Private school ‘cheaper’ than good catchment area

Pupils at Boroughmuir, one of Edinburgh's top state schools. Picture: TSPL
Pupils at Boroughmuir, one of Edinburgh's top state schools. Picture: TSPL
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BUYING a house in the catchment area of a good state school can be more expensive than having your children privately educated, new research has shown.

According to the think-tank Reform Scotland, house prices around the most academically successful schools often make it cheaper to live in less affluent areas and send your children to be schooled independently.

Reform Scotland said the current system meant parents were effectively forced to “buy” a good education for their children by moving house or paying fees.

It reiterated earlier calls for the introduction of a “pupil premium”, a system used in England where the best-performing schools are given additional funds to attract students from poorer areas.

But Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the idea had the potential to “exacerbate rather than remedy” inequality.

The think-tank said that compared to the average Edinburgh house price of £225,931, the typical price of a house close to Boroughmuir High School – one of Scotland’s best state schools – is £327,313.

According to its calculations, it would be cheaper for families to educate two children at local private schools than to borrow the money needed to move into Boroughmuir’s catchment area. Keir Bloomer, a former director of education who led Reform Scotland’s recent commission on school reform, said: “Scottish education remains highly inequitable. This is not about ‘good schools’ and ‘bad schools’, but about our failure to tackle disadvantage effectively.

“Until effective action is taken, parents will quite naturally try to buy educational success.”

In December, a school league table produced by The Scotsman was dominated by East Renfrewshire, the local authority which is home to wealthy suburbs such as Newton Mearns on the south side of Glasgow.

St Ninian’s High School, Williamwood High School and Mearns Castle High School, which are all in East Renfrewshire, came first, second and third in the Scotland-wide list, which ranks schools based on the percentage of the S4 roll who pass five or more Highers in S5.

Other schools in the top ten included Jordanhill in Glasgow, Dunblane High, Cults Academy in Aberdeen, and Linlithgow Academy.

Reform Scotland said parents needed to be given more choice over which school to send their child to, including those outside their catchment area.

It said the introduction of a special supplement, sometimes referred to as a pupil premium, for those already receiving free school meals, would make such students “more attractive” to the best schools. The funding would come from central government.

However, Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the EIS, said the idea could lead to growing inequalities between schools.

“We would have concerns about it as the likelihood would be that it would exacerbate rather than remedy some of the differences,” he said.

“If it’s a way of increasing parental choice, then it could take us back to the 1980s – you create schools which get richer and bigger in size and continue to outperform other schools.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We support parental choice in deciding which school their children should attend and, wherever they choose, we’re determined to help every young person achieve success.

“The most recent figures released by the OECD not only showed a strong overall performance in schools across Scotland, but also that we are beginning to address the attainment gap.”

The figures

USING property website Zoopla, Reform Scotland calculated the average price of a house in Edinburgh over the past three years to be £225,931.

However, buying a property in the catchment area of Boroughmuir High would cost an additional £101,382, the think-tank said.

Borrowing that amount over a 25-year period at an interest rate of 1.99 per cent would cost £127,000, it said.

However, sending two children to secondary school at a local independent such as George Heriot’s, George Watson’s or Erskine Stewart’s Melville, where fees are around £10,000 a year, would cost about £123,000, assuming fees increase by about 1 per cent a year.

The think-tank said the situation was similar in other parts of the country.

In the Granite City, 27 per cent of pupils finish S5 with three or more Highers. However, at Cults Academy the figure is 60 per cent. But while the average property price in the city is £200,000, the figure for the Cults catchment area is £326,000. Reform Scotland said its calculations showed it would be cheaper for parents to send their child to a private school in Aberdeen than to move into a postcode near Cults Academy.

In Glasgow, the average price of a house is £147,000, compared to £250,000 in Hyndland, where pupils at Hyndland Secondary outperform the city average in exam results.

Of the top ten schools and based on percentage of pupils gaining three or more highers, eight have average house prices at least 34 per cent higher than the local authority average (the other two were below the average), Reform Scotland said.

Of the bottom ten schools, eight have average house prices below their local authority average, with six having house prices of at least 20 per cent below.

Private schools keep charity status

A NUMBER of private schools have been allowed to keep their charitable status following a review by the regulator.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (Oscr) said Aberdeen Waldorf School, Craigholme in Glasgow, Edinburgh Merchant Company Education Board, Morrison’s Academy in Crieff, St Mary’s in Melrose and Edinburgh Academy all met charity tests.

The Edinburgh Merchant Company Education Board oversees Mark Erskine School, Stewart’s Melville College, right, and George Watson’s College.

Martin Tyson, Oscr’s head of registration, said: “The decisions today mean that we have completed the bulk of the reviews we announced just over a year ago. We will continue to work with the three schools that remain under the terms of our directions and encourage them to take the necessary steps to remain on the register.”

Charitable status allows schools to access tax breaks and apply for rates relief.

In October, Oscr announced Loretto in East Lothian had failed its tests, meaning it risked being stripped of its charitable status. The regulator gave the school 18 months to comply.

The regulator said Loretto had “insufficient measures” in place to widen access for pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The school charges more than £19,000 a year for senior day pupils and up to £28,590 for boarders.