On average, the primary free schools that opened last year have attracted more than twice as many applications for the number of places available and the secondary free schools more than three times as many.
Despite their name, free schools are limited in their flexibility. For instance, they are not allowed to select according to ability. So with a heavily oversubscribed school only those who live quite close to the school will have much chance of a place.
Peter Hyman, a former advisor to Tony Blair, is behind School 21, opening this year in Stratford. Opening in Pitchford Street, off West Ham Lane, it is an "all-through" school covering both primary and secondary. Even before opening, it was oversubscribed. Who gets in? The school says it will be "children living closest to the school using home-to-school walking distance".
Nick Verdi of Keatons, a Stratford estate agent, says schools create stability and community in an area. He adds: "It is a major consideration for people. Stratford hasn't been blessed with the best schools in the past. It has been a reason for people to move away. We will now be able to market it as a reason to move into the area and stay."
The latest batch of London free schools has been revealed
Not for everyone
A new school changes the configuration of an area, but not to everyone's liking. Older couples, whose children have left home, and singles will not always welcome the arrival of a new school with all the attendant noise, parking problems and, initially, building work.
But an empty home is a buying opportunity for a younger family. John Horton, of Hammersmith estate agent Horton & Garton, says: "We have first hand experience of properties, in sales and lettings, going for a premium as they are close to the West London Free School. For the streets close enough to ensure the child would get a place the mark-up is five per cent.
"We have this with good state primary schools. Hammersmith used to be a double-income, no-kids place but now it is more family orientated.
"There may not be many gardens, but the local parks are good, and the most important thing for parents are the schools — for which they are willing to pay a premium."
January is usually the school admissions deadline and that prompts an urgency about securing a new address that would allow a child to qualify for a particular school.
There are cases of families renting a property near a favoured school for long enough to secure their first child a place and then moving somewhere cheaper and relying on the sibling preference policy to get their younger children into the same school.
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