Reporting year 2023

National pupil projections

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Introduction

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

These statistics are usually calculated based on ONS population estimates and projections, information on birth registrations in England and data derived from the school census. 

However, due to delays in their publication the ONS population estimates and projections are not yet available. Therefore for this 2023 publication alternative data sources have been used and projections reflect the best data available at the time:

  • Population estimates have been replaced, from 2012 onwards, by estimates from ONS’s dynamic population model (DPM) which take account of the results of the 2021 census.
  • The projections used are taken from the Greater London Authorities (GLA) population projections published in January 2023.

ONS monthly births data up to and including June 2022 and School Census data up to and including January 2023 have been used as normal.

All projections are subject to uncertainty as they depend on the information available at any given moment in time and cannot allow for future changes in demographic behaviour. However, given the change in source data, these projections should be used with more caution than usual. For more information please see the methodology document.

The data sources for the projections will be reviewed as ONS provide further updates.


Headline facts and figures - 2023

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National pupil projection results and comparison to previous model results

Time series of actual and projected nursery & primary and secondary pupil population (thousands)    

  

  20232024202520262027202820292030
State-funded nursery & primary schools4,5934,5104,4314,3504,2724,1814,1134,069
 year on year change -83-79-81-78-91-68-44
State-funded secondary schools3,1933,2443,2443,2383,2193,1913,1463,095
 year on year change 510-6-19-28-45-51
State-funded special schools131135136136135134132130
 year on year change 410-1-1-2-2
Alternative provision settings1313131313131212
 year on year change 00000-10
Total state-funded schools7,9317,9037,8247,7377,6397,5197,4027,305
 year on year change -28-79-87-98-120-117-97
  • The actual population in state-funded schools in 2023 was 7,931,000. This is projected to decrease by 802,000 (to 7,129,000) over the next nine years to 2032.
  • The projection model published in 2022 estimated a population of 6,915,000 in 2032[1], so the updated model shows an increase of 214,000 on the total at the end of its projection period.
  • As the population estimates from 2012 (which inform the rate of participation in education used for projections) have been updated, taking account of the results of the 2021 census, it is harder than usual to identify specific reasons for the difference between these two projection models. One reason could be the results of the 2023 school census, which showed higher numbers in primary school than had previously been forecast.
  • The changes to the population estimates have resulted in increased participation rates for the actual years (that is, as the estimates are lower than before, but with the school census figures unchanged, the percentage of the total school age population calculated as being in school has increased). These rates are projected forwards into the projected years, where they stay broadly stable at the new, higher level.
  • The following figures focus on projections up to 2028 in recognition of the increased uncertainty in projections beyond that point. 
  • 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 762,000 in 2028. This is 7.7% lower than the actual figure for 2023 (826,000).
  • This population decrease is due to the lower births, both actual to 2022 and also projected into the future. However, the decline is not as fast as forecast last year after some recovery in births was seen in 2021.

State-funded nursery & primary schools

  • The overall population in these school types is projected to be 4,181,000 in 2028. This is 412,000 lower than the actual figure in 2023 (4,593,000).
  • The figure for 2028 is 116,000 higher than was forecast in the model published in 2022, a difference of 2.9%.
  • The nursery & primary population is therefore still projected to drop, but at a slower rate.

State-funded secondary schools

  • The secondary school population is projected to be 3,191,000 in 2028. This is 2,000 lower than the total in 2023 (3,193,000).
  • The figure for 2028 is 28,000 higher than was forecast in the model published in 2022, a difference of 0.9%.
  • The pattern of change in the secondary school population (peaking in 2024-2025 then slowly starting to drop) is unchanged.
     

[1] Figure not previously published

Actual (2023) and projected pupil numbers by school type, England

line chart showing the actual and projected number of pupils in nursery and primary and, separately, secondary schools over time

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.

Births

  • 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.
  • Births increased in 2021 although early indications are that this is likely to be a one-off, potentially pandemic related, rather than the start of a new trend.
  • A period of lower births feed into the projections as generally, in demography,  trends are assumed to continue into the future, at least in the short term.

Participation rates

  • These are calculated based on the number of pupils attending school (from the School Census) measured against the total population figures.
  • It is therefore important to use population estimates and projections that accurately reflect the overall population size, now the 2021 census results are available.
  • The participation rates are particularly important in the early years, since parents can choose whether or not to send their children aged under 5 to school.
  • The participation rates for each school type are projected into the future as the basis of the calculations of projected numbers. 
  • These rates are affected by any unusual patterns in the underlying total population or the school census data. For example, the large drop in the number of children recorded as attending state-funded alternative provision in 2021 (17% lower compared to the 2020 school census) would have dropped the participation rate for that school type significantly.
  • Now we have access to school census data up to 2023 we can start to assess the longevity of the effect of the pandemic and, if needed, adjust the methodologies accordingly. See further information in the methodology section.

Immigration

  • 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.

Source data

As the 2021 census data became available the population estimates back to the previous census need to be reconsidered. ONS are due to issue these rebased population estimates, but they have been delayed in order to align with updated migration statistics. In their place this release uses population estimates produced by ONS’s dynamic population model (DPM). This is an improved way of calculating population estimates based on a combination of historic time series data and real-time information from administrative sources such as GP records and HMRC data. These are currently experimental statistics. 

The projected total population figures are taken from the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) population projections (the 5-year migration trend variant). These have been used as they include mid-2021 population estimates and take account of the results of the 2021 census. ONS’s most recent population projections are still 2020-based (albeit with more recent migration adjustments) so do not account for the 2021 census.

Further explanation on both datasets is given in the methodology document accompanying this release.

Alternative scenarios

These pupil projections only have a single, principal, projection.

Further information

More information on the school census data which forms the start of the pupil projection model, and the differences seen in 2023, can be found in the publication ‘Schools, Pupils and their Characteristics’ published on Explore Education Statistics (EES) here.

More information on the source data used in the production of this projection can be found in the methodology document. 

Help and support

Methodology

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.

Our statistical practice is regulated by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR).

OSR sets the standards of trustworthiness, quality and value in the Code of Practice for Statistics that all producers of official statistics should adhere to.

You are welcome to contact us directly with any comments about how we meet these standards. Alternatively, you can contact OSR by emailing regulation@statistics.gov.uk or via the OSR website.

Contact us

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

Pupils and School Finance team

Email: PupilPopulation.PROJECTIONS@education.gov.uk
Contact name: Helen Bray

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone: 020 7783 8300

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

Telephone: 037 0000 2288

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