Reporting Year 2021

National pupil projections

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This annual release provides national projections for the number of pupils in schools in England by type of school and age.

This year only a simple update to the 2020 model has been created with the addition of newly available 2019 national population estimates and births from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The reasons for this are:

  • There are no new ONS national projections giving new estimates of the future overall population
  • The 2021 school census data shows notable decreases in enrolment in nursery and primary schools and alternative provision compared to previous years. These are expected to be temporary, as a result of the pandemic, rather than long-term changes. However, using this data results in decreases across future years which are not considered to be realistic estimates of the pupil population over the next ten years.

The new 2019 ONS data provides additional information on factors such as whether birth figures have continued the drop seen since late 2016. Therefore feeding this data into the existing model provides a useful update on expected future pupil numbers. 

Headline facts and figures - 2021

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National pupil projection results and comparison to previous model results

Actual (2020) and projected pupil numbers by school type, England

State-funded nursery & primary schools4,6474,6354,5974,5314,4544,3954,345
 year on year change -12-38-66-77-59-50
State-funded secondary schools3,0033,0723,1333,1933,2313,2283,216
 year on year change 69616038-3-12
State-funded special schools113117119120121120119
 year on year change 4211-1-1
Alternative provision settings15161717181818
 year on year change 110100
Total state-funded schools7,7787,8397,8657,8627,8247,7617,699
 year on year change 6126-3-38-63-62

Source: national population projections (update to the 2020 model). Figures in 000s

  • The actual population in state-funded schools in 2020 was 7,778,000. This is projected to decrease by 398,000 (to 7,380,000) over the next ten years to 2030.
  • The original 2020 projection model estimated a population of 7,370,000 in 2030, so the updated model shows an increase of 10,000 on the total at the end of the projection period.
  • The difference is primarily because of the participation rates (the proportion of the overall population being in school) being very slightly higher in the updated model, due to the ONS population estimates for 2019 being slightly smaller than the figures previously forecast for that year.

Early years figure

  • This age group includes 4 year olds in reception class, which virtually all children attend, as well as the younger ages. Overall it has a higher proportion of children attending part-time and therefore is best reported as a full-time equivalent (FTE) population.
  • On that basis the FTE population of under 5 year olds in state funded education is projected to be 783,000 in 2026. This is 8% lower than the actual figure for 2020 (852,000).
  • This population decrease is due to the lower number of births, which directly feed into the model.

State-funded nursery & primary schools

  • The overall population in these school types is projected to be 4,345,000 in 2026. This is 302,000 lower than the actual figure in 2020 (4,647,000).
  • The figure for 2026 is 3,000 higher than was forecast in the original 2020 model, a difference of 0.1%.

State-funded secondary schools

  • The secondary school population is projected to be 3,216,000 in 2026. This is 213,000 higher than the total in 2020 (3,003,000).
  • The figure for 2026 is 6,000 higher than was forecast in the original 2020 model, a difference of 0.2%.
  • The pattern of change in the secondary school population (peaking in 2024 then very slowly starting to drop) is unchanged.

Components of change

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.

Participation rates

  • 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.
  • This factor would have been directly affected by the unusual patterns in the 2021 school census data. For example, the large drop in the number of children recorded as attending state-funded alternative provision (17% lower compared to the 2020 census) would have dropped the participation rate significantly.
  • That participation rate would then have played a large part in calculating the projected numbers in that school type.
  • By not projecting the model forwards to 2021 these anomalies are avoided.


  • 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.

Alternative scenarios

No variant projections have been produced this year. The methodology document explains why this is the case.

Further information

More information on the census data which forms the start of the pupil projection model, and the differences seen in 2021, 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

Official statistics

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.

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

Official statistics

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 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

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

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about National pupil projections statistics and data:

Pupils and School Finance team


Telephone: Helen Bray
0370 000 2288

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020 7783 8300

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If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

037 0000 2288