The so-called ‘school effect’ on the country-house market is today more apparent than ever before because other markets-including second homes and downsizing-have contracted, according to Edward Sugden of Property Vision. ‘I can safely say the need to move to be near the right school is the driver of the country-house market at the moment,’ he states. Christopher Dewe, partner at Knight Frank’s country-house department, agrees: ‘It’s the biggest reason for the classic country-house buyer-a family with children of primary-school age-to move out of London.’

However, the families making the move to the country today are doing things a little differently to their predecessors. It’s becoming increasingly rare, for example, to send children to board full-time at prep school, so buyers are looking for houses within an easy weekly or flexi-boarding commute, and children are often being sent as day-school pupils instead. However, a two-tier market is appearing as well: although private prep schools remain the draw for those buying at the top end of the market, there is a bracket looking to spend from £500,000 to £1.25 million showing increased interest in the quality of the local schools in their area of choice, say agents.

‘For families needing to commute to London, being in the catchment area for a local school is very attractive,’ explains Russell Hill of Haringtons UK. ‘I have clients who have just moved out of London and have decided to save some money by sending their children to the village school. It means they won’t necessarily be reading Dickens like children do at some of the London prep schools, but it’s
an excellent way to integrate into the community. Your children will have a set of local friends, and financially it makes sense if you have three or four children.’

Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution has done precisely that with his four children, who all went to Kingham Primary School, rated as outstanding by Ofsted. ‘All the parents get together to set up rugby clubs and other activities for the children that they might otherwise have at a private school. It’s been a fantastic experience for us,’ he says. Rosie Gimlette, who runs a PR company in Hampshire, is another advocate. Before moving from Clapham when her children were small, she rang up the local county council to find out which village schools had the best records. ‘We then chose where we wanted to live based on this information. And I know plenty of people who are moving out of London today and choosing the village based on the local primary school.’

Last year, Hamptons International research found that living within the catchment area of the capital’s top 10 best-performing State primaries commanded a property premium of more than £200,000. Competition to secure a place in London’s heavily over-subscribed primaries is fierce, and, as many of these are faith-based schools, lots of parents appear to be ‘getting on their knees to save the fees’. To date, this hasn’t had a similar dramatic effect on country-house prices; it’s being within the catchment area of one of the top-performing grammars that pushes up local house prices in the provinces.

‘Henley in Oxfordshire and Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire are particularly blessed with good local schools all the way through,’ says Mr Dewe. ‘It’s making the area very attractive these days, when it’s less popular to move to the Cotswolds and work remotely from home. Today, many need to be within the magic hour of London to be seen five days a week in the office, and if they can find a house within the catchment area of these schools, then all the better.’

The quality of good schools in Dorset is what Michael de Pelet of Knight Frank’s office in Sherborne describes as the county’s ‘joker in the pack’, citing a clutch of well-regarded prep and public schools that continue to draw both national and international buyers to his door. James Wilson of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Shaftesbury says his buyers often look to send their children to a local primary-Wardour and Chilmark cross the denominations for Catholic and Church of England children with an eye to moving them into the private sector for secondary school.

Mr Hill thinks this may be a clever approach. ‘Today, with an eye on university applications, some parents are considering taking their children out of the private system to complete their A Levels in a sixth-form college, in the hope that it might improve their chances of getting into university unfettered by the tag of private-school education.’

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