England’s most competitive catchment areas for outstanding schools

James Watkins

8-minute read

16th September 2021

With Covid heavily disrupting education across the UK the past 18 months, children and their parents are hoping they've seen the back of Zoom, school-wide shut downs and disturbances to exams.

However, one thing that the pandemic has done is allow parents even greater levels of insight into their children’s education; the standard of teaching, the curriculum they’re consuming every day and ultimately, the quality and standard of the school they’re attending. 

Zoom classroom lesson.

Searches for ‘Outstanding schools’ have risen by almost 30%* across the UK over the course of the pandemic suggesting competition for the most prestigious schools is only on the rise as parents begin to think about applications for the 2021/22 academic year, which closes on 31 October 2021.

There are many different entry requirements across both primary and secondary schools that determine who is and isn’t admitted into reception and year seven cohorts each year, however one of the major factors is where you live, with each school’s catchment area heavily influencing the chances of a child being accepted or rejected.  

With demand for outstanding schools seemingly on the up following the peak of the pandemic, we wanted to find out where in England were the most and least competitive catchment areas for outstanding schools and what this means for other factors such as house prices, property demand and mortgages.

What are catchment areas?

One thing to remember is that catchment areas are bespoke to each individual primary and secondary school so it’s crucial that you visit each school’s website to get a full understanding of how it works and what factor it has on the admissions process. 

School catchment area by straight line distance. Image c/o admissionsday.co.uk

Typically it’s based on how far a child’s home is from the school based on a straight line distance (as the crow flies) or on walking distance specifically. 

The distance from the school used as the catchment varies depending on the amount of other schools in proximity and demand for places. However, the straight line distance method is more popularly used in urban areas where schools are closer together and people are more evenly spread compared to rural locations. 

How do outstanding schools affect these?

Unsurprisingly, the location of outstanding and high performing schools can have a significant impact on demand for property in their local area and subsequently, prices and valuations - so much so that many property listings sites now give the opportunity to search by school specifically.

Rightmove's School Checker tool.

With statistics suggesting that searches for outstanding schools have risen by 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels, it’s expected that competition for houses in these catchment areas is only going to rise in the coming months.

How can catchment areas affect house prices?

We caught up with Daniel Copley, Consumer Spokesperson at Zoopla to discuss how the catchment areas for outstanding can impact property prices. He said:

"The impact of school catchment areas on buyers can not be underestimated, with this factor even playing a deciding role for families choosing the location of their next home.

“In fact, our research shows that parents are willing to pay nearly £29,000 extra on average for a property within an outstanding school catchment area, while some families go as far as renting in an area to ensure they're within the school catchment for the beginning of the school year."

These figures highlight the opportunities available not just for parents, but for homeowners in proximity of these schools as well.

Where in England has the most and least competitive catchment areas?

In order to establish where in England has the ‘most’ and ‘least’ competitive catchment areas, we decided to take a look at ‘outstanding’ primary and secondary schools specifically based on Ofsted’s most recent inspections.

This data was then cross referenced with data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) which indicates how many three year olds (likely to be applying for a primary school place for September 2022) and ten year olds (likely to be applying for a secondary school place for September 2022) would be applying for places in the coming months  to determine which towns and cities and best and worst access to outstanding schools.

The locations with the most pupils per outstanding school were deemed to have the most competitive catchment area and vice versa.

The full results were as follows:

By combining the figures for both primary and secondary school, we were able to gain an overall picture of access to outstanding schools across different areas of the country.

With approximately 2,905 children potentially applying for places at the town’s two outstanding schools (two primary and zero secondary) it was Swindon that had the least access to an outstanding school. This means that each outstanding school in the area is likely to receive the most amount of attention and potential applications for places compared to other areas of the UK and in turn demand for properties in each of the school’s catchment areas. 

Peterborough followed closest behind (1,536.3 pupils per outstanding school) with Bath (1,333) completing the top three in terms of competitiveness.

The ten locations with the most competitive catchment areas for outstanding schools (combined)

The ten locations with the most competitive catchment areas across both primary and secondary was as follows:

At the other end of the spectrum, it was Norwich that had the best provision of outstanding primary and secondary schools when comparing this to the amount of pupils in the local area. 

With 27 outstanding schools (20 primary and seven secondary) within five miles of the centre of Norwich to cater for the city’s 3,005 three and ten year olds, this equated to 111.3 potential pupils per outstanding school - the lowest in England. 

Following closest behind was Newcastle (144.7) and Liverpool (163.3) highlighting the accessibility of outstanding schools across these locations.

The ten locations in England with the best access to outstanding schools (combined):

The ten locations in England with the most competitive primary school catchment areas

When looking at primary schools specifically, it was Bath that had the most competitive catchment areas for places at outstanding primary schools, with just one outstanding primary within a five mile radius of Bath city centre for the area’s 1,924 three year olds. 

Taunton followed closest behind (1,503 pupils per outstanding school) with Swindon (1440.5) completing the top three.

The ten locations in England with the most competitive primary school catchment areas:

The ten locations in England with the best access to outstanding primary schools

Like the combined rankings, it was Norwich (76.3 pupils per outstanding primary school) and Newcastle (90.2) that topped the rankings for best access to an outstanding primary school. This time it was Bolton (118.5) that completed the top three.

The ten locations in England with the best access to outstanding primary schools:

The ten locations in England with the most competitive secondary school catchment areas

When looking at secondary schools specifically, it was clear that competition amongst pupils for places at outstanding schools was even higher given the significant reduction in terms of the amount of schools available to choose from. This meant that the amount of places per school was up across the board.

It’s important to note in this part of the study that for some locations there were zero outstanding secondary schools within five miles of the location’s centre. These areas were discounted from this part of the research. 

Based on the locations that had at least one outstanding school, it was Hull where pupils faced the most competition to get into the city’s only outstanding school (within five miles of the centre), with 3,260 ten year olds per outstanding secondary school.

Sunderland (3,139) and Plymouth (3,123) completed the top three with the full top ten as follows:

The ten locations in England with the best access to outstanding secondary schools

While the city of Cambridge is well established for its academic excellence at higher education through the University of Cambridge, it seems the quality of education also stems through to its secondary schools with the city topping the rankings for best access to outstanding secondary schools.

Cambridge’s seven outstanding secondary schools look set to cater for 1,468 ten year olds in September 2022 - 209.7 pupils on average per outstanding secondary school.

Once again, Norwich (211.3)  also appeared towards the top of the rankings for secondary schools, specifically featuring second in this list, with Liverpool (233.9) completing the top three. 

The ten locations in England with the best access to outstanding secondary schools:

What do these results mean for parents and homeowners?

It’s clear there are some regional variations in these results with no clear correlation or clustering across different areas of England and there are some clear learnings for parents completing school applications in the coming weeks as well as homeowners.

For those living in the most competitive areas for outstanding schools and hoping to use catchment areas as a means of securing a place it’s important to be realistic about your chances of finding a property in the coming months. Whereas for homeowners in these areas thinking about selling in the near future, this could be a prime opportunity to make your home even more attractive to families before it goes to market.

According to previous figures from estate agent Petty Son and Prestwich, the average London property price of a home within the catchment area of an ‘outstanding’ primary school will fetch £678,595. Those with a rating of ‘good’ are valued at £659,397, while schools labelled with ‘require improvement’ command a price tag of £598,054.

*Data taken from Google’s Keyword Planner tool based on searches for ‘outstanding schools’ and other associated keywords from March 2020 - August 2021 and September 2018 - February 2020.

Methodology

In order to gauge England’s ‘most’ and ‘least’ competitive catchment areas we utilised two specific datasets; one from the Office of National Statistics’ population and migration team and the other based on Ofsted’s most recent inspection reports for schools across England.

Using the ONS data, we pulled the number of three and ten year olds in towns and cities across England - the cohorts likely to be applying for places at primary and secondary schools in September 2022. This was then compared against the number of ‘outstanding’ schools in their local area based on the most recent Ofsted reports available. By dividing the number of children in each age group by the number of outstanding schools we could then work out the number of potential pupils per outstanding school.

In order to standardise the geographical data, mimic ONS statistics and minimise the risk of crossing boundaries, each of the locations Ofsted data was based on schools within five miles of the town or city centre.

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