by Tim Dwyer
It’s the mobility world’s equivalent of the “chicken or the egg” conundrum: when preparing to move to a new location, should the family focus first on schooling or on housing? In an ideal world, the child would be placed in a school with an appropriate curriculum that is a good match for her learning style and needs, while the family’s housing would be in a vibrant, safe neighborhood not too far from both the school and the parents’ work locations. That ideal world can be tough to achieve.
Making the right choices for both housing and schooling are crucial to the success of an assignment, but getting there often requires expertise in both areas and simultaneous, closely coordinated searches. And when the intention is for the children to attend public (state) schools (as opposed to private, fee-paying schools), the challenge becomes even more complex.
Perhaps the most common misperception is that residing in a particular neighborhood—within the “catchment area” of a desired school—will result in the child attending that particular school (a ‘catchment’ is a defined area of a community within which a school will normally accept students). Depending on the country and specific location, living inside the designated catchment area may improve the child’s chances of attending a particular school, but it is rarely a guarantee. There are several factors that might come into play:
· The school might not have enough room. Neighborhoods with “good” schools tend to attract residents, as a result of which their schools are often filled to capacity. Last year, in the greater London area, almost 20% of secondary school students did not receive a place at their preferred state school because of limited space.
· The child might have a special education need which is not adequately supported by the nearest school and she may therefore be directed to a school better equipped to address her specific need. This could also happen if the child is not sufficiently conversant in the host-location language; many cities have public/state schools dedicated to supporting students with significant language needs.
· The nearest school might be a charter, magnet, specialized, or other type of selective school which has a “barrier to entry.” This might consist of academic prerequisites, a required examination, academic achievement and/or nomination from the child’s current school, or even lottery system of some sort. Often the first steps of the admission process and related exams for these schools begin long before the start of the school year. Newly arrived families are at a distinct disadvantage when competing with families who have already been navigating the process for months or sometimes even years.
At the same time, finding suitable housing in the right location that is within the employee’s budget can also be difficult in many major cities. Often, desirable properties are on the market only briefly before they are snatched up. Yet a relocating employee can be hesitant to commit to a property until her child’s schooling is settled. The challenge in that situation is that many public/state schools can require proof of long-term residence (such as a signed lease) before they will allow a child to enroll. Chicken or egg?
When housing and schooling both pose challenges for relocating employees—a situation we are increasingly seeing in many high-volume destinations around the world—the only effective answer is for the experts from both disciplines (home-finding and education advisement) to work closely together throughout the relocation process. They must be able to form a team, balancing the priorities and requirements in each area and keeping the family’s best interests front and center. Few things can be more frustrating for a family going through the stress of relocation than receiving contradictory guidance from different members of the team assembled to support them.
When Bennett is part of a relocation support team, we embrace good coordination with our settling-in and real estate partners. We have seen how thoughtful, friendly, and creative collaboration among all players on a relocation team is the key to a seamless and positive experience for the relocating employee. Indeed, it’s the well-woven safety net of expert service providers that can transform the assignee and family experience from one of uncertainty and stress to one of clarity and excitement. Our goal is for an assignee to realize, not only that the assignment can “work,” but to welcome it as a rich and thrilling next chapter—for them and for their children.
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