Reporting Year 2021

Education and training statistics for the UK

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Last updated
See all updates (1) for Reporting Year 2021
  1. Correction to the headings of two tables to reference latest 2021 data

Introduction

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 and pupil teacher ratios.

This is followed by sections looking at post-compulsory education, which includes the number of further and higher education institutions 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 (although given the different qualifications systems and headline measures, it is not suitable to present a direct comparative picture of pupil performance across the UK), 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 - 2021

  • Pupil numbers in secondary and special schools increased in every part of the UK, however primary pupil numbers fell in all parts except Wales. Teacher numbers rose in every part of the UK at every level, except nursery level.
  • Pupil-teacher ratios in maintained schools were lowest in Scotland (13.3) and similar in England (18.0), Wales (19.2) and Northern Ireland (18.0).

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School numbers

In 2020/21, there were 29,644 maintained schools across the UK, an increase of 20 compared to 2019/20, driven by an increase at nursery level in Scotland and in special schools in England. There were 32,163 schools overall (excluding independent schools in Scotland).

Data on the number of schools in each part of the UK (and each region of England) is available in the underlying data.

Pupil numbers

The number of pupils in maintained schools continued to rise in 2020/21 across the UK, with an increase of 0.3% in England, 1.2% in Wales and 1.0% in Northern Ireland. There was a fall of 0.3% in Scotland, but this is driven mainly by a decrease in the number of pupils in nurseries; when nurseries were removed, the number of pupils increased by 0.6%.

The number of pupils in state-funded nurseries decreased by 10.1% in England and 6.5% in Scotland. This may be due to a reduction in enrolments in nursery as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although there is also likely to be some effect from demographic changes. The number of pupils aged between 5 and 11 fell by 0.7% across all maintained schools in the UK, whereas the number of pupils aged 12 and above rose by 3.3%.

Similarly, the number of pupils in maintained secondary and special schools across the UK  increased by 2.5% and 2.4% respectively, whereas the number of pupils in primary schools fell by 1.1% overall. Wales was the only area of the UK where the number of pupils in primary schools rose between 2019/20 and 2020/21. In Wales, there was also an increase of 7.5% in the number of pupils in middle schools.

Data on the number of pupils by gender and school type in each part of the UK (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 increased by 1.7% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 across the UK, with increases in each part of the UK at every level, except nursery schools.

Northern Ireland saw the largest increase (2.7%), followed by Scotland (2.2%), England (1.6%) and Wales (1.5%).

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

Data on the number of teachers by gender and in each part of the UK (and each region of England) is available in the underlying data.

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 fell slightly in each part of the UK, driven by PTRs in primary schools. This means there were slightly fewer pupils per teacher in primary schools in each part of the UK.

PTRs in secondary and special schools remained stable, suggesting teacher numbers have roughly reacted to changes in pupil numbers.

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

Every part of the UK is publishing regular data on attendance in school during the coronavirus pandemic. As there are differences in data collection methods, presentation and definitions between each part of the UK, we do not advise making comparisons.

The relevant published data can be found at:

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

Scotland - Coronavirus (COVID-19): trends in daily data

Wales - Attendance of pupils in maintained schools

Northern Ireland - Management information on attendance of pupils in school | Department of Education (education-ni.gov.uk)

Higher and further education

In 2019/20 there were 2.7 million students doing higher education at UK higher education providers and further education colleges. About two thirds of these were studying first degrees (also known as bachelor's degrees), 1 in 5 studying a masters or other postgraduate aims, 1 in 25 doing a PhD and 1 in 10 on other undergraduate courses.

Females made up 57% of the overall student population and made up a greater share at every level except PhDs (49.5%). This has remained stable between 2018/19 and 2019/20.

The most popular subject group studied in higher education in the UK is business and management with 447,000 students (17% of all students), followed by subjects allied to medicine (12%) and social sciences (10%).

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 than males. 16% of all female students enrolled in subjects allied to medicine and 12% in social sciences whereas for males the figures were 6% and 8% respectively.
  • For males the most popular subjects were business and management (20% of all male students) followed by engineering and technology (13%) and computing (10%). Only 2% of female students enrolled in each of these subjects.

These figures are available in the underlying data by level of education and mode of study. 

The number of overseas students studying higher education in the UK continued to increase in 2019/20, rising by 12% to 559,000 overall. Although this follows a rising trend, this was a larger increase than in recent years.

The total number of students in further education in the UK continued to decrease in 2019/20, falling in every part of the UK and by 11.4% overall compared to 2018/19. The number of students fell by 11.9% in England, by 8.4% in Scotland, by 8.1% in Wales and by 7.2% in Northern Ireland. The decrease in the number of students in further education in Scotland in 2019/20 follows year-on-year increases between 2015/16 and 2018/19. The 2019/20 data covers the early months of the global COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown. This may have affected enrolment figures and therefore extra care should be taken in comparing and interpreting trends over time.

Further information on the demographics of further education students (gender, age and mode of study), as well as the number of colleges, 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 9.3% in April-June 2021, down from 10.8% in the previous quarter and 11.3% in the same quarter last year.

The trend was similar for males and females : 

  • The percentage of males who were NEET was 9.8% in April-June 2021, a decrease of 1.8 percentage points compared to April-June 2020
  • The percentage of females who were NEET was 8.7% in April-June 2021, a decrease of 2.2 percentage points compared to April-June 2020

However, there has been a difference in the magnitude of the decrease in the NEET when looking at age groups. 

  • The percentage of 16-17 year-olds who were NEET was 3.7% in April-June 2021, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points compared to April-June 2020
  • The percentage of 18-24 year olds who were NEET was 10.8% in April-June 2021, a decrease of 2.4 percentage points compared to April-June 2020

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's Labour Market: People, Places and Regions

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

Northern Ireland - Quarterly Labour Force Survey Tables

Qualification headline measures

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

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in all parts of the UK in 2020. As a result most of the headline measures across the UK have either been significantly affected or not calculated and published for 2019/20. The data that has been published should not be directly compared to attainment data from previous years for the purposes of measuring change in student performance.

  • In England pupils were awarded either a centre assessment grade (based on what the school or college believed the student would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.
  • In Scotland the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) did not collect coursework or mark coursework that had already been collected. As a result, grades awarded in 2020 were instead based on teacher estimates.
  • In Wales all qualifications that would have been sat as examinations in the 2019/20 summer term were replaced with the best of either the centre assessed grade or the standardised grade calculated by the Welsh Joint Education Committee.
  • In Northern Ireland results awarded by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) for GCSEs were based solely on the Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) provided by schools and colleges. Results awarded for A-Levels were the higher of the CAG or the grade initially awarded by CCEA on 13 August 2020.

More detail on how each part of the UK awarded and presented its performance measures can be found at the relevant sources for each part of the UK and each level of education:

England - Key stage 4 performance

England  - A level and other 16 to 18 results

Scotland - Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations

Wales - Examination results

Northern Ireland - School performance

Highest qualification for adults aged 19-64

Across the UK, 83% of adults aged 19-64 have a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level of 2 or above. This decreases to 66% with NQF level 3 or above and 47% at level 4 or above.

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

The percentage of those aged 25 to 29 who hold NQF level 2 or above, or NQF level 3 or above, is the highest of any age group; this then decreases with each older age group. For NQF level 4 or above the percentages of those aged 25 to 29 and 30 to 39 are the highest, this percentage also decreases with each older age group.

Education expenditure

The amount of government expenditure on education rose by 6% from 2019-20 to 2020-21, with an increase of 2% on primary education and a 7% increase in spend on secondary education.

Expenditure in real terms fell by 0.4% over the same period, but as a percentage of GDP it rose from 4.0% to 4.5%, the highest it has been since 2013/14.

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Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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If you have a specific enquiry about Education and training statistics for the UK statistics and data:

International evidence and statistics team

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Telephone: Guenevere Kiely
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