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Catchment areas: moving home for a good school?

Choosing a school comes around sooner than you think — but what catchment area are you in? And can you move to be near a better school? We’ve got you covered.

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You might feel like your little one is barely toddling, but it could be almost time to choose a school. That’s right, it's the time of the year to start thinking about school choices and catchment areas — plus whether you need to move.

If your child was born between September 2017 and August 2018, they’ll be due to start school in autumn 2021 — which means you probably have to make your schools choices by this January. Hard to believe? They really do grow up so fast. Whether your child is starting school or aging into a new school, it's a time many parents think about relocating.

You might already have a school in mind just down the road, in which case you’re probably all set. But if you were thinking of moving to be near a better school choice or in a different catchment area, it’s time to strike. 

Not sure where to start? Not even sure what a catchment area is? That's OK, we'll walk you through it.

What does catchment area mean?

First things first — what’s a catchment area? It’s a term that you never use before parenthood, but one that suddenly becomes very important. A catchment area is basically a geographical area that schools accept children from. So think of it as the area that applies to a certain school. If you want your child to go to a specific school, you’ll likely have to live in that catchment area.

Some schools have tiny areas (virtually just a few streets from the school), while others go for miles around — and they can change, so it’s always best to get in touch. Some schools don’t have any catchment areas at all, but they may still look at your distance from the school when deciding whether to offer a place. 

Now, the catchment area isn’t the only deciding factor for a school — but it is an important one. Schools will also look at whether they have siblings at a school, whether your child is already at a feeder school, their religion (if it’s a religious school), and they may look at any special needs or extraordinary academic ability, depending on the type of school. You can contact the local council or check out the government website for more information. 

One important thing to remember: moving to a catchment area doesn't guarantee you will get a place at a certain school. You'll want to make sure that moving is the right thing to do for you, rather than counting on a guaranteed school place. It can help to find an area with a lot of different schools you like the look of, to give you a better chance of getting a place at one of them.

If you're thinking of planning your move around your school choices, then give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead."

When do I have to move to a new catchment area?

That depends on the application time. When you apply, the address you're using needs to be your child’s permanent address — so you should be living in the new area by the time you make the application. You’ll be asked to show proof of residence, like Council Tax or utility bills. It has to genuinely be your new home.

Don’t try to beat the system by moving to the area just to apply and then leaving the area (people try it). And don't try using a friend’s address or a fake address or any other way to get around the system. That’s definitely a no-go — plus it’s fraud and you could be investigated. You need to be legitimately relocating your life if you want to go to a school in a new area, not just trying to find a loophole.

So if you’re looking to move to a new area for the next school year, you’ll want to start thinking now so you can move before you make an application.

How do I find a home in a good catchment area?

Great question. In some cases, it will be obvious — you’ll pick a school that you like and look at their catchment area. In fact, many property listings portals will mention any schools in the area and have links to their Ofsted reports.

If you’re not sure how good a school is, checking out their Ofsted report is a good place to start — but schools should also have websites and hold open days, so make sure to do your research and be sure it’s the right fit. To give yourself a lot of choice, you'll likely want to find an area that has a few different schools you like.

If you want to check out the schools closest to you or to a specific area, most council websites will have a list — or you can use the government search tool.

Choosing a school and choosing a home are both big decisions — and they can feel completely linked to one another. If you're thinking of planning your move around your school choices, then give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead. You might need to start moving sooner than you think.

Catchment areas FAQs

You’re probably in the catchment area for a few different schools — or near a school that doesn’t have a catchment area. Check out the schools closest to you or contact your local council to learn more about them and see what schools you’re eligible for.

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