Once, the flow of buyers out of London was driven by the promise of educating children at a country prep school. Is this changing? Arabella Youens investigates.

The once-solid market for parents wishing to move out of London to educate their children in the green and open spaces of a country prep school appears to be splintering. Although estate agents report that there is a continual flow of buyers registering their interest for houses within an easy distance of prep schools that lie within a comfortable commute of London—such as Cheam near Thatcham, Elstree near Woolhampton and Highfield near Haslemere—the picture of demand is more complicated than it once was.

Helicopter parenting

James Mackenzie, who heads up the country-house department of Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5190), says that the approach of parenting these days when it comes to prep-school-aged children is a far cry from when he waved goodbye to his own parents at the departure gate, at the age of six, with his trunk and the ‘UM’ (Unaccompanied Minor) label hanging off his new uniform.

‘Speak to any agent selling family houses in Bath, Bristol, Oxford or Cambridge and you’ll be told the market is flying. The reason for this is twofold: first, it’s vital these days that you’re there to see the cello recital or the school play—there’s 100% focus on the child. Second, few parents with young children want to park themselves somewhere remote in the countryside now, in the knowledge that, sooner or later, they’ll have to act as a taxi service into town.’

He’s also seen this logic apply to more local markets in places such as Cheltenham and Marlborough. ‘It means that the children can do prep at school—no one wants that battle on a daily basis with mum—and then come home after.’

The London option

Mark Parkinson of Middleton Advisors says he’s seeing it all at the moment (020–7370 4242). ‘There are still the requests from families who want us to find houses in classic commuter- belt hubs around Basingstoke, Henley, Didcot and Amersham. In these scenarios, we’re typically asked to find a house that lies within 15 minutes from the school and 15 minutes from the station.’

He continues: ‘However, despite the fact that the market in London has been much quieter of late, I’m also seeing some parents who are choosing to remain in London, both to retain their equity in the city market and because they enjoy having all the action on the doorstep, who are educating their children in the city and then planning to send their children to board in the countryside at 11.’

Mr Mackenzie sees another reason why the flow of parents out of the capital isn’t quite as strong as it once was: ‘Some London-based parents are educating their children in the city. Whereas once the draw to a country school would have been the opportunity to play sport, nowadays, with the pressure of getting exam results, school is seen principally for education and sport is catered for by the mushrooming number of clubs. Every sport in London now has an academy of excellence.’

Escaping the pressure cooker

Parents who are choosing to make the move to the countryside and put their children into a classic country prep school, such as Port Regis in Dorset or Dunhurst near Petersfield, are doing it to escape the pressure-cooker environment of London private schools, says Philip Harvey of Property Vision (01344 651702).

‘What buyers are often looking for is a school that can rival the London institutions, but which avoids the immense pressure that pupils in the city so often struggle with and has plenty of green space and fresh air for their children to enjoy. Although such a move normally takes buyers a while to decide upon, I know of two separate clients who have elected to move to Arundel on a whim—Windlesham House’s sterling reputation has played no small part in that,’ he explains.

Schools to move house for

Surrey The Hawthorns School, Bletchingley
East Sussex Cumnor House School, Danehill
Oxfordshire Dragon and Summer Fields, Oxford; Carrdus School, Banbury; Moulsford Preparatory School, Moulsford-on-Thames; Rupert House, Henley-on-Thames; Cothill, Abingdon
Hampshire Farleigh School, Andover; Dunhurst, Petersfield
Northamptonshire Winchester House, Brackley 
Buckinghamshire Beacon School, Amersham
Berkshire Lambrook, Winkfield; Elstree, Woolhampton; Cheam, Thatcham; Horris Hill, Newbury
Somerset Paragon School and King Edward’s School, Bath
Wiltshire Chafyn Grove and Leaden Hall, Salisbury 
Dorset Port Regis, Shaftesbury