Reporting year 2020

Education and training statistics for the UK

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  1. Higher education student figures for 2018/19 have been corrected.

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This release compiles information on education systems across the United Kingdom. Education is devolved in the UK, so each part of the United Kingdom has a separate education system, with different attainment measures.

In this release, there are sections focusing on the school system: numbers of schools, pupils and teachers; pupil teacher ratios; and a section on attendance during the coronavirus outbreak.

This is followed by sections looking at post-compulsory education, which includes the number of further and higher education institutions, the number of staff and the number of students. There is also a section on young adults (aged between 16-24) who are not in education or employment.

The next sections focus on students’ qualifications, typically taken at ages 16 and 18, as well as the highest qualifications held by adults in the UK (aged 19-64).

Finally there is a section showing government education expenditure in the UK.

Headline facts and figures - 2020

  • Pupil-teacher ratios in maintained schools were lowest in Scotland (13.6) and similar in England (18.2), Wales (19.3) and Northern Ireland (18.3).
  • Females outperform males in the main measures of attainment across the UK, make up a greater share of higher education students (57%) and have a higher level of qualification among 19-64 year olds (46% with NQF level 4 or above compared to 42% for males).

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School numbers

In 2019/20, there were 29,624 maintained schools across the UK, an increase of 26 compared to 2018/19, with the majority of these at nursery and primary level. There were 32,028 schools overall (although this excludes independent schools in Scotland and Wales as these figures were unavailable). At nursery level, Scotland figures include all providers of funded Early Learning and childcare, whereas figures across the rest of the UK only include nurseries.

Pupil numbers

The number of pupils in maintained schools continued to rise in 2019/20 across the UK, with an increase of 0.9% in England, 0.2% in Wales, 0.6% in Scotland and 0.7% in Northern Ireland. 

There has been a greater increase in the percentage of pupils in special schools, 4.1%, than in other school types across the UK (except for pupils in middle schools, which saw a rise of 17.5%, but this is only in Wales and reflects the increase in the number of middle schools in Wales in 2019/20).

Data on the number of pupils by gender and school type in each country (and each region of England) is available in the underlying data along with data by age and school type at a UK level.

Teacher numbers

The number of full-time equivalent teachers across maintained schools remained broadly stable between 2018/19 and 2019/20 across the UK.

  • In Scotland, teacher numbers increased in both primary and secondary schools. 
  • In both England and Northern Ireland there was a slight decrease in the number of teachers in primary schools but an increase in secondary. 
  • In Wales the number of teachers in both primary and secondary schools had fallen slightly; this was balanced out by an increase in the number of teachers in middle schools, reflecting the increase in the number of middle schools in 2019/20. 

All countries saw a rise in the number of teachers in special schools which reflects the growing number of pupils in special schools.

The impact of changes in both teacher and pupil numbers can be seen in the section on pupil teacher ratios. 

Pupil teacher ratios (PTR)

Pupil teacher ratios (PTR) show the number of pupils for every teacher. Across the UK the PTRs follow a similar pattern across all phases, with Scotland having the lowest PTRs and England, Wales and Northern Ireland all having very similar PTRs.

PTRs for all maintained schools rose slightly between 2015/16 and 2019/20 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by a similar amount (0.6 to 0.8), whereas in Scotland they remained stable over this period.

When looking across primary, middle, secondary and special schools there has been an increase in the PTR over this period in every country and every phase, with the exception of primary schools in Scotland, which saw a decrease from 16.7 to 15.9 over this period.

Comparing the PTRs across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with the regions of England, Scotland had the lowest PTRs of any area at all phases, followed by Inner London.

For all schools, Wales, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the East of England had the highest PTRs. Northern Ireland had the highest PTRs at primary level, Wales and the East Midlands at secondary, and Wales in special schools.

Attendance in education settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

The data in this section shows the percentage of children attending educational settings during the COVID-19 outbreak and the percentage of settings that were open during the outbreak. These figures cover the period from the 23rd March to the 26th June 2020. The figures are presented until the 26th June as this is when the Northern Ireland data collection ended (on the 29th June) and when schools in Scotland began to finish the summer term.

The data for each part of the UK is taken directly from their respective published information, and the methodologies and coverage for each will differ significantly. There will also have been changes to the surveys and the methodologies behind the figures across countries during this time period, as policy requirements evolved. Also, term dates and bank holidays will be different in each country in the UK, so changes in the time series may occur at different points for each country. Therefore, direct comparisons between numbers should not be made.

More detailed information on the methodology used in each part of the UK can be found at:

England - Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Scotland - Attendance and absence data for pupils and staff in schools and childcare settings

Wales - Attendance at local authority settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Northern Ireland - Management Information relating to Attendance at educational settings during the COVID-19 outbreak

Across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the percentage of children attending remained under 2% throughout this time period, whereas in England the percentage remained stable between March and May, followed by an increase from the beginning of June. This meant attendance increased from under 2% to a peak of 16.7% on 23rd June. This increase reflects the phased reopening of schools in England from June 1st, whereas across the rest of the UK education settings only remained open for priority groups. The phased reopening of schools in Wales began on 29th June, in Scotland settings reopened at the beginning of the new school term on 11th August and in Northern Ireland they reopened to all pupils at the beginning of the new school term in the week commencing 31st August.

Data on the percentage of settings open during the period is also available in the underlying data.

Higher and further education

In 2018/19 there were 2.6 million students doing higher education at UK higher education institutions, further education colleges and at alternative providers. About two thirds of these are studying first degrees, 1 in 5 studying a masters, 1 in 20 doing a PhD and 1 in 10 on other undergraduate courses.

Females made up a greater share of students at every level other than for PhDs, where males made up 51.0% of all students, despite females making up a greater share of overall postgraduate students. The share of females also rose at every level between 2017/18 and 2018/19, increasing from 56.7% to 57.2% overall.

The most popular subject group studied in higher education in the UK is business & administrative studies with 410,000 students (16% of all students), followed by social sciences (including law) (14%) and subjects allied to medicine (12%).

There are clear differences in the subject group figures by gender: 

  • Females were more likely to enrol in both subjects allied to medicine and social sciences (including law) than males. 16% of all female students enrolled in each of these subjects whereas for males the figures were 6% and 12% respectively.
  • For males the most popular subjects were business & administrative studies (19% of all male students) followed by engineering and technology (13%). Males were also much more likely to enrol in both engineering & technology (13%) and mathematical and computing sciences (12%), whereas for females the percentages were only 2 and 3% respectively.

These figures are available in the underlying data for 2016/17 to 2018/19, as well as figures by level of education and mode of study. 

Data on the total number of national and overseas students is also available, by gender, level of education and mode of study.

The number of students in further education in the UK continued to decrease in 2018/19, falling by 3.3% compared to 2017/18. The number of students fell by 4.5% in England and by 4.3% in Northern Ireland, but increased by 10.4% in Scotland and by 3.1% in Wales. 

Further information on the demographics of further education students (gender, age and mode of study), as well as the number of colleges and staff, can be found in the underlying data.

Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The percentage of 16-24 year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) in the UK was 11.0% from July-September 2020, down from 11.2% in the previous quarter and 11.6% in the same quarter last year.

However, there are differences in these trends when looking at the gender breakdown: 

  • The percentage of males who were NEET increased by 0.1 percentage points to 12.1% over the last year 
  • The percentage of females who were NEET decreased by 1.2 percentage points to 9.9% over the last year

There has also been a difference in the magnitude of the decrease in the NEET when looking at age groups. 

  • The percentage of 16-17 year-olds decreased by 1.6 percentage points to 3.2% over the last year
  • The percentage of 18-24 year olds decreased by 0.2 percentage points to 13.1% over the last year 

More information on these statistics is available from the Office of National Statistics. Statistics for each part of the UK are available at:

England - Statistics: NEET and participation

Scotland - Skills Development Scotland - Annual Participation Measure

Wales - Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET)

Northern Ireland - Quarterly Labour Force Survey Tables

Qualification headline measures

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different headline measures for the performance of students in examinations, using different methodologies to calculate the relevant percentages or scores. The headline measures for each part of the UK are presented here and subject level data is available in the underlying data.

Given the different qualifications systems and headline measures, it is not suitable to present a direct comparative picture of pupil performance across the UK. 

More detail on the national performance measures used across the UK can be found at the relevant sources for each country and each level of education:

England - Statistics: GCSEs (key stage 4)

England  - Statistics: 16 to 19 attainment

Scotland - Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations

Wales - Examination results

Northern Ireland - Year 12 and Year 14 Examination Performance at Post-Primary Schools in Northern Ireland

One noticeable trend that occurs across the UK is that females outperform males in almost all of the headline measures. The only exceptions to this are the percentage of 16-18 years olds in England who achieve 3 A Levels at A*-A and the percentage who achieve 3 A Levels of AAB or above, however the total number of females achieving these measures is still higher as a larger number of females enter A Levels.

Highest qualification for adults aged 19-64

Across the UK 82% of adults aged 19-64 have a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level of 2 or above. This decreases to 64% with NQF level 3 or above and 44% at level 4 or above.

A higher percentage of females are qualified to each of these levels than males. 

87% of the population aged 19 to 24 and 25 to 29 hold NQF level 2 or above; this decreases with each older age group. For NQF level 3 or above, the age group with the highest qualification rate is 25-29 year olds and 30-39 year olds for NQF level 4 or above.

Education expenditure

The amount of government expenditure on education rose by 5% from 2018-19 to 2019-20, with an increase of 2% on primary education and an 8% increase in spend on secondary education.

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