Academic year 2023/24

Schools, pupils and their characteristics

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  1. Primary and secondary class sizes text corrected to reflect the figures in the table

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Introduction

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 (www.gov.uk)

For information on school workforce, including teaching and support staff, their characteristics, teacher retention and pay, qualifications and details of the subjects taught in secondary schools, see: School workforce in England


Headline facts and figures - 2023/24

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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 is defined in the Alternative Provision Statutory Guidance as education arranged by local authorities for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; education arranged by schools for pupils on a suspension; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.  These placements are typically for children unable to attend a mainstream or special school. 

Where this publication refers to state-funded alternative provision (AP) schools, this includes pupil referral units or alternative provision academies or free schools. Local authorities can also fund places not maintained by the local authority. Alternative provision is covered in more detail in the “State-funded AP schools 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 almost 9.1 million pupils in January 2024, an increase of 18,200 from last year

Increases are seen in the number of pupils in state-funded secondary, AP schools, special schools and also in independent schools, however, decreases are seen in primary schools and nursery schools. 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 into 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 continued to decrease (by 2%) to 36,700. 

The number of pupils in state-funded AP schools has increased by 20% to 15,900. The number of pupils in state-funded AP schools is similar to pre-pandemic levels. AP schools typically have high mobility with pupils having shorter spells than in other schools.

The number of pupils in special schools has increased by 5%, to 157,000, continuing the trend of increases seen in recent years.

The number of pupils in independent schools has increased by less than 1% to 593,000. 

The number of schools has decreased

There are 11 more schools across all sectors than in 2023. There have been increases in the number of secondary schools (8), special schools (an increase of 15 state-funded schools but offset by a reduction of 2 non-maintained special schools), and independent schools (13). There have been reductions in the number or primary (19), nursery (2) and AP schools (2).

The number of pupils attending academies (including free schools) has continued to grow, along with the number of academies. While 43.5% of all schools were academies, over half of all pupils (56.2%) 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 2024:

  • 42.7% of primary schools are now academies or free schools, accounting for 44.2% of the primary school population
  • 81.9% of secondary schools are academies or free schools, accounting for 81.7% of secondary school pupils
  • 46.8% of special schools (excluding non-maintained special schools) are academies or free schools, accounting for 43.6% of special school pupils 

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

State-funded AP schools and alternative provision

Alternative provision is defined in the Alternative Provision Statutory Guidance as education arranged by local authorities for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; education arranged by schools for pupils on a suspension; and pupils being directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.  These placements are typically for children unable to attend a mainstream or special school. 

This section details all pupils in state funded AP schools, as well as placements made by schools in AP settings (state- and non-state-funded) as well as LAs in non-state-funded provision. 

a) State-funded alternative provision schools - includes pupil referral units, AP academies and AP free schools and the data is collected through the school census. This includes placements arranged by local authorities and by schools.

b) School arranged alternative provision - Data on alternative provision arranged by schools is also collected in the school census from Spring 2023. This includes full or part-time education arranged by schools.

c) Local authority funded alternative provision in non-state-funded provision collected via the alternative provision census.   

This includes placements in non-state-funded provision when:

  • i) LA arrange education for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; using their Section 19 powers. 
  • ii) LAs make educational provision for children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans under their duties in the Children and Families Act. 

Non-state-funded provision includes non-maintained special schools, independent schools, independent special schools, FE colleges and unregistered alternative provision settings.

This may include some pupils who are included in the school census or school level annual school census, for example where the local authority is funding a placement in a non-maintained special school or independent special school. 

There are expected to be some overlaps between these groups. This includes pupils attending pupil referral units, who also have  other alternative provision either arranged by the school, or local authority funded alternative provision. It is therefore not advised to sum across the totals in each section

State-funded alternative provision (AP) schools 

This includes pupil referral units, alternative provision academies and free schools.

The number of pupils in state-funded AP schools has increased by 20% to 15,900. This includes pupils placed by schools and local authorities and whose sole or main registration is in a state-funded AP school. This is similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Most pupils, 67.4%, are boys, as in previous years. The proportion of girls in the state-funded AP school population has increased annually from 27.1% 2020/21  to 32.6% in 2023/24. Three fifths of pupils in state-funded AP schools are eligible for free school meals (60.7%), compared with a quarter (24.6%) in the overall school population 

A further 11,065 pupils have a dual subsidiary registration in state-funded AP schools, this means that they also have their main registration at another school. This gives a total of 26,900 pupils enrolled in these schools.

School arranged alternative provision 

This includes open placements at census day where a school has arranged alternative provision for a pupil.

There were 26,400 pupils in school arranged alternative provision at January 2024. The most common reason recorded for schools arranging alternative provision was off-site placement for behavioural support with 55.3% of placements recorded with this reason. 

By characteristics:

  • 23.9% of pupils had an EHC plan and a further 42.5% were in receipt of SEN support. 
  • 62.8% of pupils in these placements at census date were male.
  • 55.0% of pupils in these placements were eligible for free school meals. This compares to 24.6% for all school pupils.

Local authority funded placements in non state-funded alternative provision

This includes placements in non-state-funded provision when:

  • i) LA arrange education for pupils who, because of exclusion, illness or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education; using their Section 19 powers. 
  • ii) LAs make educational provision for children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans under their duties in the Children and Families Act. 

The figures below refer to the number of pupils with an open placement as at census date who have been recorded in the alternative provision census as being in a local authority funded alternative provision setting. The number of pupils attending alternative provision has increased by 16% to 47,600 in 2023/24. The number of pupils with an open placement has more than doubled since 2017/18.

By characteristics: 

  • As in previous years, most pupils are boys (71.3%). However, there has been a year on year reduction in the proportion who are boys from 76.5% in 2017/18.
  • Pupils in these placements have a lower rate of free school meal eligibility (21.6%) than the overall school population (24.6%).

The table below shows the number of Local authority funded placements in non state-funded provision. There are more placements in this table than pupils in the previous table as pupils can have multiple placements. The majority of LA funded placements (76.1%) are in an education setting with a URN. The most common reason for placement (80.9%) is that the setting was named on an Education, Health and Care Plan. 

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)

Pupils in families with no recourse to public funds (NPRF) can also be eligible for free school meals – see here for further information: Providing free school meals to families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Children in nursery schools are eligible if they meet the criteria and attend for full days, or if part time, receiving education before and after the lunch break. 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.

Any pupil gaining eligibility for free school meals after 1 April 2018 will be protected against losing free school meals until March 2025. After March 2025, any existing claimants that no longer meet the eligibility criteria at that point (because they are earning above the threshold or are no longer a recipient of Universal Credit) will continue to receive free school meals until the end of their current phase of education (i.e. primary or secondary).

The number of pupils eligible for free school meals has continued to increase

In January 2024, 2.1 million pupils were eligible for free school meals, 24.6% of all pupils. This is an increase of 75,000 pupils since January 2022, when 2 million (23.8%) pupils were eligible for free school meals. The increase is the lowest increase since the current trend of increases began in 2017/18.

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 each year since January 2018. The increase during the first period of the pandemic (January 2020 to January 2021), was higher than each of the previous year on year increases. 

The continuing year on year increase in the number and rate of pupils eligible for FSM reflects the continuation of the transitional protections described above. There is an increasing number 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 similar quantities. 

Free school meal eligibility varies by region

The highest eligibility rates are seen in the North East where 31.2% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, and West Midlands where 28.9% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The regions which have shown the largest increase are East Midlands and West Midlands which have both seen an increase of 1.0 percentage point since 2023.

By contrast, 19.7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals in the South East and 20.1% of pupils are eligible in the East of England. The South West has the lowest increase - 0.5 percentage points, reaching a rate of 20.5% in 2024. All regions show some increase from 2023.

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 2023 it was 29.4% for year 6 pupils - and declines throughout the secondary phase.  

The percentage of pupils in both reception and year 1 who are eligible for free school meals has declined for the second year running and the percentage of pupils in years 2 and 3 who are eligible has not increased. There have been increases across all other year groups. 

There are high rates of FSM eligibility among pupils in year 14. This is a small cohort including pupils retaking the final year of key stage 5. Pupils not following the National Curriculum are also a small group who attend some special schools. 

Free school meals eligibility varies by ethnicity

Rates of FSM eligibility in 2023 were highest among pupils in the Traveller of Irish heritage ethnic group (64.9%) and Gypsy/Roma ethnic group (58.3%). Rates were lowest among pupils of Indian (7.3%) and Chinese ethnic groups (7.5%).

Universal Infant Free school meals (UIFSM)

The table below shows the number of pupils who took a free school meal on census day and the total number of infant pupils.

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 87.4% in 2024, from 87.1% in 2023. Breakdowns of UIFSM take up by local authority and region are 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 figures are based on a linked version of the data which becomes available during the summer following initial publication. At present the most recent figures continue to be those included in the 2022/23 publication here: Schools, pupils and their characteristics, Academic year 2022/23 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk). The data is available by ethnicity and National Curriculum year group in underlying data files and via the table tool. 

Ethnicity

37.0% 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 37.0% across all school types, continuing a trend of increases in recent years. The percentage varies by school type:

  • 37.4% in primary schools (up from 36.1% in 2022/23)
  • 36.6% in secondary schools (up from 35.4%)
  • 31.7% in special schools (up from 31.3%)
  • 25.8% in AP schools (up from 25.4%)

These figures do not include those where ethnicity is unclassified.

First language

78.7% 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.

20.8% of pupils were recorded as having a first language known or believed to be other than English, an increase from 2022/23 and continuing a recent trend of increases.

This varies by school type from 7.8% in AP schools to 30.7% in nursery. In primary schools, the percentage recorded as other than English has increased from 22.0% to 22.8% while in secondary there has been an increase from 18.1% to 18.6%, following further small increases in recent years.

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

Young carers

54,000 pupils were identified as being a young carer in 2023/24

Data on young carers was collected in the school census for the first time in 2022/23, with this being the second publication of this information in the series.

The young carer indicator identifies, for those children on roll on spring census day, whether they have been identified as a young carer either by the school (including where the pupil self declares) or by parent or guardian.

Section 17ZA of the Children Act 1989 says a young carer is a person under 18 who provides or intends to provide care for another person (which isn’t to a contract or voluntary work).

As this is a new data collection, we expect the quality of the data returns to improve over time as the collection becomes established. All schools (except nursery) must send this information as part of the Spring school census but the recording and handling of the information is at the school’s discretion. 72% of schools recorded no young carers in 2024, down from 79% in 2023.

Young carers carry immense responsibility in providing care and support at home but their own needs may remain ‘hidden’ from wider view. The increased pressures young carers have faced due to the pandemic has further highlighted the need to improve formal identification of this cohort in schools, understand their needs and to provide early help as outlined in statutory guidance on keeping children safe in education.

Working together to safeguard children also outlines how school and college staff should be particularly alert to the potential need of early help for students who have taken on caring responsibilities.

54,000 pupils were identified as being known to be a young carer in 2023/24, an increase from 39,000 in 2022/23. The increase should be treated with caution - it is likely to be the more the result of the data item becoming established and familiar within the school census collection than to reflect a real increase in numbers.  Secondary schools had the highest rate of pupils known to be young carers at 0.9% (32,500 pupils). 0.5% of primary pupils (21,000) were known to be a young carer.

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 size was 26.6, down 0.1 from 2022/23. Average infant class sizes showed a downward trend until 2020/21 and have remained stable since. The number of pupils in large classes has decreased from 62,100 to 57,500; this represents 3.7% 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 increased

Average class size is 27.9, a further small increase from 27.6 in 2021/22 and 27.7 in 2022/23. The number of pupils in large classes has increased from 398,800 to 421,500, representing 18.9% of pupils in key stage 2.

Key stage 2 includes pupils in years 3 to 6.

Average primary school class size has decreased and secondary school class sizes are unchanged

The average primary class size has decreased to 26.6, having increased slightly to 26.7 in 2023, and the average secondary class size has remained at 22.4, the same as in 2023. 

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

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.

Cross-border movement is added into the publication when linked census data becomes available during the summer. At present the most recent figures continue to be those reported in the figures for January 2023 available here: Schools, pupils and their characteristics, Academic year 2022/23 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)

 

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