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Flat buying headache: Newington Green/Hampstead/Belsize Park...? help

(15 Posts)
ConfusedInNorthLondon Thu 30-Jul-09 00:53:05

Hello,

I am a single mum to a 19 month old boy. We live in Islington and I have decided to move mostly because it seems that sadly we are not in the catchment area for any good schools (I bought my flat before I was a mum so schools were of no interest back then).

I think I can afford a decent-ish small flat in most areas (I am only considering North London) but the main incentive for moving is to be in the catchment area for very good primary and secondary state school and this is where I need some advice. I'm prepared to compromise on the size and quality of the accomodation if it means I will solve this complicated school-finding business once and for all, and that I can be (fairly) certain that he will get a place in a good school.

I am debating between:

Newington Green (Grasmere catchment area)
Hampstead
Highgate
Swiss Cottage
Belsize Park
Clerkenwell
Barnsbury
De Beauvoir

One detail to mention - I don't take the tube so proximity to one is not important to me (but good bus connections to the centre indeed are important).

I have only done the research for the schools in Islington, so I know a little bit about that, but am a real 'beginner' when it comes to the ones in Camden. I was not educated in the UK so it's a steep learning curve.

I would really like to avoid having to go down the private school route, at least for the first years. I imagine sending my son to the same boarding school I went to (in France) down the line, but for that I need years of saving so I must make the right and most sensible choice in the immediate future so that he gets a good education from the outset.

Although he is only 19 months all signs point to my DS being very musical, so I wonder if there is a school out there that could boost this interest/talent?

Any advice would be much appreciated as I'm going crazy here, mulling this over day and night going on what estate agents tell me (obviously not particularly relable advice).

Thank you all in advance!

Barnsberry Thu 30-Jul-09 11:40:31

Gosh that's some shortlist... or longlist! Whereabouts in Islington are you? Unlike Camden, there are plenty of primary schools to go round in islington so you may be able to go to one further away than you think.
I'm in Barnsbury hence the name. DD at Thornhill primary, which gets better and better. You can do music lessons there (Suzuki) and they're converting a building in the playground into an arts space - art, drama, music etc with lots of connections with arts groups in the area (Little Angels etc). Secondary-wise St Mary Mags Academy is getting good reports so that's where we're thinking at the moment. Not sure how small the catchment will be as it's early days of the school. If your child goes to the St Mary Mags primary school they automatically get a place in the academy.
From what I gather both Stoke Newington and Camden have problems with not enough schools. Camden has very high proportion of faith schools, which may or may not be an issue for you.

dinkystinky Thu 30-Jul-09 11:53:11

If you can, move to central hampstead - the state schools around there are fantastic with lots of after school activities. I have a couple of friends who did that (paid through the nose for a shoebox) but boy do their kids love their schools.

In Belsize Park, you really need to be in Belsize Park proper to secure a good local state primary school - or in the tower block opposite Fleet Primary School on Fleet Road (is ridiculous - those tower blocks basically fill the entire intake every year). If you're on the Kentish Town borders you will end up being allocated a not so good one (faith or otherwise) - which is why we moved from Belsize Park to Queens Park a year or so ago to ensure that our DS1 will definitely go to an at least satisfactory local state primary school.

minxpinx Thu 30-Jul-09 12:03:38

I'd be very careful picking as some of the catchment areas are TINY (literally one street) so check that carefully.
Sorry, no proper advice!

Sparks Thu 30-Jul-09 14:53:09

In Highgate, you might want to look at Gospel Oak or Brookfield primary schools, both within Camden borough.

If you moved here, you would also be in area for good secondaries - Acland Burghley or William Ellis. Though if your ds is only tiny, a lot could change by the time he would be ready for secondary.

squeaver Thu 30-Jul-09 14:57:55

Agree with minx re catchment areas. You should also look at Crouch End if the tube's not important to you.

ConfusedInNorthLondon Fri 31-Jul-09 00:53:01

Wow! Thanks everyone for super quick and informative replies. I can't tell you how helpful this is to me.

Barnsberry - I am currently in De Beauvoir and although there are many things I love about being here, I am reluctant to stay as my best bet around here would be a private school round the corner. (or am I missing something?)

Current properties on the shotlist (viewing this week) are:

- Milner Square (Thornhill/ W. Tyndale quite close, so pretty good). The question here is - are these two examples of a TINY catchment area? Would Milner Square fall within that?

and

Parliament Hill, spitting distance from the Heath but outrageous service charges (ex-council) and a tiny flat. No idea about schools there.

dinkystinky - I guess the latter doesn't qualify as 'central Hampstead', does it?

I am trying to learn more about Highgate, so thanks for the info about Gospel Oak or Brookfield, Sparks.

Thanks so much everyone. Any further toughts would be much appreciated, as always.

Barnsberry Fri 31-Jul-09 09:26:27

Confused, you'd definitely get into either William T or Thornhill from Milner sq. They're both fully subscribed, but they're two form entry and not one of those sell-your-kidney primary schools that you have to live on the doorstep for. Secondary schools, the jury's out on. Islington is of course famously terrible for them, but nice interview with Lord Adonis in guardian about how much they're improving (his kids are going to st mary mags). I think re. secondary schools the only one that people move to the area for in north london is fortismere in muswell hill and has v small and getting smaller catchment.
I do like crouch end, though, and highgate woods secondary school is apparently on the up.

dinkystinky Fri 31-Jul-09 17:39:14

Confused - depends where near Parliament Hill it is but fairly unlikely to be near a really good primary school. As I said earlier, if you want to get into Fleet Primary School you basically need to be in a tower block on Fleet Road (which is pretty close to the bottom of the heath). For central Hampstead you basically want to be near Fitzjohns Road where alot of the primary schools are clustered around.

ConfusedInNorthLondon Sat 01-Aug-09 23:43:25

Thank you dinkystinky and Barnsberry for the feedback. The flat on Parliament Hill was gorgeous and actually affordable (apart from the astronomical service charges).

dinkystinky, it is at the very bottom of Parliament Hill, a couple of minutes from H. Heath train stop. According to Camden Council Fleet School comes up as the closest (0.27m)and I am wondering if it is too much of a risk to go for it hoping he will get a place at Fleet?

Fitzjohns is also close-ish (0.49). Is that one more likely to have some space for him? I don't know but it seems to me if these distances are too far to be admitted, then how does anyone ever get a place at a school unless they pracitcally live in its' loft?

And - what happens if he doesn't get a place in any of the state schools that are close? Would the wisest thing be to go private while waiting and then switch when (if) offered a place? I've been told that that is how many parents deal with it (at least it seems to work in Islington/Stokey).

In any case - i am now very keen on Hampstead/H. Heath and am finding that I can just about afford to get something there. But must admit I am thinking 'where's the catch'. I thought Hampstead was way more expensive than Islington, but was I wrong? Will I just be stuck in a super wealthy neighbourhood with no state school to enroll DS into, and unable to fork out for private. Hmm...maybe that IS the catch.

Still confused (and then some)!!

Thanks again for 'listening' and for responding.

ps. Barnsberry, Milner Square didn't work out after all.

dinkystinky Sun 02-Aug-09 14:28:07

Confused - I think there is a website where you can find out where the furthest people have lived from a primary school in the last year to be admitted. Try googling it for the schools you like the look of. I used to live 0.3miles from Fleet Primary and as I said earlier my neighbours did not get in there as it is a very small school (single entry level) and siblings - and disabled children (from all around the borough) - get priority. That said it is an excellent school.

Hampstead/H. Heath is really lovely and a lovely place to live - I still really miss living there BUT if you're moving for schools you need to be really very sure that wherever you move to is going to be really close to the school you want to get your DC into. Alot of people who live around there do send their children private (which are on the whole ridiculously oversubscribed with names for most popular being put down shortly after birth) - but with the current downturn and lots of people living in that area who work in the financial sector being made redundant I suspect many more will be deciding to send their children or younger kids to the state schools instead - so there may be a bit of a crunch for state school places so the nearer you live to a school the better. If your heart is set on that area, you may want to consider renting somewhere v close to a school and then buying somewhere abit further out once you've got your DC into the school. We decided that while we could rent to secure school places, ultimately we would not be able to afford around there what we would want to live in (house with garden and easy access to tube) so decided to move further out.

Good luck.

Fillyjonk Thu 20-Aug-09 06:14:07

I went to fitzjohns, back in the day it was a very intensively musical school, with music all morning every morning.

BUT that was 20 years ago!

I wouldn't worry that much about music, tbh, ime its one of the easier things to do out of school.

tethersend Fri 21-Aug-09 22:03:40

Just wanted to mention Hampstead School (Secondary), which is well worth a look, despite its last OFSTED not being glowing. I worked there for a number of years, and really loved the ethos and the mix of kids from all social strata there. Its towards Cricklewood... Under Camden LEA, which I think is a fantastic borough in terms of teachers, initiatives, support and extra-curricular projects.

There will also be a new secondary school (an academy) in Swiss Cottage; there has been some controversy about this, but I believe its going ahead- unless anyone knows differently?

Also, remember that a secondary school can change beyond recognition in a few years, so finding a good primary school is much more important at this stage. I would also take OFSTED reports with a pinch of salt, and go on your own instincts as to whether a school is right for your child; most schools would be happy for you to visit by arrangement.

Aranea Fri 21-Aug-09 22:16:57

Confused - I think you're approaching this the wrong way round. If I were you I would make a list of primary schools you like the look of first, and then go to the LEA websites and check out the furthest distances for admissions over the last few years. Then you will have a collection of (probably quite small) circles around schools within which you should be property-hunting. You will be amazed by how small the catchment areas are for good schools. Do not even bother asking estate agents' opinions on catchments!

julesrose Sun 23-Aug-09 19:02:21

Agree with Aranea - we moved to Highgate thinking there'd be good state schools nearby - and there were but we were outside catchment area for all of them. Eleanor Palmer is good, as is Highgate Primary and Brookfield. Colridge in Crouch End also v good. If you go to church St Michaels in Highgate and St Christopher's in Hampstead are also good.

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