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How parents bend the rules if their home isn't in a school catchment area

What lengths would you go to, to get your child into a good school? Our latest research reveals a quarter of parents have bent the rules. Here's what they did.

Words by: Property News Team

With the primary school application deadline upon us (15 January), almost a quarter of parents (24%) admit to flouting school admissions criteria to get their child into their preferred local school, according to our latest research.

We surveyed parents of school age children to understand the lengths they go to in order to secure a place at the best schools.

And we found that parents pay on average £82,960 more for a property in the catchment area of a high-performing school.

In London, that figure rises to more than £200,000.

Nearly a fifth of parents lie to get their kids into a good or outstanding school

In total, 17% of parents of school aged children admit they lied, bent or broke school application rules to get their children into their preferred school. 

 A further seven per cent say they ‘played the system’. 

That means one in four (24%) parents are going to extreme lengths to secure preferred school places for their kids. 

But bending the rules can take many forms.

Among the parents who have, 27% fessed up to exaggerating their religious beliefs to get into a faith school.

Property porkies are also prevalent. 

Among those who broke the rules, over a fifth (21%) say they registered their child at a family member’s address that was closer to their preferred school. 

One in ten confessed they simply lied about their address, and eight per cent admitted they temporarily rented a second home (that the child never lived in) within the catchment area.

One in six parents confessed to outright bribery of their preferred school

Money and school donations also play a key role.

One in six parents (16%) who admit they bent the rules say they made a ‘voluntary donation’ to a particular school ahead of applying, while eight per cent confessed to offering a bribe. 

Others offered their time, with 20% saying they volunteered at or became involved with a school ahead of applying for their child’s place.

A further 14% said they became ‘friendly’ with senior figures at the school in order to curry favour. 

What's the cost of a home in the right catchment area?

Of course, many parents do not bend the rules – some are simply able to move into the catchment area of the school they want their children to go to. 

In total, 28% of parents who currently have school aged children say they did this. 

However, the research found that there’s a huge premium attached to doing so - which might be prohibitive to some. 

Among those who bought a home in a good catchment area, the average premium they paid was a huge £82,960 with the figure rising to £209,599 in London. 

How do parents feel about bending the rules? 

The majority of parents in the UK are against bending or breaking rules to get children into a good or outstanding school. 

Over half (55%) say they feel it is an ‘unfair practice which should be stopped’ and the 56% who have done so, admit they feel guilty about it. 

A further 6% of parents admit they are so fed up with the practice that they have ‘grassed up’ another parent and reported them to the school. 

However, more than one in ten (11%) believe it is acceptable and a further 19% admit it isn’t fair but ‘everyone does it’. 

‘We paid a premium to be in our school’s catchment area’

Catchment if you can case study Cath and Tim Firmin

Cath and Tim Firmin live in Harpenden, Hertfordshire with their three children. 

The family previously lived in St Albans but decided to move in order to purchase a larger home that was within the catchment area of great local schools. 

‘We were very happy living in St Albans and initially wanted to stay there, however, we were struggling to find a property that catered for our needs as a larger family. 

‘We weren’t considering Harpenden, but as my husband is originally from the area, we were aware it had a wide range of excellent schools. 

‘We fell in love with a house in the Roundwood area and decided to make the move. 

‘An additional bonus is that the property is right on the doorstep of Roundwood Park School, an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rated school, which my husband attended as a child. 

‘We placed an offer over the asking price and despite another buyer trying to gazump us, the sellers knew how important it was for our children to go to the local school and chose our offer. 

‘Being a five-minute walk from the school has definitely meant we paid a premium for our home - likely to be in the region of £20,000, but the fact our children can attend a school right on our doorstep means everything to us and there are also health and environmental benefits as the children can either walk or cycle to school. 

‘I’m certainly aware of families who play the system and bend the rules. This can be frustrating, particularly when you have paid a premium for your home with the best intentions.'

How to find a home within a school’s catchment area

We’ve got all the tools on Zoopla to help parents find the perfect home. 

Our draw your search tool allows parents to outline on a map the area in which they want to live and shows them homes for sale there. 

Just draw the catchment area of the school you're interested in, and we'll only show you homes available in that area.

Create a Zoopla account and you can set up property alerts for all the new homes that come onto the market in that area too.

Or, if you're looking for a school that's within a certain travel time of your home, then our travel time tool let's you do just that.

We've got loads of tools on Zoopla to help you find your dream home in the right location, let's get started.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.