Choice to make - better catchment area OR private school?

(38 Posts)
Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 20:25:14

If you had the choice, would you spend £££ for a house in a better catchment area (we're talking at least £100k+ more) or opt to spend the money on private school?

We are currently house hunting, and are contemplating moving to a small village with a few houses on the market, and and superb state primary school options where the results pretty much speak for themselves (*way above the national average*). However, such a move would add at least another £100k to the cost of the house.

We can also move to another place just 15 minutes further away, where the schools are at best "satisfactory" according to OFSTED and the results at Key Stage 2 results are well below the national average.

If we moved to the latter, we would have to either go private from Day 1 or opt for the local Catholic school that is one of the best-performing in the area (which would be a bit of a lottery, whether DC would get in).

What would you choose?

PatriciaHolm Mon 11-Mar-13 20:27:26

What about secondary? If you aren't in catchment for a good secondary would you move again or pay all the way through? It might make a big financial difference..

Timetoask Mon 11-Mar-13 20:28:43

Was going to ask about secondary as well, before giving you my opinion.

musicalfamily Mon 11-Mar-13 21:02:31

Was going to add about secondary too, as that might bump it even further...

adeucalione Mon 11-Mar-13 21:44:50

Moving house to the expensive area is the better investment I think - you will recover the £100k at some point in the future when you move, whereas you won't recover the school fees.

You will also have the pleasure of living in a lovely, desirable area and the security of knowing that your DC will have access to excellent schooling even if your circumstances change.

Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 21:49:04

Thanks for your replies. In both cases - should DC be academically inclined (i.e. good enough to get into grammar) - secondary options are good.

Option A (outstanding primary schools) is in the catchment of an outstanding comprehensive with good results (the main building makes it look like a private school). Also, this village is one of the places all private school buses in the (very large) area stop at. I am guessing what's at play is: well-off/committed parents = good state primary school, and some of the kids later go private, while the rest go to outstanding comp or neighboring grammars. It's a very MC place, and we would only be able to afford a 3-bed home in this area at most.

Option B (not-so-great primary schools) is in the catchment of the same grammar schools as above, but the local comp is once again, not so great. This probably reflects the fact that this is a more diverse area than the above - it's a growing town rather than a picturesque village - which is undergoing massive regeneration over the next few years. New developments are opening up (which is what we are looking at there - hence, nice houses, but not so great schools at this moment in time), Waitrose moving in, etc. They are meant to be building new schools, but not in time for DC. Here, we could afford a much bigger home where we would be happy to stay for quite a while.

With Option A, what I like is that DC could potentially go to state school for most of her "schooling life", simply because primary school, comp and grammar options are all fantastic. With Option B, if DC got into one of the grammars (one of the Top 100 in the country), I'd be delighted, but I have been told that many of those who do get in went to prep school rather than the only state primaries we would be allowed to consider.

We have previously thought of sending DC private for secondary school anyway (or even 7+) as there are many very good options around that are commutable from both areas, and therefore never thought about secondary options much. If it weren't for the jobs DH and I have, I would go for Option A straightaway. But I do have the feeling that due to the nature of the work DH and I do, we may inevitably have to go private even earlier than that (too early to tell right now), to make use of flexi-boarding options which you won't find at a normal state primary school. In that case, spending a huge lump of money on Option A seems like money down the drain, if we don't make use of what that extra expense would offer us in return.

DH and I have been discussing this for quite a while, and there is no end in sight. We are going to look at both places again this month to see which area we really would want to move to. At the moment, we wake up having a different opinion each day...

Talkinpeace Mon 11-Mar-13 22:06:33

One child : go private
more than one child : move house

olguis Mon 11-Mar-13 22:11:18

One could also say that while property may go down in value (+100K might not be recovered), no one can take away education, and you pay not into a property bubble but pay real people with skill to teach your children...

BooksandaCuppa Mon 11-Mar-13 22:33:28

Have you actually looked into whether the 'really good' state option is only really good because of its catchment? It could be that the less good on paper school is actually a really good school, just gets less good results because its catchment is not so mc/pushy/whatever you want to call it. You do hear tell on mn of certain schools with brilliant results which are only achieved by the parents paying out for tutoring on top on whopping house prices.

I'd make sure I looked round both (all?) potential schools and made my own mind up.

And I also believe secondary is more important (or at least, where you'll find more variation in the kind of school you'd be happy with your dcs at) so I would possibly say option C: buy a house you like and what to live in, wherever it's situated, send your children to the local primary school and reconsider private for secondary.

1805 Mon 11-Mar-13 22:51:07

Depends how old dc are.
Just a cautionary tale about moving into a specific catchment area....

We moved house into a good catchment when dc1 was a baby, but by the time dc1 was in y3 at local primary, both primary and secondary had changed and we weren't happy. Now both dc are at private schools.

Look at how old the head teachers are and whether they are likely to leave in the near future!!!!!!

Good luck!!!

Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 22:55:37


That's the thing... with Option A, I do think it's a mixture of the catchment AND other factors. I mean, the schools even look completely different in the two different areas! Why on Earth does the purely mainly MC area get architecturally pleasing buildings for their primary schools, while the currently more mixed area gets IMHO architectural catastrophes angry?!? Who makes these decisions? I know you are not meant to be superficial, but if I went to a school that resembles a warehouse... it won't exactly make me proud of being there! The very good state primary schools also offer another service at this moment in time that both DH and I agree we need due to our jobs: wrap-around care (basically, from 8am to 6pm). This basically makes them come very, very close to their private school counterparts - apart from the flex-boarding bit (that we may also need at some point).

With Option B - not only are they not great on paper and have ugly not-so-great-looking buildings, they do not offer the all important wrap-around care needed by two working parents with no in the immediate relatives in the vicinity. Anyway, how on Earth does the Catholic primary school get the results none of the other schools in the same area get?!? I'm Catholic, DH and I got married in a catholic church, DC is baptised... so she could get in, if we attended church all the time (which I am thinking a lot of people do to get into the school) but DH would prefer to pay than do that, it seems...

BooksandaCuppa Mon 11-Mar-13 23:05:10

Well, your architectural point (!) is, I'm sure a quirk of an individual area. For example, where I live, the less desirable schools are all the beautiful Victorian ones because they're in the centre of town with associated catchment areas. The village schools, which are all much more 'desirable' and 'nice' with better results are all 1970s flat roofed monstrosities.

The wraparound care thing is obviously a result of demand. The more affluent families will often (not always) be dual income families and so the demand for childcare is there. Sounds like if there is no option for childcare at the other school (childminders? nanny?) then your decision is pretty much made for you.

Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 23:11:51


Oh! I think we may be in the same situation as you many years ago. That is what I was wondering - with a good catchment area, you have to rely on the fact that the school remains good... and that has a lot to do with current teachers, parents, etc. - basically, you'd have to freeze them in place! I don't think I'm legally allowed to do that, though I wouldn't mind trying grin. I am very worried about spending a ridiculous amount of money for a small house my parents wouldn't want to live in as a couple.

Choosing a well-known private school early on that has a reputation to uphold is an entirely different matter. They tend to remain the same, if not becoming pickier in their selection process as time goes by...

Mutley77 Mon 11-Mar-13 23:15:55

I'd pay for the catchment every time - your house is an investment and you are likely to recoup the money spent.

School fees are effectively pouring money down the drain - if you have a state option that you would happily use (although obviously depends how much you value your child achieving well and you might value it in their future earnings although this is probably a risky strategy).

Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 23:19:33

BooksandaCuppa - I am a little sensitive when it comes to architecture wink. Have always been like that even at high school, where art history was sort of one of my favourite subjects, and my teachers tried to make me understand the 'beauty' of 60s/70s architecture. Obviously, it didn't work.

Well, the decision is really about going for the more expensive house and use state primary school (which is likely one of the reasons for the house prices being as they are). However, as 1805 noted, this may change in future, which means money down the drain. OR go for the bigger and cheaper house and go private from Day 1. Both would offer the wrap-around care...

1805 Mon 11-Mar-13 23:23:14

Our house lost value too.

Mind you, the comp does have some lovely buildings and park-like grounds. Even a lake!!!!! DC private schools don't have a lake!!!!

Tasmania Mon 11-Mar-13 23:28:16

1805 - Gosh, I think I know which comp you're talking about from that description!!!

1805 Tue 12-Mar-13 10:15:44

Oh dear - I've said too much. Are you local to me then?

The thing is, it is a time of change in Oxfordshire with all schools turning into Academies in the near future and changing the management and funding systems in the process. I think any of the schools could change significantly in the next 10 years or so. Mind you, the school I mentioned above is supposed to be on the up again now.......

mummytime Tue 12-Mar-13 10:29:10

Do also look at the rate that private school fees increase, 5+% a year at least. Would you still be able to afford that for all school years?

Tasmania Tue 12-Mar-13 11:14:05

Mummytime - we are hoping so. Both DH and I are still at the beginning of our careers... so do expect salary to go up by quite a bit yet (esp. DH actually - he's only been working a few years). Mortgage rates seem to be just as volatile...

Fluffy1234 Tue 12-Mar-13 11:21:28

If I was planning to have more children I'd go for the good catchment area as long as it also covers a good secondary school. If I had one child and could afford it I'd go for private schools.

clicheboredhousewife Tue 12-Mar-13 11:27:26

Well...we've done both - my two older kids 18 & 21 went to private secondary school and now we have just moved to get our younger kids 7 & 10 into a catchment area for a good state secondary school....
Private schools are really not just the fees - which go up and up and up...but the list of essentials and suchlike. {And for what its worth, they do not all have the very best of teachers. Some of the very best teachers are state school teachers who give a damn and work hard.} It was a lovely private school we used but it did not go so much further than the best state schools in the area...

musicalfamily Tue 12-Mar-13 11:35:13

For primary we were in the same situation as you and ended up moving to a nice village from a town - tbh it wasn't just for the outstanding primary with a lovely building, but also mainly because we were sick and tired living somewhere where crime rates were quite high and couldn't leave toys outside without getting stolen etc...this is something to consider as it can be nerve wrecking living somewhere IF there is a decent crime rate.

Remember that, if you are the "nice housing stock" in a so so area, it can attact quite a bit of unwanted attention. Clearly I don't know where it is, etc but something to really look into as we have made that mistake in the past amd ended up actually losing money when we sold.

Also living so close to the school is really great for the children, who don't have to worry about commuting and can just pop round to friends' houses, we did the commuting for a short while and it does make a difference.

For secondary it is a little harder because it is so far off that you cannot really know 100% what is going to happen, what sort of school will fit your children. As far as the school being good because it is a good catchment, often you'll find that to be the case - with all the raving about our school, I think they are good but certainly wouldn't get away with the very relaxed attitude they seem to have if they had a more challenging catchment. I think the parents do fill in a lot of gaps and there is a lot of tutoring going on. Having said that, I hear a lot of the same in the selective private schools some of our friends' children attend - so there..

If I were you I would start by looking at houses you like, areas you like and then put the schools in the mix. Good luck, I know how hard a decision it can be...

newgirl Tue 12-Mar-13 12:13:18

you really need to add up the cost of private - for secondary alone I think cost is 125K plus trips, music lessons, uniforms, lunches etc. If you child is on the sports teams factor in costs of weekends away. I think budget 150K per child for secondary alone, poss 80K for primary. Makes a house move look cheaper...

Tasmania Tue 12-Mar-13 12:31:22

Yes, this is all a rather time-consuming, soul-searching affair (OK, a bit OTT maybe)... which I am sure was not the same for my parents who long ago happened to have bought a house that fits several families (only the two of them left in the family home now) in a nice village that then merged into a much bigger city, and became the poshest postcode in the area, with the bourgeoisie (including some big, household names) all gathering around them! envy Rant over. grin Hence, my primary school years were quite idyllic, and recreating that for DC is impossible without spending a LOT of money!

Luckily, we can leave ourselves time... and really just want to find a good place to settle in. After what musicalfamily said, we are leaning more towards the good catchment area (Option A) and maybe use private secondary school later on (which are very good where we are). Option A is also attractive as my best friend with her two DCs was thinking of buying there. But I saw another option... Option C... which we will view this weekend to see whether it is anything we'd be interested in - very different area, but easier for both of us work-wise, and has a good school (not as outstanding as Option A though).

I'd love to have two DC's but DH is set on only one for the sole reason of private schooling should we need it (we could manage two in future, I guess). I do think DC is going to need a lot of discipline to not let two very doting parents - esp. DH... typical for a girl - get over her head! DH and I both have a parent who have the "single child/emperor's syndrome", and I really do not want DC to turn out like that! It's all rather ridiculous that the decision on whether we have one or two children all rest on the fact that we have to be able to provide them with the best schooling / opportunities in life ever which more and more does not come free.

A woman I know has three kids, all did well in the state school system - going to uni, with the last now off to do a very competitive course at Cambridge (massively outdoing his offer). People like her make me want to think I shouldn't be so anxious about this whole schooling palaver. But then, you see, she lives in one of the most expensive areas in the country...

iseenodust Tue 12-Mar-13 13:09:46

If you feel you are going to need flexi-boarding then I would be aiming for a school that provides that soon so your DD is settled and has lots of friends before that comes into the mix.

sunnyday123 Tue 12-Mar-13 17:52:04

Personally I think the benefits of sibling far far outweigh the benefit if private education so don't let that be a choice. If going private stops you having a wanted second child then don't go private. If moving to another area will get you into a good school then that's better value money wise as you'll be investing that £100k not just paying it out. That way you get the best of both- no point paying for private if you can get a good school plus the benefit of a larger or nicer home!

There's a vey popular private school near me and my friend sends her child there despite the fact its actually only 'satisfactory' compared to the 'outstanding' state school! She also has accepted only one child to do this which I honestly think is madnes! The best thing I have ever done for dd1 is give her a sister as they'll be best friends for life! .... Hopefully!

Milliways Tue 12-Mar-13 18:02:41

We moved for the same reason. Catchment school pre-move had 7% A-C grade GCSE passes, and has since closed down! We decided we would all benefit from the nicer house/garden and the mortgage payments, over time, became more manageable and dropped whereas school fees would have gone up. New school was Outstanding and DD did extremely well. However, that same school is now on "notice to improve" so, as everyone says, nothing is guaranteed.

BooksandaCuppa Tue 12-Mar-13 18:50:19

I think newgirl's figures sound a little OTT for day schools (were you looking at boarding fees?).

Ds's secondary school is a touch shy of £12K per year and that includes lunches, books and textbooks, most educational trips and all after school clubs, but excludes buses, uniform, external exams and music lessons. But, yes, historically, the price increase per year seems to average at 3-5%, which is certainly above the interest earned on our savings!!

Fluffy1234 Tue 12-Mar-13 18:58:08

Not so sure. My local prep charges 4.5k per term and nearest secondary private school over 6k a term. It depends where you live.

BooksandaCuppa Tue 12-Mar-13 19:04:32

It does, of course, but I believe the averages are much lower than that. The average senior fees I hear quoted are around £11K which is lower than our school (and we're in an inexpensive area of the country but the school has no competition as such). Many of the London schools are cheaper than this.

That's all irrelevant though if the OP's area is expensive or has no competition, though!

Tasmania Tue 12-Mar-13 19:43:19

Over here it's cheaper when you have a girl. Also, sporty private schools (lots of land) are generally dearer than the more academic ones...

I guess, there is a bit of choice. DC could go to a private secondary (still a long time away!) that currently costs around £12k per year or another one that costs around £21k per year (both day schools)!

KateShrub Tue 12-Mar-13 19:55:06

I'm not entirely convinced by the 'better schools add £100k to house prices' argument. I mean it MIGHT be true, but very often the more expensive area is better in other ways - greener, better housing stock, lower crime, better rail connections, and so on, and the school is actually incidental.

TBH I think that these abstract questions are slightly pointless and it would be best if you just named the actual areas/streets you are looking at.

BooksandaCuppa Tue 12-Mar-13 20:43:36

To some extent you might be right, KateShrub but I'll give you one little example in our rather ordinary county.

In my village, in catchment for an Ofsted 'Outstanding' comp (but that is really only 'good' in most people's opinions it's fine, nothing too special, with average results), my 4 bed house is valued at £190K.

8 miles away; another village, exactly the same size, equally pretty/not, same facilities (perhaps slightly worse transport as no train station), same crime levels, but with a genuinely 'outstanding' and highly-sought after comp with results bettering many selective schools, the house exactly the same as mine is £240K.

So £50K difference for the exact same house in a totally comparable village other than the school.

(Add onto that the cost of moving, and we decided to go private, as it's much more suitable to ds's AS - pastoral care and size of site/classes etc, but with more than one dc I can see why people are tempted by the move. However, the schools may very well change over the next seven years or so, and so your house price 'investment' is not guaranteed either).

KateShrub Tue 12-Mar-13 23:16:54


Like I said, rather abstract....

Habanera Thu 14-Mar-13 11:25:49

We moved to get near an outstanding secondary, to a house in need of updating - very optimistic that will happen in my lifetime - meanwhile I am not pleased with how the school is panning out for DD1 - lost in classes of 33, picked on and feels we still aren't "local" 4 years on, very cliquey kids only interested in posing, hair, makeup, boys. she's a fish out of wayer right now. She turned out to be grammar school material but we aren't in catchment. Anyway the grammars are also very large and she might feel out of it there too. A nice indy would be ideal but she won't abandon her one friend even if we cd afford it now we've spent so much to move. but DD2 is even more quiet academic and geeky and I hate the idea of her in the comp. Plus, I'm falling out of love with the area myself. It costs a fortune commuting.

Habanera Thu 14-Mar-13 11:29:26

League tables are a very rough guide, ofsted not v useful either, and visits, open days very limited-- you can't predict the future can you? Your DC is so unique.

newgirl Fri 15-Mar-13 14:05:47

Fees here are 15k year - not including lunches, uniform, trips etc

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