Academic year 2021/22

Schools, pupils and their characteristics

View latest data: Academic year 2023/24This is not the latest data
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See all updates (3) for Academic year 2021/22
  1. Class size dataset restructured to improve usability in table tool. Labelling of years in "Ethnicity" commentary corrected.

  2. Additional data on “Cross border movement” and “Eligibility for FSM at any time during past 6 years” added

  3. Fixes to FSM data: Percentages were not displaying for Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole in 2020/21 and 2021/22. Percentages also not displaying for performance table definition FSM figures for 2018/19 and earlier

Release type


This release contains the latest statistics on school and pupil numbers and their characteristics, including:

  • age
  • gender
  • free school meals (FSM) eligibility
  • English as an additional language
  • ethnicity
  • 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.

For data on funding, including information, allocations and the conditions of grant for pupil premium are available at: Local authorities: pre-16 schools funding - GOV.UK (

Headline facts and figures - 2021/22

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Schools and pupils

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. Local authorities can also fund places not maintained by the local authority. Alternative provision is covered in more detail in the “Pupil referral units and alternative provision” section below.

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.


There are over 9 million pupils in January 2022, a small increase from similar levels last year

Increases are seen in the number of pupils in state-funded secondary, nursery and special schools and also in independent schools, however, decreases are seen in primary schools and pupil referral units. This is primarily driven by demographic changes, following a peak of births in 2013, with higher numbers of children reaching secondary age and lower numbers of pupils moving in to primary school. 

The primary population is projected to continue to drop to the end of the projection period in 2030, whilst the secondary population is projected to increase until 2024 then slowly begin to drop (see the Department's pupil projections release). 

The number of pupils in state-funded nursery has increased slightly to 38,000, following a 10% decrease in the previous year. 

The number of pupils in pupil referral units (PRUs) has decreased by 9% to 11,700. PRUs typically have high mobility with pupils having shorter spells than in other schools.

The number of pupils in independent schools has increased by 2.1% to 581,400. This reverses a trend of small decreases in recent years following a peak in 2016/17

The number of schools has also increased

There are 41 more schools across all sectors than in 2021. This is driven by increases in independent schools (28 additional schools), special schools (16 additional schools including a reduction of 1 non-maintained special school) and secondary (15 additional schools).

The number of pupils attending academies (including free schools) has continued to grow, along with the number of academies. While 40% of all schools were academies, over half of all pupils (53%) were attending an academy. This is due to higher proportions of secondary schools being academies than primary, with typically much higher numbers of pupils. At January 2022:

  • 39% of primary schools are now academies or free schools, accounting for 40% of the primary school population
  • 80% of secondary schools are academies or free schools, accounting for 79% of secondary school pupils
  • 43% of special schools (excluding non-maintained special schools) are academies or free schools, accounting for 40% of special school pupils 

For up-to-date information on open academies, free schools, studio schools and UTCs, see the monthly transparency data

Pupil referral units and alternative provision

Alternative provision are education placements for children unable to attend a mainstream or special school. There are two types of alternative provision discussed here. 

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 and these are combined in this release with pupil referral units. This data is collected through the school census

Data on local authority funded alternative provision is collected via the alternative provision census. This includes pupils attending establishments not maintained by a local authority for whom the authority is paying full tuition fees or educated otherwise under arrangements made (and funded) by the authority. 

Pupil referral units, alternative provision academies and free schools

The number of pupils in pupil referral units (PRUs) has decreased by 9% to 11,700. This includes pupils whose sole or main registration is in a PRU. 

Most pupils, 72.2% are boys, as in previous years. Over half of pupils in PRUs are eligible for free school meals (54.6%), this compares to 22.5% for the overall school population 

A further 11,100 pupils have a dual subsidiary registration in PRU's, this means that they also have their main registration at another school.

The number of pupils attending alternative provision has increased by over 3,100 (10%) to 35,600 in 2021/22. As in previous years, most pupils are boys (74.3%). Pupils in alternative provision have a lower rate of free school meal eligibility (20.4%) than the overall school population (22.5%).

Free school meals eligibility

Children in state-funded schools in England are 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)

Children in nursery schools are eligible if they meet the criteria and attend for full days. Pupils are still eligible for free school meals in school in sixth form, but not sixth form college or further education.

Since 1 April 2018, transitional protections have been in place which will continue 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. Prior to the pandemic, this had 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.

If a child is eligible for free school meals, they’ll remain eligible until they finish the phase of schooling (primary or secondary) they’re in on 31 March 2023.

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals has increased during 2021

In January 2022, 1.9 million pupils were eligible for free school meals, 22.5% of all pupils. This is an increase of nearly 160,000 pupils since January 2021, when 1.74 million (20.8%) of pupils were eligible for free school meals. 

The number of pupils eligible for FSM was increasing before the COVID-19 pandemic

The percentage of pupils with free school meals had been increasing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with increases from 13.6% in January 2018, to 15.4% in January 2019, and to 17.3% in January 2020. The increase during the first period of the pandemic, from January 2020 to 20.8% in January 2021, was higher than each of these previous year on year increases. The increase to January 2022 is in line with those increases seen prior to the pandemic.

Due to the transitional protections described above, these  year on year increases continue to be reflected in increasing numbers of pupils who are FSM eligible as pupils flow on to free school meals when becoming eligible, but protections mean pupils do not flow off in a similar way.

Free school meal eligibility varies by region

The highest eligibility rates are seen in the North East where 29.1% are eligible for free school meals, and West Midlands where 26.5% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The regions which have shown the largest increases are London and West Midlands with increases of 2 percentage points over the 2021 rates.

By contrast, 17.6% of pupils are eligible for free school meals in the South East and 18.2% of pupils are eligible in the East of England. However, all regions show some increase from 2021.

Free school meal eligibility varies by year group

FSM eligibility rates are highest for pupils during the years of compulsory schooling, Reception to Year 11. The proportion of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals typically peaks among pupils of primary age - in 2022 it was 26.7% for Year 4 pupils - and declines throughout the secondary phase.  There are high rates of FSM eligibility among pupils in Year 14 and those not following the national curriculum. These are small cohorts including pupils retaking the final year of key stage 5 and pupils in some special schools. 

Free school meals eligibility varies by ethnicity

Rates of free school meals eligibility in 2022 were highest among pupils in the Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group (63.3%) and Gypsy/Roma ethnic group (51.9%). Rates were lowest among pupils of Indian (7.5%) and Chinese ethnic groups (7.8%). 

Universal Infant Free school meals

1.6 million infant pupils were recorded as taking a free school meal on census day, of which almost 1.3 million are not normally eligible for FSM through the criteria above and received them under the Universal Infant FSM policy. The proportion of infant pupils taking a free school meal on census day rose to a peak of 88% in 2019 and has since fallen to 85% in 2022. Breakdowns of UIFSM take up by local authority and region are now available in the underlying data and via the table tool.

Eligibility for free school meals during the previous six years

This publication includes data on the number of pupils who are known to have been eligible for free school meals at any time during the previous six years. The data is available by ethnicity and National Curriculum year group in underlying data files and via the table tool. 


34.5% of pupils are from a 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 in this release. 

The percentage of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds is 34.5% across all school types, up from 33.6% in 2020/21 and 33.2% in 2019/20. The percentage varies by school type - 

  • 34.8% in primary schools (up from 33.9 in 2020/21)
  • 34.1% in secondary schools (up from 33.1%)
  • 31.0% in special schools (up from 30.5%)
  • 25.1% in PRUs (up from 24.6%)

First language

80.1% of pupils were recorded as having a first language known or believed to be English

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.

19.5% of pupils were recorded as having a first language known or believed to be other than English, an increase from 2020/21. This varies by school type from 7.8% in PRUs to 29.1% in nursery. In primary schools, the percentage recorded as other than English has increased slightly from 20.9% to 21.2%, following a decrease the year before, while in secondary there has been an increase from 17.2% to 17.5% following further small increase the year before.

Numbers do not sum to 100%, due to a small number of pupils with an unclassified language.

Class size

Large Classes 

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’.

Classes taught by one teacher

The figures below represent classes taught by one teacher only, and therefore do not total to the overall number of pupils across the year groups.

The average class size for Infant classes has  remained stable

The average infant class sizes has remained stable at 26.7 compared with 26.6 in 2020/21, maintaining a downward trend seen in recent years. The number of pupils in large classes has increased from 54,200 to 55,900, but this still represents 3.5% of all pupils in infant classes.

Infant classes cover Reception and Key stage 1 (years 1 and 2) and class sizes are subject to the large class limits outlined above.


The average class size in key stage 2 has also remained stable

Average class size is 27.6 for the second consecutive year, maintaining the return to a size last seen in 2015/16. The number of pupils in large classes has increased from 353,800 to 363,000, representing 16.5% of pupils in key stage 2.

Key stage 2 includes pupils in years 3 to 6.

Average primary and secondary school class sizes have not changed

The average primary class size has remained the same at 26.6 in 2022, and the average secondary class size has also remained the same at 22.3. These represent a levelling off of recent trends.

Further information - Pupil teacher ratios

Pupil teacher ratios are published in the School workforce in England release. The pupil teacher ratios are calculated as the number of pupils reported in the January School Census divided by the number of teachers reported in the November School Workforce Census. This demonstrates the size of the workforce in relation to the size of the learner population. A decrease in PTR means that there are fewer pupils per teacher.

Cross border movement

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. Local authorities use the information for financial planning.

As of January 2022, nationally, secondary school pupils (9.1%) and special school pupils (8.8%) 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 three quarters of primary school pupils and all secondary and special school pupils are educated in other local authorities. Across London as a whole, 20.6% of secondary, 16.1% 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 only 0.2% of primary, 0.1% of secondary school pupils and 0.7% of special school pupils are educated in authorities where they are not resident.

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