David Alexander comment: Schools that get top marks – from home-buyers

No one wants their kids to be enrolled at 'Bash Street Secondary' if they can avoid it, says Alexander. Picture: contributed.
No one wants their kids to be enrolled at 'Bash Street Secondary' if they can avoid it, says Alexander. Picture: contributed.
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Scotland was one of the first countries in Europe to pioneer “education for all” in the 17th century but today the system is somewhat fractured.

For example, Edinburgh is split between private and local authority schools – the capital has perhaps the highest proportion of privately-educated children of any city or large town in the UK. In Glasgow the division is religious, ie Protestant/non-denominational (delete according to your point of view) and Roman Catholic. Glasgow of course does have private schools but pupil numbers are small compared to those in Edinburgh.

Opposing private education is a favourite hobby horse of left-leaning politicians and commentators, who are proud to declare they would never give their own children an unfair advantage by placing them in one of these institutions. Nevertheless, the same types usually choose to live in high-value, middle-class residential areas within the catchment areas for schools that offer the best in state education. So rather than pay school fees, they pay higher house prices instead.

Still, the blatant hypocrisy apart, who can blame them? No one wants their kids to be enrolled at “Bash Street Secondary” if they can possibly avoid it.

For this reason I was not surprised to learn that properties in the catchment areas of “good” state schools are securing higher prices than ever. According to a survey by Bank of Scotland, such homes attract an average premium of £73,000, raising the average price of a property located near the top 20 in the country to £277,234.

The bank said this premium is significantly higher than last year, when the top 20 Scottish state schools were commanding a premium of £41,441 on average or 22 per cent more than other properties within the same local authority. The new figures are said to be due to a change in the mix of schools in the top 20 in the past year with some in relatively more expensive areas.

From just one last year, there are now four postal areas with a premium of over £120,000 – Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow (£121,090), Cults Academy in Aberdeen (£121,205) and James Gillespie’s High School (£173,783) and Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh (£137,801).

Graham Blair, director of mortgages at Bank of Scotland (BoS), said that with the mix of top schools changing so much from last year there is a risk that parents focused on school catchment areas could spend money on a property only for the nearby school to drop out of the top performing list. Therefore, they may benefit more from buying in an area where the schools are consistently in top 20 but house prices trade at more of a discount.

I cannot see the popularity of properties in desirable catchment areas waning any time soon and so the trend as detected in the BoS survey is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This will be compounded by the decision by the Scottish Government to take away charitable status from private schools, thus inevitably leading to an increase in fees and leading more parents who might otherwise have paid for private education to seek out the “best” state schools for their children.

Of course, parents who move to a particular area to take advantage of the local school could then lose out due to local authorities altering the catchment areas. On the other hand, local politicians tend to be extremely wary about such actions: consider how, back in the summer, “parent power” forced Edinburgh City Council to reverse a decision to close Wester Hailes Education Centre and Balerno High School and combine them to form a “super secondary”.

Andrew Kerr, the council’s chief executive, said recently that the capital would overtake Glasgow as Scotland’s largest city within 15 years and that by 2050 the population will have reached 750,000. This therefore is bound to affect how school catchment areas are drawn up – and the values of residential properties (either up or down) within them.

David Alexander is MD of DJ Alexander.