Academic year 2021/22

School capacity

View latest data: Academic year 2022/23This is not the latest data
Last updated
See all updates (1) for Academic year 2021/22
  1. About these statistics section updated and definition of schools at or over capacity updated.

Release type


This release publishes data reported by local authorities in England, in the annual School Capacity (SCAP) survey, as of 1 May 2022. 

Information is included on: 

  • The numbers of primary and secondary state-funded school places in mainstream schools; 
  • Unfilled school places and pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity; 
  • Sixth form capacity;
  • Local authorities’ forecast pupil numbers;
  • Local authorities' planned changes to school places; and
  • The Department's estimates of the future number of school places needed to meet predicted demand and future unfilled places. 

Headline facts and figures - 2021/22

Explore data and files used in this release

  • View or create your own tables

    View tables that we have built for you, or create your own tables from open data using our table tool

  • Data catalogue

    Browse and download open data files from this release in our data catalogue

  • Data guidance

    Learn more about the data files used in this release using our online guidance

  • Download all data (ZIP)

    Download all data available in this release as a compressed ZIP file

Additional supporting files

All supporting files from this release are listed for individual download below:

About these statistics

These statistics are used by the department to estimate the future need for additional school places, to aid departmental monitoring of local authority school place sufficiency, and to support a range of policy developments and operational decisions. 

Findings in this commentary are at a national level though information at regional, local authority, school or planning area level are provided in the data files associated with this release. Definition of planning area can be found in methodology.

In the commentary, pupil numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand (or to the nearest hundred or ten thousand where appropriate) and school numbers to the nearest ten. Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number. Unrounded numbers are provided in the accompanying tables and data files. 

School place provision in local areas

This publication may be of interest to users who wish to see data on school place provision in their area.

To view local authority level data, please view the featured tables.

To view school level data, you can search for specific schools when creating tables from the school level capacity and school sixth form capacity data. School names may differ between academic years so please select all versions of the school’s name to see all available data. 

School capacity measures vary depending on the type of school and any exceptional circumstances. In some cases, the number of pupils on roll can be higher than the reported capacity, even though the school is comfortably accommodating all pupils. Please read the methodology, including the definitions of school capacity and schools at or over capacity, for more information.

Future school place demand in local areas

To view planning area level data, download the forecasts, planned places or place planning estimates file and filter on planning area in the geographic level column. You can find a schools’ planning area code in the school level capacity file. 

Please read ‘School Place Planning Estimates Technical Guidance 2022’, in supporting files, for guidance on interpreting the place planning estimates. The commentary reports on ‘additional need only’ estimates which are provided in the ‘School place planning estimates’ data file at national, regional, local authority and planning area level. A second version of estimates, ‘additional need minus spare places’ are also provided at local authority and planning area level only. These estimates take into account spare places and are most valid at planning area and year group level. Negative figures show estimates of future unfilled school places.

Current school capacity

Primary and secondary state-funded school places

Local authorities are expected to add school places where needed. These changes in school capacity are reflected in the number of school places reported in the SCAP survey as at 1 May each year. In times of population growth, the number of school places is expected to increase, as they have done since the survey began. Even in times of a declining population, there will still be increasing demand in some areas of the country.

Between May 2021 and 2022, there has been a net increase of 5,000 primary places and over 41,000 secondary places – nearly 47,000 in total. This overall net change reflects both increases and decreases in capacity within state-funded mainstream schools in England.

The rate of primary places being added has slowed dramatically to 0.1% (5,000 places) in 2021/22. This is after previous increases of over 2% (over 100,000 places) per year from 2012/13 to 2015/16 and of around 0.5% (around 27,000 places) per year on average from 2018/19 to 2020/21. Some regions have seen a reduction in the number of primary places between 2021 and 2022. This is expected, due to the reduction in actual primary pupil numbers seen since 2019 following the birth rate decline between 2012 and 2020.

Secondary places have increased by around 1% (around 37,000 places) per year on average since 2010/11, with some fluctuation. These places have been added in preparation for, and are in line with, the increase in actual secondary pupil numbers since 2015. This increase in pupil numbers is due to the large birth cohort from 2008 to 2012 moving through the secondary phase.

Combined with all the changes in previous years, there has been a net increase of just under 1,162,000 school places since 2010, consisting of 721,000 primary places, and 441,000 secondary places. 

School sixth form capacity

Secondary places include places in school sixth forms. In 2022, over 538,000 sixth form places were reported in 2,000 schools. This is a 1% increase since 2021 (535,000). The number of sixth form pupils on roll in these schools have increased by 2% to 415,000 (from 407,000 in 2021). 

The proportion of schools with unfilled sixth form places (pupil on roll is lower than capacity) is 77% in 2022, which is slightly lower than 78% in 2021. In 2022, 24% of schools were reported as having more sixth form pupils than reported capacity, which is higher than in 2021 (22%). This is in line with the rising secondary school population. 

Current pupils in places

Schools at or over capacity

A school is identified as at or in excess of capacity when their pupil number on roll is greater than or equal to capacity. A schools’ reported capacity may not reflect the entirety of a school’s physical space, and therefore in some cases the number of pupils on roll can be higher than the capacity, without the school being overcrowded. Some schools choose to operate in excess of their stated capacity because they feel that they can comfortably do so. Schools sometimes use non-teaching accommodation for example a library for teaching space. 

In total the number of state-funded schools that were at or in excess of capacity has increased to 3,640 (18% of schools) in 2022, from 3,540 (18%) in 2021. This is still low compared to 4,370 (22%) schools that were at or in excess of capacity in 2010. 

The number of state-funded primary schools that were at or in excess of capacity increased by 90 schools to 2,870 schools in May 2022 (from 2,790 schools in May 2021).  This increase may be a reflection of increased demand or school reorganisation in some areas. The proportion of primary schools at or in excess of capacity remains similar at 17%. Of the 2,870 schools in 2022, 490 (3%) are operating at but not in excess of capacity; 1,630 (10%) exceed by fewer than 10 pupils; and 750 (4%) exceed by 10 or more pupils. 

The number of state-funded secondary schools that were at or in excess of capacity increased by 20 schools to 770 schools, 23% of secondary schools, in May 2022 (from 750 schools, 22% in May 2021). This increase corresponds to the larger cohort moving into the secondary phase. However, this is still lower than 2010 (930, 28%). Of the secondary schools in 2022, 16 (0.5%) are operating at but not in excess of capacity; 130 (4%) exceeded by fewer than 10 pupils; and 630 (18%) exceeded by 10 or more pupils. 

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.

In total the number of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity has increased to 59,000 (0.7% of places) in 2022, from 56,000 (0.6%) in 2021. This is still low compared to 97,000 pupils (1.2%) in places that exceed their schools' capacity in 2010. 

In primary schools, there were 22,000 pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity. This is a 7% increase from the 21,000 pupils in 2021. This increase follows a period of decline since 2013/14 but is still lower than 2019 levels and may be a reflection of increased demand or school reorganisation in some areas.  The proportion of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity remains similar at around 0.5%.

In secondary schools, there were 37,000 pupils in places that exceeded their school’s capacity. This is a 4% increase from 35,000 pupils in 2021. This increase is in line with a rise in pupil numbers in 2022, as the proportion of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity remains the same at around 1%. This continues the upward trend in recent years, which corresponds to the large cohort moving through secondary. 

Unfilled places

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 the capacity and the number on roll.

As of May 2022, 83% of primary schools (nearly 14,000) had one or more unfilled places, the same proportion as in 2021. This is the highest percent in over a decade, reflective of the falling primary population. 

For secondary schools, 77% had one or more unfilled place (nearly 3,000 schools). This percentage is similar to 2021.  The proportion of secondary schools with unfilled places rose steadily from 72% in 2010 to 86% in 2016 as secondary schools added capacity in preparation for the larger secondary population.  Since then, the proportion of unfilled places has fallen as secondary pupil numbers increased.

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.

In 2022, there were 569,000 unfilled places in primary schools, an increase of 2% from 561,000 in 2021, and 24% more than in 2010 (458,000). 

In secondary schools there were 502,000 unfilled places in 2022, a decrease of 5% from 529,000 in 2021, although 41% more than 2010 (355,000).

For primary and secondary schools, the total number of unfilled places was nearly 1.1 million in 2022 (12% of total school places available). This has decreased by 18,000 places (2%) since 2021. However, this is an increase from 814,000 places in 2010 (10% of total school places available). This increase is a combination of the larger population having moved into and out of primary in the last 12 years, and secondary capacity being added in preparation.

At local authority level there is variation in the percentage of unfilled school places. For primary schools this ranges from 2% to 27%. City of London (2%) and Trafford (3%) have the lowest and Lambeth (27%) and Wandsworth (27%) the highest percentage of unfilled places. For secondary schools this ranges from between 2% (Kensington and Chelsea) to 26% (Barking and Dagenham). 

Future demand for school places

Local authority pupil forecasts

Each local authority uses a fairly similar methodology coupled with their own local knowledge to generate pupil forecasts, 5 academic years ahead for primary and 7 academic years ahead for secondary. The forecasts reflect the number of pupils they expect to provide a place for, in each year group for each academic year, in each pupil place planning area .  

The total anticipated number of primary pupils forecast by local authorities in England shows a decline after 2021/22 of no more than 1% per year until the end of the forecast period (2026/27). 

In contrast, the total number of forecast secondary school pupils continues to increase by around 2% per year on average to 3.7 million in 2025/26.  It is then forecast to remain at this level until the end of the forecast period (2028/29). 

These trends are also seen in the national pupil projections, however local authorities forecast higher numbers in total and predict that the peak will happen one year later for primary and two years later for secondary. See ‘Relationship with National Pupil Projections publication’ for further information on reasons for differences.

Please note there will be double counting in these total forecasts, because of the expectation that some pupils will move to a different local authority within an academic year, and so need a place in both places within the same year. 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 yearsUncertainty remains in this latest set of forecasts, due to the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic; the UK’s exit from the EU; and migration from Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Ukraine and other asylum seekers on local authorities' ability to accurately forecast.

Local authority planned changes to school places

Local authorities add and remove places to manage their school estates as necessary according to future demand. Local authority planned places are the cumulative number of places local authorities plan to add or remove in the next three academic years, at the time of the survey. They exclude places planned through DfE programmes such as centrally funded Free Schools. 

Local authorities have reported a planned net increase of just under 63,000 places by 2024/25. This is fewer places than the planned increase for 3 years ahead, as reported in SCAP2021, again demonstrating that demand is slowing down.

Future school places still needed (place planning)

The department use SCAP2022 data, as well as internal data, to produce place planning estimates up to 2026/27 for primary and 2028/29 for secondary. These show the estimated number of additional places needed to meet future predicted demand in each national curriculum year group and pupil place planning area. These estimates of places needed, are in addition to the local authority planned places reported in SCAP.

The cumulative aggregate estimates as at 1 May 2022, show an estimated 28,000 primary places are still needed across England in order to meet demand in academic year 2026/27. This is despite the expected decline in primary pupils nationally. Even in times of a declining population, there will still be increasing demand in some areas of the country. Secondary shows a growing rate of need for places up to 2026/27, with an estimated total of 42,000 places needed in order to meet demand. 

These estimates identify place need only, setting aside spare places identified within the calculation of estimates. This acknowledges that pressure in one part of a local authority cannot necessarily be offset by spare places in another area. 

Caution should be taken with interpretation of these estimates. Further information on how these estimates are calculated, how to interpret them and their limitations is provided in the technical guide to the school place planning estimates accompanying this release (see supporting files under 'Explore data and files’).

Comparison to other statistics

The total national level forecasts of demand for school places 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 in each of their local areas, incorporating their own local-level information. The department’s main pupil projections are produced at national level only within the department using a set methodology. They are published annually as an official statistical release. See ‘Relationship with National Pupil Projections publication’ for more information.

Help and support


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 or via the OSR website.

Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about School capacity statistics and data:

Pupil Place Planning team

Contact name: Simone Cardin-Stewart

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone: 020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

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

Telephone: 037 0000 2288

Opening times:
Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays)