Parents pay extra £80k to live near top schools

St Thomas of Aquin's School on Chalmers Street. Picture; Greg Macvean

Parents are paying a premium of £80,000 above the average house price to live in the catchment area of the country’s top state schools, according to new research.

The average price of a property around Scotland’s top 20 secondary schools is £249,635, which is 68 per cent above the Scottish average, according to the Bank of Scotland study.

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In three of Scotland’s local authority areas – Edinburgh, Aberdeen and East Dunbartonshire – the premium to live near a top performing school is more than £100,000, when compared to their surrounding areas. Parents in Edinburgh are paying the most, with the catchment for St Thomas of Aquin’s High School attracting a premium of £145,022 more than the local authority average of £232,357.

House prices near Boroughmuir High School in the capital, which comes fourth in the list of top 20 state schools, are now on average £354,378, a premium of 53 per cent.

House buyers in East Dunbartonshire will pay a premium of £107,759 to live near its top performing schools, while in Aberdeen City the figure is £103,283.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teachers’ union, said the study’s findings illustrated just how challenging it will be to close the attainment gap, which sees children from richer backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts in the classroom.

“If you have inequality outside the school then it is going to have an impact on closing the attainment gap. Schools are limited in what they can do to address structural problems there,” Mr Flanagan said.

“There is a perception that because a school is in an affluent catchment that somehow that school becomes a good school because of that. In actual fact those people who are paying the £80,000 are also in a position to pay for tutors. They live in houses with space for homework and they have all the IT. In a sense it reflects the fact that if you come from an affluent background your chances of doing well at school increases in a whole range of ways.”

Graham Blair, mortgages director at Bank of Scotland, said: “Being in the catchment for a good school is one of the major considerations parents take into account when purchasing a property and it is clear those choosing to buy near one of Scotland’s top 20 state schools are paying a significant premium. While homeowners buying in these catchments are likely to make a reasonable return on their investment over the longer term, it is also important to recognise that parents on low or average incomes may be unable to get their children access to the best schools.”

The study also suggested that living near a top performing state school appears to be a shrewd investment based on house price performances in these areas over the past five years.

Parents who bought a home near one of the top 20 schools in 2011 have seen an average house price rise of £32,817, from £216,818 to £249,635 in 2016 – an increase of 15 per cent.

This is a faster rise, in cash terms, than in Scotland as a whole, where the average house price has grown over the same period from £141,905 to £169,552.

The biggest increases in prices around the top 20 schools have been in East Dunbartonshire where the average cost of a house in the catchments for Bearsden and Boclair Academies has gone up by 45 per cent over past five years from £228,257 in 2011 to £331,304 in 2016.

The school ranking was compiled using Standard Grade performance data from the Scottish Government and reflects the percentage of pupils achieving Highers of 5+ at SCQF L6 or better in 2016.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “Parents obviously want what is best for their child, but these figures show that some families are simply being priced out of attending higher performing schools.

“It is clear from this report that parents on lower incomes will simply not be able to afford the tens of thousands of pounds extra that you need to get into these catchment areas. A two-tiered system is starting to appear in Scottish state schools, and we need to see reform of the system before the problem gets any worse.”

Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “There are good schools and good teachers right across Scotland but raising the bar for all and closing the attainment gap – opening up opportunity for every child – is the number one priority of the Scottish Government.”