Around here Just twenty miles and a sub 30 minute overground ride from London, nestled neatly in the apex of the M40 and the M25, lies commuterland at its finest in the guise of leafy Beaconsfield and neighbouring town Gerrards Cross.
Home to an affluent mix of senior city types, entrepreneurs and self-made business people, with the odd footballer and celeb thrown in for good measure, you couldn’t mistake it in any way for The Country (the hunting, shooting and fishing set probably speed past the turn off on their way up the M40 to the Costwolds) but if ‘countryside lite’ exists, this is it. And jolly civilised it is too. High streets with all the usual chain store and supermarket suspects alongside independent retailers - if you’re in need of a coffee, haircut or manicure you’re spoilt for choice. London escapees will love the ease with which they can drive everywhere – and even park. Fashion fans flock to nearby Old Amersham - the best place for designer labels and a much more civilised shopping experience than Oxford Street.
And, wait for it, Amersham has a tube station. Surrounding villages such as Seer Green, Fulmer and Chalfont St Giles offer quaint country pubs in which to wind up the dog walk, and everything else you could ever need, from arthouse cinema to cricket pitches, golf and tennis clubs and sports centres in the towns, why live anywhere else? Oh – and did we mention how close it is to Heathrow?
Although the local housing market’s not for the faint of heart (or light of wallet), it does offer great value on a per square foot basis in comparison to London. If you’re ready to stop watching the value of your zone 2 London terrace inching up and opt for quality of life instead, you could easily swap 2,000 sqft and a postage stamp yard for more than double the space inside and a proper garden, without breaking sweat. And you won’t have to park down the street from your house. Or spend weekends schlepping the kids to the park (there’ll be swings, slide and trampoline in the garden, natch). Non character four bed family homes – likely in need of some modernisation – start at around £600K in Amersham, £700K in Gerrards Cross and £900k in Beaconsfield, rising to around £1.5m plus for those with more kerb appeal. Detached five beds trade at anything from £1.7m upwards and from thereon, the sky’s the limit. There’s no abundance of family rental properties in the area though if you do fancy hedging your bets and hanging on to your London real estate, and although there are occasional bargains, what’s on offer comes with a hefty price tag.
Unsurprisingly in this well-heeled corner of suburbia it’s hard to go wrong when it comes to schooling and nigh on impossible to find an Ofsted rating that isn’t at least Good, particularly at primary level. The area is well served with state primaries, village infant schools (often with private school sized classes), faith schools – and that holy grail of state maintained secondary education, the selective grammar school. On the independent front, excellent preps which cater, in the main, for all academic abilities, feed children into either state grammars or private secondary schools, so mixing and matching between state and private is a genuine option.
Few children fail to get their first choice of primary school and as the population has a transient element, in-year applications are often feasible even in the most popular of primaries. Likewise, although it’s wise to put names down for preps earlier rather than later, you can leave the ‘name down at birth’ problem along with its friend ‘academic selection’ at the beginning of the A40 in West London.
Buckinghamshire is one of the few remaining counties still to have state maintained grammar schools and this corner of South Bucks boasts some of the top ranking state schools in the country.
Hopefuls take the Secondary Transfer Test (that’s the 11+ in old money) in the September of year 6 – with testing taking place at their primary or prep school as long as they are in-county applicants. The test’s a toughie and can make or break the educational fate of a 10-year-old in the space of two 50 minute exams.
Most pupils are tutored for around a year in advance. Tuition companies such as Marie Redmond or Teach It Right offer classes across the area six days a week. One-to-one tutors, best found by word of mouth, are booked years ahead.
If you’re moving into the area with your heart set on following the grammar path, do your research carefully regarding which grammar schools children in your chosen locality have been offered in recent years. Although you may officially be in catchment, proximity is the main admission criteria so you may not get your first choice if you’re too far away. The Good Schools Guide state school consultancy service offers expert advice on grammar school entry.
For boys, Dr Challoner’s Grammar in Amersham regularly tops academic league tables. The Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe is generally considered ‘the sporty one’ there’s also a boarding house here, taking small numbers across all year groups. John Hampden Grammar School, also in High Wycombe, is one to watch. With a more diverse demographic it’s a truer example of what grammar schools should be about and has one of the top value added scores in the country.
For girls, Wycombe High is the top of the academic pile, followed by Dr Challoner’s High School and Beaconsfield High School. For those keen on co-education, Chesham Grammar School, formerly regarded as an also-ran, has gone from strength to strength in recent years. You can read the latest in-depth reviews and check exam results for all these schools on our website.
Choose your area carefully if you think your child may not be grammar school material. Non-selective state secondaries are a mixed bag: the Chalfonts Community College has a reasonable reputation and outstanding sixth form but with 1,700 pupils is not everyone’s cup of tea. The Amersham School is also solid, but The Beaconsfield School far less highly thought of.
Private senior schools
With such high-quality state schools on offer for the brightest, private day options within a reasonable commuting distance tend (with a couple of notable exceptions) to cater for pupils not deemed suitable for grammar school. Gerrards Cross has two small independents: tiny Thorpe House for boys and St Mary’s for girls, the latter quietly stealing a march on the academic front and a solid choice for girls who want to keep a local network of friends.
Fleets of buses transport pupils far and wide to schools including Shiplake College in Henley, The Royal Masonic School in Rickmansworth, Queen Anne’s School in Caversham and Claire’s Court in Maidenhead. Berkhamsted School is also a popular school with a reasonably mixed ability intake, although with the expansion of its prep school, places at 11+ and 13+, particularly for boys, are becoming harder fought for.
Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood (boys) and Wycombe Abbey (girls) outstrip the grammar schools in terms of academic achievement and offer world class facilities, sports and extra-curricular options sadly off limits in the poorly funded state sector.
Seventy-five per cent of Buckinghamshire’s grammar pupils join from state primary schools so it’s no surprise to learn that almost half of all infant and junior schools in the area are currently rated Outstanding by Ofsted, with a Good rating par for the course. If you’re moving into the area it’s likely that you will find yourself in the catchment for an excellent state primary from which to launch your child’s academic career.
Somewhat unusually, smaller villages frequently have infant schools for 4-7 year olds, often with tiny class sizes and a lovely nurturing, country feel. Fulmer Infant School, Jordans School and Chalfont St Peter Infant School are considered among the best and are often used by parents as a free pre-prep before springboarding their child to the independent sector in year 3.
The majority from these tiny treasures, though, move up to the equally superb Chalfont St Peter Academy, which along with its neighbouring Gerrards Cross Church of England School, has a first class track record of sending pupils to local grammars. Amersham boasts even greater riches when it comes to state primaries, with the ever popular Elangeni and Chestnut Lane Schools helping to keep local house prices at a premium. Beaconsfield is less well served, with parents holding their breath and crossing fingers for a place in either Butler’s Court or Holtspur Schools.
Admission, typically, is the usual combination of sibling preference and proximity within catchment to school, although some schools – typically those with a faith bias – don’t have an official catchment, so check the school admissions pages of the Bucks County Council website carefully to check specifics for your chosen school.
There is a good selection of single sex and co-ed preps spread across the area, each with its own unique character. They’re all so different that you’re bound to know within moments of arrival which one will suit your family.
For boys, The Beacon on the Amersham / Chesham borders is a super all-round school which takes boys from age 3-13 and feeds the full spectrum of secondaries from grammars at 11+ to independent day schools, as well as top boarding schools including Eton, Harrow and Radley. At Davenies in Beaconsfield you will find a greater inclination towards independent secondaries in preference to grammar schools – some pupils do take the 11+ and head off to the state sector but the school focuses on promoting its 13+ destinations, a good mix of day and boarding. Conversely, newly co-ed Gayhurst in Gerrards Cross has now done away with years 7 and 8 altogether, with around 60 per cent of the cohort heading off to grammars and the remainder to 11+ day schools.
Girls are equally well provided for with Maltman’s Green School in Gerrards Cross (purple felt coats, boaters and curtsies abound – need we say more?) and the more laid back St Mary’s with its fantastic art room and outstanding SEN department at the other. High March in Beaconsfield is a major feeder to Beaconsfield High School. Families firmly fixed on the boarding route should look at Caldicott in Farnham Royal for boys and High Wycombe’s Godstowe – the school on which Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers books were based – for girls.
A handful of state maintained schools offer outstanding provision for children with special educational needs. These include Alfriston School in Amersham for girls aged 11-18, Westfield School in Bourne End for children aged 4-11 and Stony Dean in Amersham, which was the first ever UK school to achieve SEN college status. For information about SEN schools see our website. If you need advice on any aspect of SEN education you can contact our highly experienced SEN consultants .