It wasn’t long ago that the only people who used relocation consultants were large international companies who wanted to make sure their top people were looked after when taking on new roles overseas.  It was (and still often is) viewed as a large expense and the preserve of only the most senior executives.

The relocation industry has been growing swiftly over the last decade, with all sorts of services available – from one man (or woman) home search specialists or buying agents, through to large companies of a similar size to that of the corporate giants they deal with. The service of an expert is now being recognised by a wider range of people; busy professionals, investors and celebrities, but is it really worth the cost?  DIY relocation is possible but what are the things you should look out for?  This is the first in a series of articles looking at the different aspects involved in relocation.  The information contained in these articles should equip you with the nuts and bolts you need to do it yourself.  Of course, if you’d rather have someone take the hassle and stress away, you could always consider using a relocation company to help 🙂

The first topics we’ll cover are area selection and choosing a school – you can’t do one without the other, it’s a bit “chicken and egg” – but if you research these two topics in tandem you’ll come up with the right answers – eventually.

Area selection:

The first thing is to decide upon the broad geographical location which is right for you and your family.  In order to do this, you will need to take the following into account:

  • Transport requirements – how will you/your partner be getting to work? How will the children be getting to school? How long do you want these journeys to take?
  • Lifestyle requirements – what do you do in your free time?  Would you like to be near a park?  Would you like easy access to theatres and the facilities of a city, or would you be happier in suburbia or a more rural setting?  Make a list of the things that are important to you and your family, put it in order of importance to identify areas where you’d be prepared to compromise.
  • What can you afford?  How far do you need to be from your place of work to be able to afford something nice/big enough?  The property experts will be able to tell you, but how do you know where to start?  The following website is useful – it tells you which stations are within your preferred commute time of the central London tube station nearest to your work. It also tells you the average house prices in the area: http://www.commutefrom.com/.  The property portals will also give you an idea – draw a search area on a map (Rightmove.co.uk makes this really easy).  Research online and find out where the best (and worst) neighbourhoods are and check them out on Google Maps Streetview where you can have a virtual walk around the area to get a feel for the surroundings.
  • Schools: You can then assess where the best suitable schools are across the geographical area you’ve chosen.  There are education consultants who specialise in helping people with this (such as http://www.bowker.org.uk/), or if you want to do it yourself, there are websites like these, where you can find out the information you need:

Department for Education: http://www.education.gov.uk/performancetables/

OFSTED: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report

For independent schools: http://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk

How to choose a school:

There are many different types of state school as well as independent schools in the UK.

The first thing you need to do is decide what your schooling needs are (private v state, international baccalaureate v UK system, etc.).    Although the affordability of Independent schools is a factor to be considered, the real advantage of these for relocating families is that places can be secured in advance without an address whereas the Local Authorities handling state school applications often require not only an address but proof of residency, before allocating a school place.  To help you make the best choice for your child, the following link provides some information on each type of school, both state and independent, and their admission procedures:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Schoolslearninganddevelopment/ChoosingASchool/DG_4016312

Once you have pinpointed a geographical area, and the most suitable schools within it, you can move onto the next step which is to start the application process for a school place:

State schools

The admissions criteria for state schools are set by the school’s admission authority.

Once you have narrowed down your list of preferred schools, you then need to contact the local authority for each one and find out if they have available places and/or the likelihood of your child getting a place – different schools have different criteria and there is no guarantee that you will get a place at your preferred school as many schools receive more applications than places they have to offer.

Now you need to find a property.  Only when you have an address can you apply to a school for a place.  Follow your local authority’s advice about whereabouts in the borough you can live in order to qualify for a place in a particular school.

A word of warning: There can often be one excellent school with a selection of undesirable ones surrounding it – the best approach is to choose a geographical area with a concentration of reasonable schools, and in that way hedge your bets.

Finally, bear in mind that there might be deadlines.  Entry years to school, whether that is starting school for the first time or moving up to the next stage, often have deadlines by which applications have to be submitted. These vary across Local Authorities so always check with the Local Authority responsible for admissions in the area you are moving to. All other applications are classed as ‘in year’ and dealt with on an ad-hoc basis.

N.B. Although admissions criteria vary from area to area and from school to school, the School Admissions Code requires them to be clear, fair and objective. The code also has a list of admissions criteria that state-funded schools are not allowed to use.  Here is a link where you can download a copy of the code: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/adminandfinance/schooladmissions/a00195/school-admissions-codes-and-regulations

Independent schools

Unlike state schools, independent schools decide their own admission criteria.  Not all focus on educating highly academic children, but there is always some form of selection. Some schools only accept children who will be able to keep up with a fast moving curriculum, whereas others will cater for children with more average abilities or specialise in helping those in need of more individual attention in a less academic environment.

The first step if you’re going for independent education is to speak to your chosen school(s) and find out if they are accepting admissions.

Some schools will require a child to sit a formal entrance test whilst others prefer to have the child in school for the day for informal observation and to ensure a good social fit with future classmates. The content of tests vary depending on the age of the child and the selectiveness of the school. Some will use standardized verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, others will have their own tests in individual subjects. It is common to be tested in English, Maths, Science and a foreign language for entry mid-year to a Senior school.

If they pass this stage, many schools will then want to interview your child and will ask for a report from the Head of your child’s current school.

The following link provides further specific information to help you choose a UK independent school: http://www.emetis.com/primer/choosing.htm

Choosing a school for your child is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make as a parent.  When relocating with your children to a place you don’t know, it can put even more pressure on you to get it right.  If you follow our guidelines above, you will at least have a fighting chance!

We have also written an article about relocating to the UK with children which covers other related topics: https://www.executiverelocation.co.uk/?p=248&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=39, as well as assisting in a BBC online press article about the topic of “Uprooting children without damaging education”.  The article can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16422840

The next article in the DIY relocation series: Finding your perfect property, will be published shortly.

If you have any further questions, please either post them here, or visit our Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/executiverelocationplus and post it on our wall.  We can’t promise we’ll have all the answers but we’ll certainly give it our best shot!