Academic year 2022/23

School capacity

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See all updates (2) for Academic year 2022/23
  1. Added national, regional and local authority level data for specialist provision in mainstream schools.

  2. Updated to amend wording on national pupil projections.

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This release publishes data reported by local authorities in England, in the annual School Capacity (SCAP) survey, as of 1 May 2023. 

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;
  • The Department's estimates of the future number of school places needed to meet predicted demand and future unfilled places; and
  • Specialist provision capacity.

Headline facts and figures - 2022/23

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  • Data guidance

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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 2023’, 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 in 2010. Even in times of a declining population, there will still be increasing demand in some areas of the country.

Between May 2022 and 2023, there was a net increase of just under 1,000 primary places and over 24,000 secondary places – over 25,000 in total. The net change reflects both increases and decreases in capacity within state-funded mainstream schools in England.

The rate of primary places being added has continued to slow, with this year showing an increase of 0.02% compared to last year. Prior to that, in 2021/22 the rate of places added was 0.1% (5,000 places), 0.5% (27,000) per year between 2018/19 and 2020/21, and over 2% (100,000 places) per year between 2012/13 and 2015/16.

Some regions saw a reduction in the number of primary places between 2022 and 2023. This is expected due to the reduction in actual primary pupil numbers since 2018/19 following the birth rate decline (opens in a new tab) between 2012 and 2020.

Secondary places have increased by around 1% (around 36,000 places) per year on average since 2010/11. These places have been added in preparation for, and in line with, the increase in actual secondary pupil numbers since 2015/16. This increase in pupil numbers is due to the larger cohort born between 2008 to 2012 now being in secondary school phase.

Overall, there has been a net increase of over 1,187,000 school places since 2010 when the survey began, consisting of 722,000 primary and 466,000 secondary places. 

School sixth form capacity

Secondary places include places in school sixth forms. In 2023, almost 539,000 sixth form places were reported in 2,000 schools. This is similar to 2022 (538,000). The number of sixth form pupils on roll has stayed similar to 2022 at 415,000.

In 2023, 77% of schools were reported as having unfilled sixth form places (fewer pupils on roll than capacity) and 23% of schools were reported as having more sixth form pupils than reported capacity. This is similar to 2022.

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. 

Overall, the number of state-funded schools that were at or in excess of capacity in 2023 is similar to 2022 at 3,670 (18% of schools). This is lower than the 4,370 (22%) schools in 2010 when the series began. 

The number of state-funded primary schools that were at or in excess of capacity remained similar to 2022, at 2,880 schools (17%) in 2023. Of which, 520 are operating at but not in excess of capacity, 1,600 exceed by fewer than 10 pupils and 760 exceed by 10 or more pupils.

The number of state-funded secondary schools that were at or in excess of capacity remained similar to 2022, at 790 schools (23%) in 2023. Of which, 10 are operating at but not in excess of capacity, 130 exceed by fewer than 10 pupils, and 640 exceed 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.

The number of pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity was similar to 2022 at 59,000 (0.7% of places) in 2023. This is lower than the 97,000 pupils in places that exceeded their schools' capacity in 2010 (1.2% of places). 

In primary schools, there were just under 22,000 pupils in places that exceed their school's capacity, a decrease since 2022. This is in line with a decrease in pupil numbers, as the proportion of places is similar to recent years at 0.4%.

In secondary schools, there were 37,000 pupils in places that exceeded their school’s capacity, an increase since 2022. This increase is in line with a rise in pupil numbers in 2023, as the proportion of  places remains the same at 0.9%. This continues the upward trend in recent years, which corresponds to the school-age population that is now in secondary school phase.

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 2023, 83% of primary schools (nearly 14,000) had one or more unfilled places. This rate has been the same since 2021 and maintains the highest rate 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 rate has been the same since 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 places unfilled 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 2023, there were 578,000 unfilled places in primary schools, an increase of 1% from 569,000 in 2022, and 26% more than in 2010 (458,000). 

There were 465,000 unfilled places in secondary schools, a decrease of 7% from 502,000 in 2022, although 31% more than 2010 (355,000).

Overall, in primary and secondary schools, there were 1 million unfilled places (12% of total school places available), a decrease of 28,000 places since 2022, however the proportion of the total places available remains similar. This is an increase from 814,000 places in 2010 (10% of total school places available). The increase is a combination of the population having moved into and then out of primary over 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 3% (Wolverhampton) to 29% (Westminster and Lambeth). For secondary schools this ranges from between 3% (Kensington and Chelsea) to 24% (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 of around 1% per year until the end of the forecast period (2027/28). 

In contrast, the total number of forecast secondary school pupils continues to increase to 3.7 million pupils in 2027/28 then declines until the end of the forecast period (2029/30). 

Broadly speaking, these trends are also seen in the national pupil projections. However, local authorities forecast higher numbers and a later peak in secondary pupil numbers. 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 years.

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 54,000 places by 2025/26. This planned net increase has reduced in recent years, demonstrating that demand is slowing down.

Future school places still needed (place planning)

The department use SCAP2023 data, as well as internal data, to produce place planning estimates up to 2027/28 for primary and 2029/30 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 2023 show an estimated 30,000 primary places are still needed across England in order to meet demand in academic year 2027/28. 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 2027/28, with an estimated total of 40,000 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’).

Special educational needs provision – official statistics in development

Official statistics in development

Data on special educational needs (SEN) provision was collected for the first time in SCAP in 2023 to help support both the Department for Education (DfE) and the local government sector to better identify the location and number of specialist school places that may be needed in future.

These figures are published as official statistics in development. 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. An account of the methods used, and the accuracy, reliability, and value of the data are set out in the methodology document. As a new data collection, we expect the quality of the data returns to improve over time as the collection becomes established, however it should be noted that all local authorities returned data as requested for this first collection.

We welcome user feedback on these statistics via the details in the “contact us” section below.


Local authorities provided the capacity, as at May 2023, of special schools plus SEN units and resourced provision in mainstream schools, as defined in the data collection guidance (opens in a new tab). This includes post-16 capacity in secondary specialist provision, where appropriate, and does not include independent or alternative provision. 

Capacity reported in SCAP may not reflect the current pupils on roll in a school due to the different and changing needs that a school caters for. Please note that due to the varied nature of specialist educational needs provision, there can be high amounts of local variation that national figures do not capture. This section provides national level indicators, and data is available at school, local authority and regional level in the underlying data.


Special Schools

Local authorities reported capacity at May 2023 for 1,077 special schools; 197 primary, 275 secondary, and 605 all through special schools. Special schools include local authority maintained special schools, special academies, and non-maintained special schools. 

There were 148,000 special school places reported; 60,000 primary places and 88,000 secondary places. 

The corresponding pupil numbers on roll from the May 2023 school census for these special schools were around 152,000 pupils in total; 58,000 in primary and 94,000 in secondary. This means that there are approximately 4,000 more pupils on roll in special schools than reported capacity. This is due to the number of schools at or over capacity (around two thirds), but also may be a result of the way capacity has been measured which does not take account of type of need. 

The surplus of primary special places according to the data may be a result of how the total capacity of all-through schools has been apportioned between the primary and secondary phases.


SEN units and resourced provision in mainstream schools 

Local authorities reported SEN unit and resourced provision capacity at May 2023 for 1,631 mainstream schools (local authority maintained and academies); 1,060 primary and 571 secondary. 

There were 9,000 places in SEN units in mainstream schools reported; 6,000 in primary schools and 3,000 in secondary. There were 18,000 places in resourced provision in mainstream schools reported; 10,000 in primary schools and 8,000 in secondary. 

There are no corresponding pupil numbers on roll in SEN units and resourced provision available from the published school census.

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.

The Education, health and care plans, Reporting year 2023 and the Special educational needs in England, Academic year 2022/23 publications both contain information about pupils with special educational needs. The data on capacity and forecasts in this publication are a subset of these populations due to the age groups and provision types asked about in SCAP. Like for like comparisons cannot be made directly, but the data in these two publications provide a picture of historic trends that are useful for context.

Although the school census collects pupil level data on where children attend school we cannot construct a like for like count of pupils on roll in each school that has been reported as having a SEN unit or resourced provision in SCAP. 

Capacity data in this publication may differ to other sources due to different methods of measurement being used, the types of need schools cater for, and the timing of any measurements. 

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

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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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