their preferred schools. About 85% got into their first choices.

But these numbers cover towns where there may be only one secondary school and rural areas where there are few schools so choice is limited. They also cover locations where competition is intense and schools can cover wide catchment areas. In London, it is thought that over 1,000 pupils did not gain places at any schools of their choice.

Now, the local council in Brighton has hit the headlines for coming up with a controversial alternative. It has introduced a lottery system which awards school places based on a random ballot. Norfolk and Dorset councils are also looking at this system although all three claim it will be used only as a last resort.

Other councils are reportedly looking at quota systems to guarantee a certain number of places for less academic children in an effort to stop selection by estate agent. Banding is reportedly already being used in some London boroughs.

This, argue proponents, makes the system fairer, overriding issues such as class, postcode and ability, and restores the link between parents and local schools. But others warn that if parents can’t guarantee places by buying houses in school catchment areas they may move out of the state school system altogether.

In future, parents thinking of buying properties to get into the system would be advised to check local councils’ admission policies first.