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This release reports on school capacity information in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England in the academic year 2018/19, as of 1 May 2019. Data are as reported by local authorities in the annual School Capacity (SCAP) Survey.
Information is included on:
- The numbers of primary and secondary school places from 2009/10 to 2018/19;
- Unfilled school places and pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity;
- Local authorities’ pupil forecasts up to 2023/24 at primary level and 2025/26 at secondary level;
- Forecasts of places to be funded through housing developer contributions (HDCs) up to 2023/24 at primary level and 2025/26 at secondary level;
- Local authority planned places to 2021/22, including additional, bulge and removed places;
- Comparisons of forecasts with capacity to estimate the future number of places needed;
- Experimental statistics collected on sixth form capacity in schools from 2017/18 to 2018/19
This release was first published at School capacity: academic year 2018 to 2019 on 26 March 2020. It has been migrated to the Explore Education Statistics platform to improve user access to school capacity data although it is still accessible at the link above. This release now also includes a timeseries of school capacity data back to 2009/10 and a timeseries of school sixth form capacity data back to 2017/18.
Findings in this report are at a national level though information at regional, local authority, and school (school capacity and school sixth form capacity) or planning area level (forecasts, planned places and place planning estimates) are provided in the data files associated with this release.
All underlying data files and the technical guidance for the school place planning estimates may be found in the ‘Download associated files’ dropdown below:
Headline facts and figures - 2018/19
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The numbers in this release are rounded to the nearest thousand for pupil level figures (or to the nearest ten thousand where appropriate) and to the nearest ten for school level numbers. Percentages are rounded to to the nearest whole number. Actual numbers are provided in the accompanying tables and data files.
The national level pupil forecasts in this release will differ from the national pupil projections published annually by the Department for Education due to methodological and timing reasons. This publication includes local authorities’ own forecasts of future pupil numbers, based on local-level information, such as inter-authority movement of pupils. The department’s main national-level pupil projections are produced by a different methodology within the department, at national level only, and are published annually as an official statistical release. See ‘Relationship with National Pupil Projections publication’ in the methodology accompanying this release for more information.
The overall net change in capacity (see ‘Definitions’ in the methodology accompanying this release) reflects both increases and decreases in capacity within schools. Between 2018 and 2019, there has been a net increase of 33,000 primary places and 49,000 secondary places – 83,000 in total.
The rate of primary places being added continues to slow, matching the slower increase in actual primary pupil numbers (see ‘Local authority pupil forecasts’). This is expected as the large birth cohort from 2008 to 2012 moves through the primary phase and into secondary, where the rate of places added also continues to increase. Secondary places have increased at a faster rate than actual secondary pupil numbers over recent years, in preparation for this large birth cohort, leading to a longer term increase in the proportion of secondary schools with unfilled places (see ‘Unfilled places’).
Combined with all the changes in previous years, there has been a net increase of 1,003,000 additional places since 2010, consisting of 669,000 primary places, and 334,000 secondary places. Places in middle schools and all through schools are reported as deemed (whether primary or secondary), and secondary places include those in school sixth forms.
A school is identified as at or in excess of capacity when their number on roll (see ‘Definitions’ in the methodology accompanying this release) is greater than or equal to capacity. Number on roll figures are taken from the summer (May) census, except for new schools (including schools that have become academies) where figures are based on data gathered from the school capacity (SCAP) survey.
The number of state-funded primary schools that were at or in excess of capacity decreased slightly to 3,340 schools (20%) in May 2019 from 3,520 schools (21%) in May 2018. This is the lowest number of primary schools operating at or in excess of capacity during the past decade.
For state-funded secondary schools, the number of schools that were at or in excess of capacity increased to 560 schools (17%) in May 2019 from 510 schools (15%) in May 2018. However, this is still significantly lower than the 930 secondary schools operating at or in excess of capacity in May 2010.
Pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity
Where the number on roll is higher than a school’s capacity, the number of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity is the difference between number on roll and capacity.
The number of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity (primary and secondary) has significantly decreased to 50,000 in 2019, from 97,000 in 2010
In primary schools, there were 25,000 pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity. This 7% decrease from the 27,000 pupils in 2018 continues the long-term decrease of primary pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity
In secondary schools, there were just under 25,000 pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity in 2019. This is a 12% increase from the 22,000 in 2018. There has been a slow increase in secondary pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity over more recent years.
A school has unfilled places if its capacity is higher than the number of pupils on roll. The number of unfilled places is the difference between capacity and number on roll.
For primary and secondary schools, the total number of unfilled places has increased over recent years, to 1.1 million places in 2019 (13% of total school places available) from 814,000 places in 2010 (10% of total school places available).
In 2019, there were 482,000 unfilled places in primary schools, an increase of 3% from 2018 and 5% more than in 2010. In secondary schools there were 621,000 unfilled places in 2019, a decrease of 3% from 2018, although still significantly higher than the number of unfilled places in 2010 (355,000).
As of May 2019, 80% of primary schools had one or more unfilled places. This increased slightly in 2019 but has been relatively static at between 77% and 80% since 2010. The percentage of secondary schools with one or more unfilled places decreased to 83% in 2019 from 85% in 2018, although has seen a longer- term increase from 72% in 2010.
Unfilled places can be evidence of local authorities having planned ahead for future need, as the increase in pupil numbers at primary level is now moving into secondary level and will continue to do so over the coming years. Unfilled places can also be attributed to the building of whole new schools, which fill up from the bottom, leaving space in the upper years until those year groups work their way through. In some areas, low or declining need for places will also contribute to the number of unfilled places.
Each local authority uses their local knowledge to generate pupil forecasts, which reflect the number of pupils they expect to provide a place for in each academic year. These forecasts include places which are funded through housing developer contributions (HDC).
Local authorities provide forecasts 5 years ahead for primary pupils (from reception to year group 6) and 7 years ahead for secondary pupils (from year group 7 through to sixth form).
The forecast number of primary pupils continues to rise until 2021/22. However, the rate of increase in the forecast number of primary school pupils looks to slow, leading to a forecast decline between 2021/22 and 2022/23 of 11,100 pupils. In contrast, the forecast number of secondary school pupils continues to increase, with an increase of over 120,000 pupils forecast between 2018/19 to 2019/20 alone. Beyond that, there is still strong growth, but this slows to a forecast increase of around 19,000 pupils between 2024/25 and 2025/26.
As with all forecasts, the level of accuracy is expected to reduce as forecasts are made further into the future and care should be taken when using forecasts from the later years.
These national pupil forecasts will differ from the national pupil projections published annually by the Department for Education due to methodological and timing reasons. See ‘Relationship with National Pupil Projections publication’ in the methodology accompanying this release for more information.
Local authority planned places are the number of places local authorities plan to add or remove, where funding has been committed. Planned places include the number of permanent additions, temporary bulge places (see ‘Definitions’ in the methodology accompanying this release) and, for the first time, places to be removed. Local authorities may add and remove places to manage their school estates as necessary according to future demand. Local authority planned places exclude those created through centrally funded DfE programmes such as Free Schools.
Local authorities have reported that they are planning to create 118,000 additional places by 2021/22. Local authorities also plan to create 11,000 temporary bulge places to accommodate large cohorts and remove 20,000 places by 2021/22. Taken all together local authorities are planning a net increase of 109,000 places.
The place planning estimates show the estimated number of places needed in order to meet future demand. These estimates are provided in the ‘School place planning estimates’ data file at national, regional, local authority and planning area level for readers interested in planning school place provision.
These estimates factor in existing capacity reported at 1 May 2019, additional capacity from local authorities planned places, and additional capacity being provided through centrally funded programmes (e.g. Free Schools). This capacity is then compared with the forecasts provided by the local authorities to estimate the number of places needed to meet demand in addition to places to be provided by local authorities and through centrally funded programmes.
The starting premise of the estimates is that identification of forecast need and identification of the corresponding capacity is carried out at planning area level (see ‘Definitions’ in the methodology accompanying this release) and national curriculum year group level, i.e. places have to be available in the correct planning area and year group. Further information on how these estimates are calculated, how to interpret them and their limitations is provided in the technical guidance to the school place planning estimates accompanying this release.
According to the data provided at 1 May 2019 and the analysis applied, an estimated 27,000 primary places were needed across England in order to meet demand in academic year 2019/20. Alternatively, looking further ahead, an estimated 53,000 primary places are needed across England to meet demand for academic year 2023/24. This translates to between 6,000 and 7,000 primary places needed each year.
The profile at secondary shows a growing rate of need for places up to 2023/24, with an estimated total of 77,000 places needed in order to meet demand. This translates to an annual need between 8,000 and 12,000 extra places to 2021/22 rising to between 19,000 and 21,000 places needed each year to 2023/24.
Care should be taken with interpretation of these estimates. Please refer to the technical guidance.
In the ‘School place planning estimates’ data file accompanying this release, two versions of place planning estimates are included: one shows estimated additional need only and the other shows estimated additional need minus the estimated number of spare places. The first version identifies places needed only, setting aside spare places identified within the calculation of the estimates. This acknowledges that pressure in one part of a local authority cannot necessarily be offset by spare places in another area. The second version retains spare places within the calculation, and allows for examination of the extent of spare places alongside places needed. This is because it is useful to know the extent of any spare capacity in neighbouring planning areas when making an overall assessment of the places required in an area. The national and regional figures for the second version are not provided as they would be unrepresentative and therefore meaningless, because pockets of demand and pockets of spare places are lost in the aggregation.
Sixth form capacity in schools was collected for the second time in the 2019 School Capacity survey, as a voluntary field. These statistics are still considered experimental as there may be limitations due to incomplete coverage and the requirement for further operational testing. They are, however, useful to assess capacity in sixth forms attached to schools and have been published for transparency purposes.
80% of local authorities with at least one school with pupils on roll in year groups 12, 13 or 14 submitted complete data compared to 65% in 2018. Where sixth form capacity data was submitted, the sixth form number on roll is lower than the sixth form capacity for 87% of schools.
The ‘School sixth form capacity: experimental statistics’ data file shows the number of reported school sixth form places at national, regional, local authority and school level in England for 2017/18 and 2018/19. A local authority may have submitted sixth form capacity for all their schools, some of their schools or none of their schools. These potential outcomes have been footnoted in the table.
Comparisons between 2017/18 and 2018/19 should be treated with caution. Changes from year to year may not reflect actual changes in figures, but may simply indicate improvements in data quality.
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, and
• are managed impartially and objectively in the public interest.
The Department has a set of statistical policies in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
Statistics on school sixth form capacity are experimental statistics undergoing evaluation. They have been developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics and published to involve users and stakeholders at an early stage in assessing their suitability and quality.
Help and support
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.
If you have a specific enquiry about School capacity statistics and data:
Pupil Place Planning team
Telephone: Natalie Paterson or Simone Cardin-Stewart
Email SCAP.PPP@education.gov.uk to arrange a call
If you have a media enquiry:
020 7783 8300
If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:
037 0000 2288
Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays)