Homes near fee-free schools

As recession prices families out of private education, Anthea Masey discovers great homes near the best state schools
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The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
© Barry Phillips
The pretty colonnaded walkway known as the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, is a pleasant place to shop, and adds to the town's attractive community life
Unemployment in the City is forcing parents who have taken their children out of private school to make serious decisions about education.

Finding good schools is why so many London families make the move to the country, and when money is short the search has to begin for the right area with commuter links to the capital and good state-run grammar schools.

Darren Lewis of estate agent Freeman Forman in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, says eight out of 10 applicants from London are looking to buy in Tunbridge Wells so they can send their children to the excellent grammar schools. “We have seen an influx of families, all no longer able to pay school fees.”

In Canterbury, also in Kent, Matthew Harvey at agent Coutts Byers says he, too, has seen a big increase in the number of Londoners wanting to move in. “The good grammar schools combined with the new high-speed rail service, which starts in December, are making this area a hot spot for commuters as the journey time to London will be cut by an hour, bringing this firmly into the commuter belt.”

So where do you have the best chance of getting your children into one of these desirable schools?

Kent has the most grammar schools. Its 31 establishments, mainly single-sex, are in Ashford, Broadstairs (mixed), Canterbury, Cranbook (mixed), Dartford, Dover, Faversham, Folkestone, Gravesend, Maidstone, Ramsgate, Sandwich (mixed), Sittingbourne, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Wilmington on the outskirts of Dartford.

Dr Challoner's Grammar School
Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire has eight single sex and five mixed grammar schools in Amersham, Aylesbury (two single sex and one mixed), Beaconsfield, Buckingham (mixed), Burnham (mixed), Chesham (mixed), High Wycombe and Marlow.

Essex has eight grammar schools, all of which are single sex, in Chelmsford, Colchester, Southend and Westcliff.

Three much smaller education authorities are Slough, with four grammar schools, all mixed; Reading, with two single-sex schools; and Medway with five, a mixed school in Rainham and four single-sex schools in Chatham and Rochester.

Best for an easy commute and clever children

Town: Chelmsford, Essex
Standards are high in Essex. Only 10 per cent of Essex children get into grammar schools, which is the lowest percentage for those home counties with such schools. This is why the Essex grammar schools come near the top of the state school performance tables and why only the county’s very cleverest children get in.

The river Chelmer and riverbank gardens make Chelmsford an attractive town; there are pretty villages in the surrounding countryside and sailing on the river Blackwater at Maldon.

Commuting: 13 morning rush hour trains an hour; the journey to Liverpool Street takes from 37 to 39 minutes.
Season ticket: £3,140pa.

Houses and flats to rent in Chelmsford
Houses and flats for sale in Chelmsford

Simon Langton Girls Grammar School
Simon Langton Girls Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent, is judged outstanding by Ofsted

Best for an easy commute and beautiful countryside

Town: Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire sends 29 per cent of its pupils to grammar schools. Ofsted rates Dr Challoner’s Grammar school (the boys’ school) as outstanding and Dr Challoner’s High School (for girls) as good.

Sitting in the beautiful Chiltern Hills, Amersham Old Town is a small gem and the area known as the Chalfonts is very sought after. The commute from Amersham offers both a train service to Marylebone and the Tube via the Metropolitan line.

Commuting: four morning rush hour trains an hour to Marylebone; the journey takes from 32 to 39 minutes; three morning rush hour Tube trains an hour; the journey to Baker Street takes 46 minutes.
Season ticket: £2,720pa (includes travel in all London zones).

Houses and flats to rent in Amersham
Houses and flats for sale in Amersham

Best for affordable house prices

Town: Chatham, Kent
Chatham is a fast-regenerating town where house prices are still way below the national average; the average price of a detached house is only £218,000. The historic dockyard is now a big tourist attraction and a potential world heritage site; and new homes on the 150-acre St Mary’s Island site have been a sell-out.

The Medway towns send 31 per cent of their secondary school pupils to grammar schools. There are three grammar schools in Chatham itself: Fort Pitt for girls is judged outstanding by Ofsted; the boys’ grammar school is judged good; and the other girls’ grammar school is judged good with outstanding features.

Commuting: four morning rush hour trains to Victoria; the journey takes between 50 and 69 minutes; four rush hour trains to Cannon Street; the journey takes from 46 to 77 minutes.
Season ticket: £3,020 pa.

Houses and flats to rent in Chatham
Houses and flats for sale in Chatham

Cricket at Dr Challoner's Grammar School
Cricket is popular at Dr Challoner's Grammar School, Buckinghamshire

Best close to the sea

Sandwich, Kent
Sandwich is a charming 18th-century town close to the seaside and the famous Royal St George’s golf course; the biggest local employer is the drug company Pfizer.

Sandwich is 25 miles from Ashford, which in December 2009 gets a fast-commuter train service to London St Pancras on the Channel Tunnel high-speed train link, reducing the journey time from about 83 minutes to 36 minutes.

The local grammar school, Sir Roger Manwood’s School, is co-educational with 52 boarding places and is judged good with outstanding features by Ofsted.

Commuting: seven morning rush hour trains from Ashford; three to Charing Cross; two to Cannon Street; and two to Victoria; the journey takes from 77 to 95 minutes. It all changes in December 2009 when the high-speed trains arrive.
Season ticket: from Ashford: £3,780pa.

Houses and flats to rent in Sandwich
Houses and flats for sale in Sandwich

Best for a big choice of grammar schools

Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, Kent
There are a total of six grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, many of which have a long and distinguished history.

In Tonbridge they are: The Judd School for boys, and two girls’ schools - Tonbridge and Weald of Kent - all judged outstanding by Ofsted; and in Tunbridge Wells there are: The Skinners’ School for boys and a boys’ and girls’ grammar school. Skinners’ is judged outstanding by Ofsted; the two grammar schools are judged good.

Tunbridge Wells itself is an attractive Regency town and the surrounding countryside is some of the most attractive in southern England.

Commuting: nine morning rush hour trains from Tonbridge: six to Charing Cross; three to Cannon Street; the journey takes from 42 to 50 minutes; six morning rush-hour trains from Tunbridge Wells: four to Charing Cross and two to Cannon Street; the journey takes from 53 to 63 minutes.
Season ticket: from Tonbridge: £3,000pa; from Tunbridge Wells: £3,300pa.

Houses and flats to rent in Tonbridge
Houses and flats for sale in Tonbridge

'This is how we like it'

The Hamilton family
© Paul Webb
Michael and Clare Hamilton with their daughter, Cora, 12, and son, Tom, 21
Michael and Clare Hamilton run a graphic design company called The Hamiltons from their home in Stelling Minnis, a village six miles south of Canterbury.

They moved from Bromley two years ago and their daughter, Cora,12, is thriving at the Simon Langton girls' grammar school in Canterbury, Kent.

"Our son, Tom, who is now 21, went to St Olave's and St Saviour's, a grammar school in Orpington, but Cora failed to get into the girls' highly selective grammar school, Newstead Woods.

"It is incredibly difficult getting into this grammar school. It is five times' over-subscribed with girls applying from far and wide and if you want to apply to other grammar schools nearby you must sit a three-hour examination in addition to the 11+.

"Unless your children are highly academic you probably shouldn't put them through it. In Kent, all they have to pass is the 11+ and there is a choice of grammar schools. It is much less stressful," says Michael.

The move to the country has been a big success for the whole family. "We used to have an office at London Bridge but we have recently decided to work from home," explains Michael.

"The village is very rural but not isolated. There are no mains drains, no gas or street lights, but there is a village shop and post office, a pub, a windmill, and a village hall which is always busy. It's a fast and easy drive to Canterbury. "This is how we like it," Michael says.

For more information about the Hamilton's graphic design business visit

Houses and flats to rent in Stelling Minnis
Houses and flats for sale in Stelling Minnis

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