"Being in a school zone for one of the top 20 or so government schools in Melbourne can increase the price of properties in the area at the very least 10% to 15%."
Should we do away with school zones?
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For all the complaints about our current government, Julia Gillard has always been a passionate advocate for education reform. Although the recent Gonski review into school funding has been heavily criticised by the opposition, our current Prime Minister aims to introduce the improvements cited from 2014 as part of an “education crusade”,
Teachers and unions will no doubt have their own views on the changes planned, and there’ll be plenty of forthcoming issues and disputes the Prime Minister has to overcome. However, out of all the industry bodies looking and hoping for a better qualified nation, the housing industry should be at the forefront.
The UK’s leading property website, Rightmove.co.uk, has produced some interesting research indicating a university education is a “vital” ingredient for current first-home buyers who aspire to buy within the next 12 months. Seven out of 10 surveyed on the above criteria were educated with either a graduate or post-graduate degree – and despite the fees associated with higher education, the analysts at Rightmove concluded:
“Those school-leavers who are set to embark on a university education this autumn will be encouraged by the fact that further qualifications seem to be an important qualifying factor in getting onto the housing ladder."
The reasons are no doubt numerous and to some extent obvious. A higher education generally ensures a fatter wage packet, enabling prospective buyers to build their deposits more quickly. However, money isn’t the only part of the equation. A quality education builds self-esteem, enhancing an individual’s critical thinking skills – enabling them to filter through a plethora of conflicting advice widely available through digital and print media. In many cases, it also also equips individuals with the basics of money and business management, which are essential requirements to 21st-century home ownership.
However, while education plays a valuable role in the fight to stem the reducing number of first-home buyers and issues of affordability – a trend many would like to close their eyes to – it is often not possible to get a child into the best school available for their needs due to the expense of buying in a good school zone.
For example, if you analyse the statistics, being in a school zone for one of the top 20 or so government schools in Melbourne can increase the price of properties in the area at the very least 10% to 15% – and the smaller the zone, the greater the pain. This is why there’s a strong connection between the top public schools and the price of residential property. Add onto this property taxes and other costs associated with moving into a school zone initially, and perhaps the only thought a family can comfort themselves with during the early hours of a sleepless night is the nest egg they’ll be left with once the kids leave home and they eventually decide to sell and downsize.
Rental yields for family accommodation are also significantly inflated for properties located in a popular school zone, providing an attractive incentive for investors seeking good growth and yield. Neither is it unheard of for an old property within the neighbourhood to be rented by a desperate family never intending to move in, but simply using the address to meet the criteria for enrolment into year 7. I’ve even heard of school principals camping out early mornings and late into the evening, to assess the level of activity in a property suspected of sitting vacant while the family lives elsewhere.
But if you think that’s bad, a story was recently relayed to me regarding one school principal asking to check a family’s electricity bill, with threats to hire a private detective to chase up suspected “zone cheaters”. School zones are without doubt hot property.
However, it’s an unfortunate example of how restrictions on both housing and education through the implication of strict school boundaries can often feed into a culture of separation between various groups of society, thereby producing wide areas of proportional inequality, for which I admit there’s no easy answer.
It’s also worrying that newer suburbs created with the intention of increasing the provision of affordable family-sized accommodation are woefully inadequate in their applications, principally because they often have little more than a small “village-sized” primary school servicing the area.
At worst, it results in a significant disconnect for families spilling into fringe areas and consequently suffering unintentional discrimination as they are unable to easily access suitable educational facilities.