National pupil projections
This release provides national projections for the number of pupils in schools in England by type of school and age.
The projections are based on new mid-2018 ONS national population projections published in October 2019, ONS monthly births data up to and including 2018 and School Census data up to and including January 2020.
ONS’s principal projections are used for the main pupil projections. Alternative pupil projections, called variants, are also provided based on scenarios such as high migration or low fertility produced by ONS.
Headline facts and figures - 2020
Headline facts and figures from the 2020 national pupil projections
- The nursery and primary school population has been rising since 2009 but has now plateaued, as the drop in births in 2013 feeds into the main school population, and is projected to drop for the whole projection period to 2030. The drop is steeper than previously projected due to lower births recorded since the end of 2016.
- The secondary school population began rising in 2016 and is projected to continue increasing until 2024 before gradually dropping until the end of the projection period. The peak and then fall is primarily due to the lower births seen in 2013 and beyond, which start to reach secondary school age in around 2025.
- The population in special schools has been increasing for a number of years, at least partly driven by the increase in the overall population, and this is projected to continue until 2024, before also very gradually dropping.
- The alternative provision population is projected to increase slowly before stabilising.
Actual (2020) and projected pupil numbers by school type, England
|State-funded nursery & primary schools||4,647||4,631||4,593||4,527||4,450||4,391||4,342|
|year on year change||-16||-38||-66||-77||-59||-49|
|State-funded secondary schools||3,003||3,069||3,130||3,189||3,227||3,223||3,210|
|year on year change||66||61||59||38||-4||-13|
|State-funded special schools||113||116||119||120||121||120||119|
|year on year change||3||3||1||1||-1||-1|
|Alternative provision settings||15||16||17||17||18||18||18|
|year on year change||1||1||0||1||0||0|
|Total state-funded schools||7,778||7,833||7,858||7,854||7,815||7,752||7,689|
|year on year change||55||25||-4||-39||-63||-63|
Source: national population projections (2020 model). Figures in 000s
The actual population in state-funded schools in 2020 was 7,778,000 and is projected to decrease by 408,000 (to 7,370,000) over the ten years to 2030 that the projection runs, a total rate of decrease for the whole period of 5.2%.
- The full-time equivalent population of under 5 year olds in state-funded education was 852,000 in 2020. This is slightly higher than the year before but is now projected to drop rapidly until 2024 (reaching 786,000) before stabilising. This is due to the reduction in births from late 2016 and subsequent reductions in ONS’s projected birth numbers.
- The vast majority of early years pupils (current and projected) continue to be found in primary schools. This includes 4 year olds in reception class, which virtually all children attend. However, overall the age group has a high proportion of pupils attending school on a part-time basis.
- Measured as a headcount, the number of children aged under 5 in state-funded schools was 963,000 in 2020 and is expected to follow the same trend as full-time equivalent population, reaching 879,000 in 2024.
State-funded nursery and primary schools
- The overall population in state-funded nursery and primary schools was 4,647,000 in 2020 and is projected to be 359,000 lower in 2026 at 4,342,000.
- The population in state-funded nursery and primary schools decreased more slowly than projected between 2019 and 2020 (by 0.1% compared with 0.3% in the previous projections).
- This population is expected to decrease at a faster rate for the remainder of the projection period, peaking at 1.7% in 2024 and remaining at over 1% throughout.
- These decreases are primarily due to the lower birth projections in ONS’s new population projections.
State-funded secondary schools
- The overall population in secondary schools was 3,003,000 in 2020, a 2.7% increase in the population in 2019 (compared to a forecast 3.1% increase in the previous projections).
- The resulting lower levels of participation means that the secondary school population is now projected to peak a year earlier and at a lower level than previously projected, reaching 3,227,000 in 2024 (224,000 higher than in 2020). At this point the reduction in births start to reach secondary age and by 2030 the forecast is expected to be down to only 70,000 higher than in 2020.
There are several elements which affect the results of the projections. The key elements, and how they affect the results, are detailed below.
- The number of births feed directly into the projections but also affect how births are projected in the future.
- The birth rate increased for over a decade until 2013, when it dropped notably. After a short period of stability the rates dropped again from late 2016 onwards. This is the first year that the ONS national population projections and the pupil projections reflect this latter reduction.
- These are calculated based on the number of pupils attending school (from the School Census) measured against the ONS total population figures.
- This factor is particularly important in the early years, since parents can choose whether or not to send their children aged under 5 to school.
- From 2018 onwards the school census for 2 and 3 year olds shows a notable swap from part-time to full-time attendance, likely to be due to the expanded offer of 30 hours free childcare. As a result the pupil projection assumes a further transfer of 3 year olds from part time to full time in the first few years.
- The lower than expected secondary age population in 2020 also affects the participation rates going forward.
- Direct immigration of pupils born outside the UK has a small effect on the school age population. However, the birth rate, which has a larger effect, is in turn affected by any increase in the number of children born to non-UK born women (who can have higher fertility rates). For more information on this see the methodology section.
- The overall effect of these changes is that the number of children (up to and including 15) attending all state-funded schools, which has been rising since 2010, is only projected to continue on an upwards trend until 2022 before starting to fall.
The 2020 national pupil projections are based on the latest (mid-2018 based) ONS population projections, replacing the mid-2016 based projections used in the previous pupil projections.
ONS use the most recent information on levels of fertility, migration and life expectancy to create up-to-date projections giving future population levels for England by age and gender.
In addition, the new pupil projections incorporate the latest pupil counts (January 2020) from the School Census and the latest birth figures (2018) from ONS. As well as providing actual data for 2020, these affect the pupil participation rates and proportions assumed to be attending each school type, which are used to calculate the pupil projections.
A comparison can be made between the new projections and those published in 2019 to gain an understanding of the effect of actual and projected changes on the future school population. Results for primary & nursery and secondary schools are compared in the chart below and the main changes compared to the 2019 model are summarised below:
- The actual census total for all state-funded schools in 2020 was 2,000 lower than previously projected. However, this breaks down into an increase totalling 10,000 between nursery & primary and special schools and a decrease totalling 12,000 between secondary and AP schools.
- By 2026 the projected figure for all state-funded schools is 179,000 lower than previously projected.
- The vast majority of this difference is found in nursery & primary schools, with only special schools showing an increase in the 2026 projection (3,000 higher than previously projected).
There are two main reasons for the difference between the two projection models:
- The drop in the number of births from late 2016 and subsequent reduction in ONS’s projected birth numbers.
- The lower assumed participation rates, which have been updated with actual data for 2020.
The projected number of migrants in the ONS national population projections also has an effect.
The ONS population projections which are the base for these pupil projections are created using assumptions of the level of future fertility, migration and life expectancy. However, there are uncertainties in the calculation of these components. As such, ONS produce a number of projections (called variants) based on alternative assumptions.
The table below shows the effect of key alternative variant projections on the pupil projections, and further data is available as part of this release.
Note the primary age projections are most affected because the fertility changes feed into the lower age ranges more quickly.
Population of primary and secondary age in 2026 under the variant projections, England
|population in 2026||difference to principal|
|Projection||nursery & primary age||secondary age||nursery & primary age||secondary age|
|Source: national population projections (2020 model). Figures in 000s|
More information on the census data which forms the start of the pupil projection model can be found in the publication ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics’ published on Explore Education Statistics (EES) here.
More information on ONS’s national population projections and their projection methodology can be found here.
These are Official Statistics and have been produced in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
This can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:
- meet identified user needs;
- are well explained and readily accessible;
- are produced according to sound methods;
- are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.
Once statistics have been designated as Official Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.
The Department has a set of statistical policies in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.
Help and support
If you have a specific enquiry about Pupils and schools statistics and data:
Pupils and School Finance team
Telephone: Helen Bray
0370 000 2288
If you have a media enquiry:
020 7925 6789
If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:
037 0000 2288
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