The prospect of a good education for their children is a major pull-factor for Londoners considering a move out of the city. The latest secondary school league tables reveal a rich seam of top-performing state schools in easy reach, enough to entice hardened urbanites on to a commuter train.
1. ORPINGTON, KENT
St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School.
Average point score per student: 1,116.7.
Top feeder schools: Farnborough Primary School gets top marks from schools watchdog Ofsted.
Commute: 33 minutes to London Bridge, annual season ticket £2,364.
Property: four- to five-bedroom detached houses are priced at about £800,000 and you could pick up a two-bedroom cottage for between £350,000 and £400,000.
Upsides: good sports facilities, and Priory Gardens is very pretty. A new cinema is due to open this spring.
Downsides: a high street full of chain stores and more in the adjacent Walnuts Shopping Centre. Not much character or charm. Quite a few local primaries have poor Ofsted reports.
2. CHELMSFORD, ESSEX
King Edward VI Grammar School.
Average point score per student: 1,282.8. (Chelmsford County High School for Girls achieved 1,145.6).
Top feeder schools: Purleigh Community Primary and Woodville Primary are rated “outstanding”.
Commute: 36 minutes to Liverpool Street, annual season ticket £4,748.
Property: not a lot of period housing, but new builds with five to six bedrooms at the smart Beaulieu Park development are priced from about £800,000. Four-bedroom Twenties and Thirties houses within walking distance of the town centre are about £500,000 to £600,000.
Upsides: Old Moulsham has a great mix of cafés and independent shops. There are first-rate sports facilities, open country on the doorstep and Stansted airport is 20 minutes’ drive away. It is handy for the V Festival.
Downsides: a bit of a Towie vibe in the town centre.
3. COLCHESTER, ESSEX
Colchester Royal Grammar School.
Average point score per student: 1,322. Colchester County High School for Girls also scored strongly with an average point score per student of 1,065.7.
Top feeder schools: St Teresa's Catholic Primary School and Montgomery Infant School and Nursery, both rated "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Commute: from 49 minutes to Liverpool Street, annual season ticket costs £5,936.
Property: head for the Dutch Quarter, just north of the town centre, for lovely timber frame townhouses and period cottages (priced at around £175,000 for two bedrooms), or try Lexden, 15 minutes' walk away, for smart Victorian villas and a family-friendly vibe. You could get a great four- or five-bedroom family house for around £500,000 to £550,000.
Upsides: Firstsite, the town’s £28 million arts centre, nicknamed the Golden Banana and designed by Rafael Vinoly, was endlessly delayed but now that it is open it is truly fabulous. The gorgeous countryside of the Stour Valley is on the doorstep and you are only 12 miles from the coast. There are plenty of pubs and neighbourhood restaurants.
Downsides: dreary, clone town high street and miserable rush-hour traffic.
4. SOUTHEND-ON-SEA, ESSEX
Southend High School for Girls.
Average point score per student: 1,080.7
Top feeder schools: Bournes Green Infant School and Junior School are both considered “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Commute: 55 minutes to Fenchurch Street. An annual season ticket costs £4,648.
Property: a three-storey townhouse in the Southend conservation area (with four or five bedrooms) would cost from around £600,000. You could buy a quality three-bedroom semi for as little as £250,000.
Upsides: new restaurants are opening along the front and there are some good independent shops and cafes to explore (amid shops selling tourist tat). It's always lovely to be close to the sea - even if you do have to trudge over what feels like miles of brown gunk to reach it at low tide. Miles of beautiful coastal walks, and a recently revamped pier.
Downsides: a bit of a God’s waiting room vibe, particularly out of season. Not all the primary schools pass muster.
5. DARTFORD, KENT
Dartford Grammar School.
Average point score per student: 1,216.
Top feeder schools: Fleetdown Primary is top-rated by Ofsted.
Commute: between 40 and 50 minutes to King’s Cross, Charing Cross or Cannon Street, annual season ticket £2,400.
Property: whacking detached houses in semi-rural locations on the outskirts cost £1 million-plus, or you could buy a three- or four-bedroom detached house in a more suburban location for about £500,000. Three-bedroom semis are about £300,000.
Upsides: the part-pedestrian town centre is well-stocked. Dartford Heath is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town’s popularity with London-leavers helped stimulate a 17.4 per cent property price growth last year.
Downsides: some very run-down estates, local shops have been hampered by their proximity to Bluewater, and the Dartford Crossing is regularly gridlocked.
6. TONBRIDGE, KENT
Tonbridge Grammar School.
Average point score per student: 1,208.8
Top feeder schools: St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Primary School and Woodlands Junior School, considered "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Commute: 45 minutes to Charing Cross, an annual season ticket costs £4,092.
Property: roomy Victorian villas are priced at around £750,000 to £800,000 (five bedrooms), four-bedroom half-timbered houses in the old town sell at around £550,000 to £650,000. Budget around £250,000 for a two-bedroom cottage.
Upsides: good-looking historic town centre, affluent feel, better value than nearby Tunbridge Wells. Lovely countryside is close at hand.
Downsides: a bit of a commuter dormitory.
7. READING, BERKSHIRE
Reading School — boys’ grammar, academy status, with boarding.
Average point score per student: 1,111.
Top feeder schools: All Saints Junior School is “outstanding”.
Commute: from 27 minutes to Paddington, annual season ticket £5,024.
Property: Reading has £1 million-plus houses in gated communities.Georgian homes in Eldon Road are beautiful and expensive. Caversham Heights has a good range of period homes, at about £700,000 for four bedrooms. A modern four-bedroom house in popular Earley is about £500,000.
Upsides: Crossrail arrives in 2019, which will improve the commute and should help house prices rise. Reading is close to the Chilterns and has some nice riverside walks.
Downsides: depressing post-war town centre, but plenty of shops.