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Schools, pupils and their characteristics
- Last updated
See all updates (4) for Academic year 2019/20
Figures for Infant free school meals for 2015/16 and 2016/17 have been corrected. Headcount for free school meals corrected for 15/16 and 16/17 and percentages added Metadata pages updated
Cross border movement data and commentary added.
A correction has been made to the underlying data for school characteristics. Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Shropshire, Durham and Camden were displaying incorrectly for 2017/18 and 2019/20. National and regional figures are unaffected. The table for LA maintained, academy and independent schools has been corrected in the School numbers section. Previously, independent schools and LA maintained were shown as one total.
A correction was made to the alternative provision figures. Cambridgeshire and Shropshire appeared twice in the underlying data for 2017/18 and 2018/19 affecting regional and national totals.
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This release contains the latest statistics on school and pupil numbers and their characteristics, including:
- free school meals (FSM) eligibility
- English as an additional language
- school characteristics
- class sizes
The publication combines information from the school census, school level annual school census, general hospital school census and alternative provision census.
Headline facts and figures - 2019/20
- There are 8.89 million pupils in England in 2020. This is an increase of 71,000 from 2019
- These pupils attend 24,360 schools, an increase of 37 from 2019
- The average class size for key stage 1 has reduced to 26.9, from 27.1
- The average class size for key stage 2 has remained at 27.9
- 17.3% of pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, an increase from 15.4% in 2019
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Additional supporting files
The number of school pupils has risen
By 71,100 to 8.89 million in 2020. This continues a trend of year on year increases going back to 2009.
By school type,
- The number of pupils in state-funded primary schools has decreased by 12,300 (0.3%) to 4.71 million. This is the first decrease since 2010.
- The number of pupils in state-funded secondary schools has risen by 81,300 to 3.41 million, continuing a trend of year on year increases since 2016.
- The number of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased by 6,400 (5.3%) to 128,100, continuing a trend seen since 2006. The number of pupils in non-maintained special schools has also increased, by 100 (3.2%) to just under 3,800.
- The number of pupils attending independent schools has decreased by 3,600 (0.6%) to 576,900. This figure includes independent special schools and continues a trend seen since 2017.
The figures exclude dual subsidiary registered pupils. In 2020, there were 10,800 dual subsidiary pupils recorded in pupil referral units (including academy and free school alternative provision).
There were 633,500 pupils in reception year in 2020. The number of pupils in each year group increases to year 3, before the trend reverses and lower numbers are seen in each higher year group. This is in line with national pupil projections, and further increases in pupil numbers in secondary schools are expected to occur as the higher number of primary school pupils progress to secondary school.
There are more boys than girls
As in previous years, there are more boys in school than girls, in line with ONS population estimates, and the numbers of both boys and girls have increased since 2019. The ratio in 2020 is approximately 51:49 and shows no noticeable change over the past 5 years.
Types of Schools
State-funded primary schools and state-funded secondary schools– Primary schools typically accept pupils aged 5-10 and secondary schools aged 11 and above, but there are increasing numbers of All-through schools, who take pupils of all compulsory school ages. These schools include academies and free schools and are included in the totals for secondary schools.
State-funded special schools – these are schools which provide tailored provision for pupils with special educational needs.
Alternative provision – these are education settings for children unable to attend a mainstream school. Local authority maintained establishments providing alternative provision, are often referred to as pupil referral units. There are also an increasing number of alternative provision academies and free schools.
Independent schools and non-maintained special schools – these are registered schools which do not receive government funding. They often charge fees for pupils to attend.
State-funded nursery – these are nurseries maintained by the local authority in which they operate. Other nurseries, such as private and voluntary nurseries, are not included in the school census. Schools with a nursery attached will complete the school census as a school rather than as a nursery.
The number of schools in England had increased
There are 37 more schools in 2020 than in 2019. Specifically;
- There has been an increase in the number of primary schools, by 15 to 16,784. The average size of a primary school is 281 pupils. This has varied little in recent years, ranging from 279 in 2017 to 282 in 2019.
- There has also been an increase in the number of secondary schools, by 8 to 3,456. The average size of a secondary school is 986, up from 965 in 2019. This continues a trend that began in 2017, when the average size was 946 pupils.
- There has been an increase in the number of state-funded special schools, by 7 to 993, while the number of non-maintained special schools has remained at 58. The average size of a state-funded special school is 129, compared to 120 in 2019.
The number of pupils attending academies has continued to grow, along with the number of academies. At January 2020,
- 35% of primary schools are now academies or free schools, up from 32% in 2019. These schools account for 37% of the primary school population
- 77% of secondary schools are academies or free schools, up from 75% in 2019. This accounts for 77% of secondary school pupils
For up-to-date information on open academies, free schools, studio schools and UTCs, see the monthly transparency data
Free school meals eligibility
Important note: Entitlement to free school meals is determined by the receipt of income-related benefits, full details are given at the end of this chapter.
The percentage of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals has increased
across all schools from 15.4% in 2019 to 17.3% in 2020. This follows a similar increase from 2018 (13.6%) to 2019.
Since 1 April 2018, transitional protections have been in place which will continue to be in place during the roll out of Universal Credit. This has meant that pupils eligible for free school meals on or after 1 April 2018 retain their free school meals eligibility even if their circumstances change. This has been the main driver in the increase in the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals as pupils continue to become eligible but fewer pupils stop being eligible.
Entitlement has increased across most school types
- The percentage of pupils in state-funded primary schools known to be eligible for free school meals has increased from 15.8% to 17.7% in 2020.
- The percentage of pupils in state-funded secondary schools has also increased from 14.1% to 15.9% in 2020
- The percentage of pupils in state-funded special schools has increased from 38.3 to 40.1% in 2020
For further information, see “Free school meals: guidance for schools and local authorities” and this release’s methodology document.
Free School Meals: Who was entitled?
In England in January 2020, children in state-funded schools were entitled to receive free school meals if a parent or carer were in receipt of any of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- Child Tax Credit (provided they were not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and had an annual gross income of no more than £16,190, as assessed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs)
- Working Tax Credit run-on - paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
- Universal Credit - if you apply on or after 1 April 2018 your household income must be less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits)
Universal Infant Free school meals
1.7 million infants took a free school meal on census day, of which 1.4 million who are not normally eligible and so received them under the Universal Infant FSM policy, similar to last year.
Minority Ethnic background
Those pupils of all school age who have been classified according to their ethnic group and are of any origin other than White British are defined as being of minority ethnic background.
The proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds has been rising steadily over recent years
- In primary schools, 33.9% of pupils are of minority ethnic backgrounds (up from 33.5% in January 2019).
- In secondary schools, 32.3% of pupils are of minority ethnic backgrounds (up from 31.3%).
- In special schools, 30.2% of pupils are of minority ethnic backgrounds (up from 29.5%).
- Pupils from Asian groups are the largest minority ethnic group in state-funded nursery (17.6%), primary (11.3%), secondary (11.6%) and special schools (10.3%).
- White non-British pupils are the second largest minority group in state-funded primary (8.1%) and secondary schools (6.4%).
- In pupil referral units, there is a higher percentage of white British pupils (70.7%) than in all schools overall (65.4%), however this has also reduced very slightly from 70.8% in 2019.
- Other ethnic groups in pupil referral units have seen slight decreases with black ethnic groups seeing the largest reduction from 6.8% to 6.1%. There has been a large increase in those recorded as unclassified ethnic group in 2020, from 2.5% to 3.8%.
English as an additional language
A pupil is recorded to have English as an additional language if they are exposed to a language at home that is known or believed to be other than English. This measure is not a measure of English language proficiency or a good proxy for recent immigration.
Over 1 million pupils in primary schools are recorded as having English as an additional language
A further 584,600 pupils in secondary schools are recorded as having English as an additional language. The proportion of pupils with English as an additional language has increased steadily overall in recent years:
- In primary schools, the proportion was 21.3%, up slightly from 21.2% in January 2019.
- In secondary schools, the proportion was 17.1%, up from 16.9%.
- In state-funded special schools, the proportion was 14.8%, down from 14.9%, and for non-maintained special schools, was 10.6%, down from 10.9%.
- In pupil referral units, the proportion was 7.6%, down from 7.7%.
An infant class is described as ‘large’ when it exceeds the statutory limit of 30 pupils. There are no formal policy restrictions on any other class sizes.
Lawful and unlawful infant classes
The School Admissions (Infant Class Sizes) (England) Regulations 2012 prescribe certain limited circumstances in which pupils may be admitted as lawful exceptions to the infant class size limit of 30 for one-teacher classes. This means that a class of, for example, 32 pupils is lawful if two or more of those pupils have been admitted under lawful exceptions. If fewer than two have been admitted as lawful exceptions then the class is termed ‘unlawful’.
The average key stage 1 class size has fallen
to 26.9 in 2019/20 from 27.1 in 2018/19. This continues a downward trend seen in recent years.
The average key stage 2 class size is unchanged
from 2018/19 at 27.9, following gradual increases in previous years.
These figures include all state-funded primary and secondary schools in England.
The number and proportion of key stage 1 pupils in large classes has decreased
In 2020, 65,400 pupils were in classes of size 31 or more, equating to 4.0% of all key stage 1 pupils. This is a decrease of almost 9,000, from 74,300 in 2019, when 4.5% of all key stage 1 pupils were in large classes.
The average class size in all primary schools decreased slightly from 27.1 in 2019 to 27.0 in 2020. The average class size in all secondary schools increased from 21.7 in 2019 to 22.0 in 2020.
Alternative provision – these are education placements for children unable to attend a mainstream or special school. Local authority maintained establishments providing alternative provision are often referred to as pupil referral units. There are also an increasing number of alternative provision academies and free schools. Some placements are funded by the local authorities in the independent sector.
The figures in this section relate to other local authority funded alternative provision collected via the alternative provision census. The census covers pupils attending a school not maintained by a local authority for whom the authority is paying full tuition fees or educated otherwise than in schools and pupil referral units, under arrangements made (and funded) by the authority.
The total number of placements in local authority alternative provision has increased by 12.9% from 26,100 pupils in 2019 to 29,500 in 2020
- 22,200 (75.2%) placements are boys, compared to 7,300 girls in 2020. This is similar to 2019, when 75.6% of placements were boys.
- A higher percentage of placements are eligible for free school meals (18.7%), compared to 17.3% in all other schools.
Cross border movement
The cross border movement data describes patterns of movement for pupils who live in one local authority area while receiving state-funded education in another. Pupils educated in independent schools are not included in this data.
Nationally, secondary school pupils (9.3%) and special school pupils (8.5%) are most likely to be educated outside the local authority where they live. Only 3.8% of primary school pupils travel outside the local authority of their home to school.
Local authorities vary greatly in the proportion of pupils educated outside of the area. The pattern is partially explicable by local authority size and geography. For example, City of London has a small number of resident pupils and almost two thirds of primary school pupils and all secondary and special school pupils are educated in other local authorities. Across London as a whole, 21.2% of secondary, 16.3% of special school and 8.2% of primary school pupils are educated outside their resident local authority – a higher proportion than any other region. Conversely, in Cumbria 0.1% of primary and secondary school pupils and only 1.7% of special school pupils are educated in authorities where they are not resident.
Help and support
Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics.
The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.
Designation signifying their compliance with the authority's Code of Practice for Statistics which broadly means 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
Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.
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 Schools, pupils and their characteristics statistics and data:
School Census Statistics Team
Telephone: School Census Statistics Team
0370 000 2288
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