Key stage 4 performance

Last updated
See all notes (3)
  1. Updated to reflect the latest published statistics

  2. A minor correction to the information on how 2016 scaled scores have been used to create Key Stage 2 prior attainment data. The P scale teacher assessment tables should have referred to 2017 rather than 2016.

  3. Further information on how 2016 scaled scores have been used to create Key Stage 2 prior attainment data has been added. In particular, how pupils not reaching the expected KS2 standard have been included in the low/middle/high prior attainment groups.



This quality and methodology document provides an overview of the Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment data used in the production of the ‘Key Stage 4 Performance’ statistical release, which complements the school performance data on the Find school and college performance data service.  

It provides information on the methodology used to calculate pupil attainment, as well as information on the data sources, their coverage and quality, and how the data is validated and processed. This document is based on the Office for National Statistics’ guidelines for measuring statistical quality. 

Changes in the 2022/23 release

The KS4 performance measures reported in this release, and on the performance tables website, for the 2022/23 academic year have been affected by the following factors:  

  • The return to pre-pandemic grading in 2022/23, with some protections. 
  • 2022/23 performance measures may include some qualification grades that were awarded in 2021/22 using a different grading approach.
  • Results achieved between January 2020 and August 2021, by pupils included in 2022/23 measures, are not included in the calculations.
  • The ongoing uneven impacts of the pandemic on different schools/colleges and pupils.

Changes in the 2021/22 release

Following the return of summer exams in 2022, there have been changes to both the way grades were awarded and the way key stage 4 accountability measures have been calculated:

  • Several changes were made to exams and grading. These include advance notice of exam topics and GCSE grading broadly reflecting a midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic outcomes. More information on Ofqual’s approach to grading is available here 
  • Changes were also made to the way school and college performance measures were calculated. Results achieved between January 2020 and August 2021 by pupils included in this year’s measures are not included in the calculations. 
  • The return of first entry discounting rules after the use of best entry discounting in 2019/20 and 2020/21.

For a full explanation of all the factors affecting these results please see the KS4 2021/22 technical guide

A list of qualifications that count in the 2022 performance data can be found here.

Changes in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 releases 


Due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic the summer exam series for the 2020/21 academic year was cancelled. For 2020/21, pupils were only assessed on the content they had been taught for each course. Schools were given flexibility to decide how to assess their pupils’ performance, for example, through mock exams, class tests, and non-exam assessment already completed. GCSE grades were then determined by teachers based on the range of evidence available and they are referred to as teacher-assessed grades, or TAGs.  

This is a different process to 2020 where pupils were awarded either a centre assessment grade (based on what the school believed the pupil would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two.  These grades are referred to as CAGs. 

As a consequence of the disruption to the exams process the government announced a change to its school accountability arrangements published here where it states schools and colleges will not be held to account on the basis of centre and teacher assessment data from 2020 and 2021.  

Further information about the awarding process in England in 2021 can be accessed from the information published by Ofqual in July 2021 here

The data used in the 2020/21 release was adapted as follows:  

The schools checking exercise was cancelled for the second year running. The data (after matching exam level to pupil level) has therefore not been checked or confirmed by schools. This means that the usual publication schedule of ‘provisional’ and ‘revised’ data does not apply. This release includes all characteristics and geographical breakdowns that are usually published in the October ‘provisional’ and the January ‘revised’ releases. 

Following the change made for 2019/20 academic year GCSE results, all results from summer 2021 are governed by best entry discounting rules, rather than first entry rules. This is consistent with last year. It means that if a pupil was entered for an exam in the same subject (e.g. English) twice in summer 2021, then their best result will count in the published KS4 attainment data. In 2018/19 and prior years, the first entry grade would count as this adhered to school accountability policy. 

Given that 2020 and 2021 attainment data is not being used to hold schools and colleges to account, the decision was made to show a pupil’s best result in 2020 and 2021, which will be more reflective of pupils’ achievement. 

Where pupils have already entered for an exam within the same subject in 2019 or earlier, first entry rules will still be used. For example, if a pupil was awarded a GCSE grade for English in both 2020 and 2021 then the 2020 grade is used - regardless of whether it is higher or lower than the 2021 grade. For more on previous years’ discounting methodology, read the Discounting and Early Entry Guidance

Due to the cancellation of exam assessment and the shift in methodology and checking as outlined above, 2020 and 2021 data should not be compared to previous years’ attainment data for the purposes of measuring changes in pupil performance. 

In autumn 2020 and autumn 2021, there were exceptional exam series for GCSE and A-Level, to provide another opportunity for pupils who are unhappy with the grade given to them in the summer, and for pupils who were not able to have a grade awarded. The results of the GCSEs taken were published in February 2022 by JCQ. 

Some external candidates were not awarded a grade in Summer 2020 because they were unable to provide sufficient evidence to their exam centre that would enable them to receive a centre assessed grade. Candidates in this position had to sit exams to get their grades, either in the autumn or in summer 2021. Therefore, this cohort are not included in the data published in the 2020 statistical release. 

For the 2021 statistical release, it was assessed and determined that suppression should take place only where an aggregation covers only one school. Where a geographical area contains only one school the statistics for that area, and by extension the individual school, have been suppressed. In the 2020/21 release data was suppressed for the Isles of Scilly local authority and for one instance where the religious admissions breakdown identifies one school. This is in line with the announcement that school level data would not be published using the summer 2021 exam grades awarded. Where there are combinations of pupil characteristics (e.g. girls by ethnic group Chinese) that result in only one pupil being in the data for that geographical area, this information has not been suppressed. 

GCSE reform 

Following a phased introduction since 2017, GCSEs taken in 2020 and 2021 are all reformed GCSEs graded on a 9-1 scale. Only reformed GCSEs are included in secondary school performance measures as they are introduced for each subject. Once new reformed GCSEs (9 to 1) are introduced in a subject, unreformed GCSEs (A*to G), International GCSEs or level 1/level 2 certificates in the same subject no longer count in school level performance measures. This includes early entries in GCSEs that have been subsequently reformed. A full list of the reformed subjects is included in this timetable set out by Ofqual. 

Performance measures 

In 2020 publishing school level performance data was cancelled. In 2021 school level data returned but did not include any pupil attainment measures, instead the data focussed on subjects entered, pupils entering the English Baccalaureate and destinations on leaving school.  

In 2021 it was the second year running that headline performance measures were not available on the school performance data website (for 2020/21 attainment data). However, for consistency and transparency, the remaining headline measures were reported at local authority, region and national level in the national statistics release: 

  • percentage of pupils entering the English Baccalaureate (EBacc entry) 
  • percentage of pupils achieving a grade 5 or above in English and maths (Attainment in English and maths) 
  • attainment across eight qualifying qualifications (Attainment 8) 
  • English Baccalaureate Average Point Score (EBacc APS) 

 The department decided it was not appropriate to publish progress 8 measures in 2020 and 2021. These are normally calculated by comparing a pupil’s actual results to a set of expected results produced by a model based on national averages. The difference between the estimated results and the actual results are described as pupils making more or less progress than expected. However, in 2020 the vast majority of grades awarded were those submitted by schools and colleges. The difference between a result submitted by the centre to a result estimated by a model would have very little meaning. It would not be appropriate to consider such a difference as a measure of the progress made by a pupil. 

Prior Attainment

There was a change to the way pupils are allocated to Key Stage 2 prior attainment groups from 2021 onwards. In 2016, changes were introduced to KS2 national curriculum tests, with pupil outcomes expressed as KS2 scaled scores instead of national curriculum levels. A pupil’s prior attainment is now calculated as the average of their scaled scores in English reading and maths. Most pupils who took national curriculum tests in the summer of 2017 have now reached the end of KS4 in 2021/22. Thus the way low, middle and high prior attainment is defined therefore changed compared to the last year of an exam series in 2018/19. This has had an impact on the comparability over time.

Further detail is in the ‘Pupil characteristics definitions and historical changes’ section and also in the national statistics release.

Changes prior to the 2019/20 release 

The measures covered in the ‘Key Stage 4 Performance’ statistical release include only qualifications that count towards the school level data in the Find school and college performance data service. Following reforms to the school level performance data in 2014, only a pupil’s first attempt at a qualification has counted. The only exception to this was in 2020 and 2021 when a pupil’s best entry in grades awarded were counted. 

A timeline of changes in KS4 attainment measures can be found in Annex A of the 2019 methodology document at the following link:

About the output

National and local authority (LA) information on pupils' attainment at the end of Key Stage 4 (KS4) for secondary school pupils in England is published in the following statistical release: 

GCSE and equivalent results for previous years can be found on the Statistics: GCSEs (key stage 4) section of Statistics: GCSEs (key stage 4) - GOV.UK ( 

School level information is published on the find school and college performance (FSCP) service

Data sources 

The KS4 datasets are compiled mainly using information matched together from three data sources: 

i. prior attainment records (key stage 2 results) 

ii. school census records 

iii. qualification entries and results collected from awarding bodies 

Attainment data for all pupils at the end of KS4 is collected from the awarding bodies by the department’s contractor. 


This section describes the degree to which the statistics meet current and potential needs of the users. 

The key strength of the data is that it is derived from an administrative data collection. This means that it can supply accurate data down to small geographical areas (such as school level). In addition, the data is merged with other administrative data held by the department (the school census) to provide detailed information on sub-groups of the school population. 

Key users of this data are listed in Table 1: 

Table 1: Key users of key stage 4 performance statistics 

Key Users
Department for Education Used to monitor national standards of key stage 4 attainment in secondary schools in England. The national figures are used to determine whether standards are improving or declining. Data for sub-groups of the population are also analysed to inform departmental policies aimed at closing gaps in attainment. School level figures are used to identify schools where intervention may be needed to bring standards up to an acceptable level. 
Ofsted Used as part of the background information to inform school inspections. For example, it enables inspectors to identify areas of the curriculum or groups of pupils where a school appears to be doing less well. This would then form part of the focus during the inspection. 
Ofqual Used as part of the evidence it reviews on the setting and maintenance of standards in key stage 4 examinations.
Local authorities National data and that for other local authorities is used to set the attainment of their area into context. School level information is used to hold maintained schools to account. 
Schools Used to evaluate their own performance against national standards and other local schools. Used to identify high performing schools with similar circumstances to their own that they can work with to improve their own standards. 
School governorsUsed to hold schools to account, to identify strengths and weaknesses and to support school improvement. 
Teachers and head teachers Used for analysis and self-evaluation, and to aid planning of school improvement strategies. Used to inform decisions about whether to apply for vacancies in particular schools and also as background information when preparing for interviews. 
Parents Used to compare their own children’s performance to others in their school, local authority and nationally. Used to hold their children’s schools to account and identify areas where they feel the school needs to improve. Used to inform choice of a secondary school for their child. Performance of schools in the local area is also a key consideration for parents and prospective parents when moving house. 
Others Used by researchers from this country and abroad. Used by others to identify schools with particular levels of attainment that they may wish to market their services to.

Timeliness and punctuality

Timeliness refers to the lapse of time between the period to which the data refers and the publication of the estimates. 

The timeline of the KS4 data cycle is as follows: 

May - June

Main GCSE examinations taken.

Secondary schools performance data June checking exercise takes place – this allows state-funded schools, independent schools and further education colleges to check the pupils we have recorded as being on their roll.


The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) collects results data from the awarding bodies 

JCQ publish GCSE results in the third week in August  

The department’s contractor receives results from the awarding bodies (data is collected throughout the year but the majority is collected in the summer) 


The department’s contractor received results from the awarding bodies so they can carry out the matching of exams entered (and results achieved) data to pupil level data. This process includes applying first entry discounting rules and deriving the headline indicators using those qualifications that count. The department receives matched and processed data from the contractor. 


Secondary schools performance data checking exercise takes place

The data received go through a thorough quality assurance exercise and then the statistical release containing national and local authority level data broken down by pupil characteristics is published.

November and December 

The department receives three sets of revised data, which includes further late results, approved school amendments from the checking exercise and later re-marks received from awarding organisations.

January - February

The department’s contractor receives approved amendments requested through the checking exercise and revised data is sent to the department for publication in early February.

Errata period commences for schools to request additional amendments to data

Scrutiny of amendment requests made during the errata period.


The department receives final data from the contractor and updates the school level performance data website and downloadable data file. The revised statistical release is not updated; however, the final data will be used to update any time series in the following year’s statistical release.

Key stage 4 performance data has been routinely published and has followed an established process for years. For more information on the cycle in previous years, please see the KS4 methodology document published as part of the 2018/19 release: Key stage 4 performance 2019 (revised) - GOV.UK ( 

Punctuality refers to the time lag between the actual and planned dates of publication. 

The proposed month of publication is announced on at least twelve months in advance and precise dates are announced in the same place at least four weeks prior to publication. 

How the output is created 

Data on pupils’ attainment is collected from awarding bodies via the department’s contractor. This information is linked with information on pupil characteristics taken from the school census and information on pupils’ prior attainment. This data is used to produce the provisional statistical release and provisional school level data. 

The data is checked with schools during the checking exercise. The revised pupil attainment data is then linked again with information on pupil characteristics and prior attainment to produce the revised/final datasets and all derived variables recalculated. This data is published in the revised statistical release and the school level performance data. Following publication of the school level data, there is a short errata process where schools can inform us of any additional changes that should be made to the data. Following this process, the performance tables data is finalised and the FSCP website updated. The final data is used to update the time series in the following year’s statistical release. 

Data added from other sources 

Information on pupil characteristics is taken mainly from the school census. More detail can be found in the Pupil characteristics definitions and historical changes section in this document.



Accuracy describes the closeness between an estimated result and the (unknown) true value.

Data coverage

The target population for the key stage 4 statistical collection is all pupils at schools or other education providers in England who are at the end of key stage 4, typically those pupils starting the academic year aged 15.

The schools checking exercise typically runs in June and September/October, allowing schools to make amendment requests to numbers on roll in June (for state-funded schools, independent schools and FE colleges) and results in September (for the same school types). In 2023, schools had over 5000 amendments accepted during the June checking exercise.

Measurement error

Measurement error is the difference between the actual value of a quantity and the value obtained by a measurement. Repeating the measurement will reduce the random error caused by the accuracy of the measuring instrument but not any systemic error caused by incorrect calibration of the measuring instrument. 

This section describes the administration and marking of key stage 4 examinations, the re-marking process and the regulation of qualifications, all of which can affect the accuracy of key stage 4 attainment measures.  

Clear guidance is provided to schools regarding the administration of the GCSE papers, including instructions for keeping the exam materials secure prior to the exams and storage of completed papers until they are collected for marking.  

The exam papers are externally marked by the awarding bodies to ensure that marking is consistent between schools. 

After marking, results are returned to schools. If schools have concerns over the marking of an exam paper, they may request for it to be re-marked. Outcomes of appeals are not reflected in the provisional data but are included in the revised data when received in adequate time by the department’s contractors to process and check the data.  

Further information on the general regulations for schools and how exams are conducted and marked can be found on the JCQ website: Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) website.  

Ofqual sets the standards and rules that awarding bodies need to meet when they design, deliver and award regulated qualifications. They monitor awarding bodies and qualifications to make sure that standards are maintained. They are a risk-based regulator and concentrate their resources to where they are most needed. For example, they may discover that an awarding body’s processes need updating or that there are risks connected to a qualification taken by thousands of students every year. Further guidance on the role of Ofqual can be found here.  

Further checks are done during the checking exercise and these are outlined in the data coverage section above.

Validation and quality assurance of source data

Key Stage 4 results are made available to schools on results day: in 2022 this was 25 August. This data is then passed from the awarding bodies to the department’s contractor who carries out checks on the data (for example checking the validity of Qualification Numbers). Depending on the volume and nature of discrepancies, the contractor reports these back to awarding organisations for review. Once these checks are completed the data is uploaded onto the contractor’s main database and further checks are carried out. 

After the contractor has finished processing the data, it is then passed onto the department for use in the statistical release. The department has created its own quality assurance framework, this process uses the same raw data received by the contractor and calculates all the variables provided by the contractor. This process of recalculating all key data and breakdowns can help identify any calculation issues and provides an extra level of reassurance that the data has been processed correctly.  

The schools checking exercise process helps to minimise data errors by giving schools the opportunity to correct any inconsistencies such as matching problems or missing results.

Data processing

Key Stage 4 exam data received from awarding bodies is combined with pupil characteristics from the school census and prior attainment by the department’s contractor. Records are matched, using identifiers such as surname, forename, date of birth, UPN (Unique Pupil Number), gender and postcode. This successfully matches around 98 per cent of results.

At every stage in the data cycle, the department checks all calculations used in the production of the figures. The department carries out checks on the data to ensure that the files produced by the contractor comply with the specified format and contain the correct information. All indicators at school level, local authority level and national level are re-derived to ensure the contractor’s systems are programmed correctly.

The entire process is subject to a ‘dry run’ during the summer. This involves producing a dummy dataset, from the previous year’s dataset, which conforms to how the current year’s data will be supplied (for example if new qualifications have been introduced, then dummy data would be added to last year’s data to simulate these). This dummy dataset is used to test the contractor’s systems and the departments’ checking processes. This allows potential problems to be resolved prior to the receipt of the live data. 

Statistics production

All data files in the statistical release are produced by one person and quality assured by another. Any discrepancies in the data produced are discussed and resolved prior to publication. Examples of quality assurance are provided in the box below. 

Examples of further quality assurance

Third party data calculations dual run internally

All schools have been given the opportunity to see their data (including all the main metrics in this release) as part of the checking exercise

Outputs dual run in two software packages in 2023

Comparisons with previous year’s figures to identify any large, unexpected changes 

Check totals are consistent across tables 

Check patterns in the data (for example expected differences between subjects, high or low performing local authorities) 

Check figures against those produced for the school level performance data - where relevant.


The extent to which a figure changes over different versions of the same data. 

The key stage 4 data can change very slightly between the usual ‘provisional’ and ‘revised’ schedule due to: 

  • outcomes of the appeals process where schools ask for reviews for one or more of their pupils in the belief that a clerical error has been made or the mark scheme has not been correctly applied 
  • late results and re-marks – where results were received after the data was provided in August to the contractor by awarding organisations 
  • changes resulting from requests from schools to remove pupils who have recently arrived from overseas, have been admitted following a permanent exclusion for another school, if the pupil is not at the end of key stage 4, if the pupil has permanently left England, the pupil has left the school before exams or the pupil is deceased 

The national figures usually change by no more than plus or minus one percentage point or one decimal point between provisional, revised and final data. Changes in the local authority and school level figures can be slightly larger. Figures do not typically change at a national level between revised and final data and changes in local authority and school level data are small. 

For more information on historical revisions between provisional, revised and final see the 2019 key stage 4 methodology document. Revisions are not available for 2020 and 2021 data, as only one version of data was published due to there not being a checking exercise. 

Disclosure Control

The Code of Practice for Official Statistics requires us to take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. We assess our statistics with reference to the National Statistician’s Guidance on Confidentiality of Official Statistics and guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to establish the risk of disclosure and its associated impact and suppress the data accordingly. 

For the 2023 provisional statistical release, it has been assessed and determined that no suppression of data is required. In the school level data on the school performance data website, any figures relating to a cohort of 5 pupils or fewer will be suppressed. This applies to sub-groups of pupils as well as the whole cohort; for example, if there were 5 boys and 3 girls in a school, we would not publish attainment for boys or girls separately but would publish attainment for all pupils (as this is based on 8 pupils).

Pupil characteristics definitions and historical changes

The pupil characteristics reported in the statistical release are: 

  • gender 
  • free school meal (FSM) eligibility 
  • disadvantaged pupils 
  • ethnicity 
  • first language 
  • special educational needs (SEN) 
  • prior attainment based on Key Stage 2 scaled scores 


The gender of the pupil is recorded as male or female on the school census. In exceptional circumstances a school may be unsure as to which gender should be recorded for a particular pupil. The advice from the department is to record the gender according to the wishes of the pupil and/or parent.  

Free school meals

Free school meals (FSM) is a binary indicator variable that states whether a pupil's family have claimed eligibility for free school meals as reported at the time of the annual spring school census. Parents are able to claim free school meals if they receive a qualifying benefit. The FSM variable does not relate to pupils who actually received free school meals but those who are eligible to receive free school meals. Pupils not eligible for free school meals or unclassified pupils are described as ‘All other pupils’ in the statistical release.

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) 

In 2015, FSM information was not available for pupils at the end of key stage 4 who attended further education colleges with provision for 14 to 16 year olds. This is because FE colleges are not required to return the school census. These pupils were therefore omitted from FSM breakdowns and classed as unclassified. From 2016, FSM data for further education colleges have been obtained from Individualised Learner Record (ILR) data, using variables that identify learner’s free school meal eligibility. 

Free school meals are available to pupils who attend sixth forms attached to a maintained school, as long as the course of study began before the pupil reached age 18. Free school meal eligibility relates to those who meet the eligibility criteria and make a claim. 

From September 2009 to July 2011, three local authorities participated in a pilot to provide free school meals to maintained primary school children. Durham and Newham provided universal free school meals to all primary pupils, and Wolverhampton extended the current eligibility criteria to include all families in receipt of Working Tax Credit, for primary and secondary pupils. 

For the pilot authorities mentioned above, care should be taken when comparing January 2010 and 2011 free school meal data with previous years’ data and subsequent data. It appears that in 2012, Newham continued providing universal free school meals to all their primary pupils. 

In the academic year 2011/12, due to local area free school meal initiatives, there was both an under and an over recording of free school meal eligibility in some local authorities. In total, the results from 77 schools were affected by this issue, including 70 from Southwark, 4 from Bromley and 1 each from Walsall, Bradford and North Somerset. FSM status has since been corrected for Southwark and therefore final 2012 data reported in this release will differ to provisional 2012 figures. The impact on national figures as a result of these mis-recordings in 2012 is considered negligible. This issue was also apparent in data back to 2008 but the impact on national and local figures for these years is considered negligible and no revisions to FSM status have been made.

Since 1 April 2018, transitional protections have been in place which will continue during the roll out of Universal Credit - the protections are two staged. The first stage continues to March 2023 and means pupils who are eligible for free school meals on or after 1 April 2018 retain their free school meals eligibility up until this point (as long as they remain in education, and do not explicitly ask to stop receiving it). The second stage then continues until the end of the child's child of education. For example, a pupil in year 10 in March 2023, would continue to be protected until they left secondary school. The size of the FSM eligible cohort has therefore increased in recent years due to these protections as pupils continue to become eligible but fewer pupils stop being eligible, as well as more families becoming eligible for Free School Meals due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families’ finances. The disadvantage cohort (see next section) continues to broadly stable in size.  

Breakdowns of attainment by FSM eligibility are available in the statistics release at national, regional and LA level, but they are not available at school level on the FSCP website. 

We will continue to consider the impact of the changing nature of the cohort on the accountability measures and the comparability of the FSM and disadvantage breakdowns over time. Further information will be shared once investigations have been completed.

Disadvantaged pupils

The disadvantaged pupil breakdowns presented for years 2012 to 2014 are defined as pupils known to be eligible for FSM in the previous six years[1] as indicated in any termly or annual school census, pupil referral unit (PRU) or alternative provision (AP) census or are looked after children for more than 6 months during the year. From 2015, in addition to the above, they include children who were looked after for at least one day during the year, or who have ceased to be looked after by a local authority in England and Wales because of adoption, a special guardianship order, a child arrangements order or a residence order.

Information on children looked after (CLA) is collected in the web-based SSDA903 return by local authorities in England. Information in the CLA database is collected at individual level and since 2005-06 includes the Unique Pupil Number (UPN) field. This data is collected annually between April and June for the previous financial year. Once the data has been collected and checked, an extract is produced which is sent to our matching contractors for linking to the performance tables. The UPN is the main field used for matching purposes but other information about the child is also used such as date of birth, gender, ethnicity and responsible local authority. 

Local authorities are required to update the database every year, including making amendments to previous years’ records where there have been changes. 

Further information on looked after children and the data items collected in the SSDA903 return can be found in the looked after children statistical release series

In 2011, the pupil premium was introduced for the first time and the definition for disadvantaged pupils was any pupil known to be eligible for FSM on census date or were looked after children for more than 6 months. 

In 2015, disadvantaged information was not available for pupils at the end of key stage 4 who attended further education colleges with provision for 14 to 16-year olds. This is because FE colleges are not required to return the school census. These pupils were therefore omitted from disadvantage breakdowns and classed as unclassified. From 2016, disadvantage data for further education colleges have been obtained from Individualised Learner Record (ILR) data, using variables that identify learner’s free school meal eligibility, and pupil premium funding eligibility (which gives the Adopted from Care element of disadvantage). Information on children looked after for pupils in FE colleges comes from the same return as that for other pupils (SSDA903). 

Ethnic group

Ethnicity is broken down into two main variables: a minor grouping variable and a major grouping variable. Those pupils who have been classified according to their ethnic group and are other than white British are defined as minority ethnic.

This census data item is provided for all pupils aged five and over as at the previous 31 August. Where the information has not yet been collected then this is recorded as not yet obtained. If a pupil or parent has refused to give the information, then ‘refused’ is recorded and returned. 

Ethnicity is a personal awareness of a common cultural identity. Ethnicity relates to how a person feels and not necessarily how they are perceived by others. It is a subjective decision as to which category a person places themselves in and therefore cannot be used to infer any other characteristics such as religion, country of origin etc. Ethnicity monitoring advice is available from the department’s website. Table 2 below outlines the main ethnicity categories and descriptions used: 

Table 2: Ethnicity categories and descriptions

Main categoryCodeDescription
WhiteWBRIWhite – British
WhiteWIRIWhite – Irish
WhiteWIRTTraveller of Irish Heritage
WhiteWOTHAny Other White Background
WhiteWROMGypsy / Roma
MixedMWBCWhite and Black Caribbean
MixedMWBAWhite and Black African
MixedMWASWhite and Asian
MixedMOTHAny Other Mixed Background
Asian or Asian BritishAINDIndian
Asian or Asian BritishAPKNPakistani
Asian or Asian BritishABANBangladeshi
Asian or Asian BritishAOTHAny Other Asian Background
Asian or Asian BritishCHNEChinese
Black or Black BritishBCRBBlack Caribbean
Black or Black BritishBAFRBlack – African
Black or Black BritishBOTHAny Other Black Background
Other Ethnic GroupsOOTHAny Other Ethnic Group
Information Not Yet ObtainedNOBTInformation Not Yet Obtained

English as a first language

“First Language” is the language to which a child was initially exposed during early development and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or in the community. It does not mean that pupils are necessarily fluent in a language other than English or cannot speak English.  

This is a compulsory data item for all pupils. The school must not ascribe a specific language to the pupil. This information must come from the parent / guardian or pupil. 

Codes ENB (not known but believed to be English) and OTB (not known but believed to be other than English) are used only where all the following conditions apply: 

  • pupil’s first language is not known with absolute certainty 
  • parents have not responded to enquiries 
  • school can judge with a high degree of confidence whether the pupil’s language is English or not 

Where a parent / guardian or pupil declines to provide a first language, it is recorded as ‘REF’ (refused). 

Where a pupil’s first language is other than English - that is: where the pupil has been exposed to a language other than English during early development and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or in the community - schools may record specific languages from the extended language codes or continue to use the codes used in their software[2].

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

The SEN variable indicates whether a pupil has learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for them to learn than most children of the same age. 

From 2015, pupils with SEN were categorised as follows: 

SEN support - Extra or different help is given from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum. The class teacher and SEN coordinator (SENCO) may receive advice or support from outside specialists. This category replaces the former ‘school action’ and ‘school action plus’ categories. 

Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan - A pupil has an EHC plan when a formal assessment has been made. Prior to 2019, this included instances where pupil had a statement of SEN however this was discontinued, and statements were transferred to EHC plans. 

Pre-2015, the tables contain SEN data as per the definition below: 

Pupils with special educational needs comprise those at school action, school action plus or with statements of SEN:  

School Action – where extra or different help is given, from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum. 

School Action Plus – where the class teacher and the SENCO receive advice or support from outside specialists (the specialist teacher, an educational psychologist, a speech and language therapist or other health professionals). 

Statement – a pupil has a statement of SEN when a formal assessment has been made. A document setting out the child’s needs and the extra help they should receive is in place.

Pupil SEN provision

This data item is collected in the census collections for all pupils on roll on census day. Pupil SEN provision types and their codes are outlined in table 3. 

Table 3: Valid provision types under theSEND code of practice: 0 to 25 

NNo Special Educational Need
ASchool action
PSchool action plus
SStatement (discontinued 2019)
E (from 2015)Education, health and care (EHC) plan
K (from 2015)SEN support

Pupil SEN type

The pupil SEN type field records the nature of a pupil’s special educational need. The primary need and, if appropriate, their secondary need should be recorded. In 2015, a new code entitled ‘SEN support but no specialist assessment of type of need’ was introduced which was aimed at those transferring from school action to SEN support but were yet to be formally assessed for their type of need. The previous ‘Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties’ (BESD) has been replaced with ‘Social, Emotional and Mental Health’ (SEMH) those with BESD in 2014 are not all expected to have transferred to SEMH from 2015. These changes are outlined in table 4. 

Table 4: Pupil SEN type

SPLDSpecific learning difficulty
MLDModerate learning difficulty
SLDSevere learning difficulty
PMLDProfound & multiple learning difficulty
SLCNSpeech, language and communication needs
HIHearing impairment
VIVisual impairment
MSIMulti-Sensory impairment
PDPhysical disability
ASDAutistic spectrum disorder
OTHOther difficulty / disability
SEMH (from 2015)Social, emotional and mental health
 NSA (from 2015)SEN support but no specialist assessment of type of need

Pupil SEN type ranking indicates the rank order of a pupil’s special educational need, recorded in Pupil SEN type. The most significant, or primary need, is ranked as 1 and the secondary as 2. Only two rankings are collected in the school census and no two needs are given the same ranking. The statistical release and school performance tables report only the primary need. 

Until 2014, this data item was collected in the spring census only for all pupils on roll on census day with a SEN Provision of P (School Action Plus or Early Years Action Plus) or S (Statement). From 2015, this coverage was extended to collect type of need for all pupils with a statement, an education, health and care plan, on school action plus or on SEN support. SEN support replaces school action and school action plus. It is anticipated that a history of provision should be recorded within a school’s management information system (MIS). 


[1] Up to and including the Spring census 2019 

[2] Language codes can be found here: 


Prior Attainment Group

From 2020/21 there was a change to the way pupil's prior attainment was calculated. These new tests (reported in scaled scores) were introduced as part of a far more rigorous curriculum that raised the expectations of young people’s mastery of literacy and numeracy. Further detail on the changes made are here.

Given the changes made in 2016, from 2021 onwards a pupil’s prior attainment is calculated as the average of their scaled scores in English reading and maths and these scaled scores are mapped to low, middle and high prior attainment.   

The impact of this change is to alter the distribution of the number of pupils in each prior attainment category, compared to data from 2020 and earlier. Care needs to be taken when comparing attainment by prior attainment over time. 

Within the statistical release the new prior attainment categories are calculated in the following way: 

  • Low prior attainers have an average score (average of their English reading and maths scaled scores) of below 100.
  • Middle prior attainers have an average score greater than or equal to 100 but less than 110.
  • High prior attainers have an average score greater than or equal to 110.

Average scaled scores are calculated to one decimal place meaning, for example, a pupil getting an English reading scaled score of 99 and a maths scaled score of 100 would get an average scaled score of 99.5 and would therefore, be placed in the low prior attainment category. 

Where pupils have only one result (English reading or maths), their average prior attainment is equal to their one result. 

For the vast majority of pupils their scores range between 80 and 120. However, there are scenarios where a pupil can get a ‘nominal’ scaled score of less than 80.  

Pupils below the standard of the test at KS2 received teacher assessment outcomes which we then convert into nominal points to sit below the scaled score range, for the purposes of including them in the prior attainment measures (e.g. the definitions of low, middle and high prior attainment and, in future, progress 8). This has been done using the same process previously used to calculate KS1 to KS2 progress measures, from the year each pupil obtained their KS2 result. For the majority of pupils included in the 2022 KS4 attainment statistics publication, this will have been 2017, while for a minority of pupils it will have been 2018. The points allocated are as follows:

Teacher assessment for pupils below the level of the test at key stage 2   Points (below the scaled score range) - 2016Points (below the scaled score range) - 2017Points (below the scaled score range) - 2018
Below the standard of the interim pre-key stage standards assessment based on scalesSee table belowSee table belowSee table below
Pupils below the interim pre-key stage standards but not on P scales 707171
Foundations for the expected standard 737373
Early development of the expected standard767676
Growing development of the expected standard797979

As we have done in previous years, we have allocated a nominal point score for pupils without a pre-key stage teacher assessment who were entered for the test but gained too few marks to achieve a scaled score. These pupils will have been allocated a code N [1]. In 2022, the points assigned to code N are 79.  

[1] Code N was introduced from 2017 onwards. 

For those pupils whose assessment was based on p scales in 2017, the following points were used.

P scale teacher assessment for pupils below the level of the test and below pre-key stage standards – at key stage 2Points (below the scaled score range) - 2016Points (below the scaled score range) - 2017Points (below the scaled score range) - 2018
P1i to P3ii705959

Nominal scaled scores are treated in the same way as scaled scores in the range 80 and 120 for the purposes of calculating pupil’s average prior attainment in English reading and maths.

Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI)

IDACI is provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The index is based on Lower-Layer Super Output Areas in England defined by 2011 census data. The Index of Multiple Deprivation ranks every small area in England from 1 (most deprived area) to 32,844 (least deprived area). 

IDACI is a subset of the Income Deprivation Domain of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). Each LSOA is given a score showing the percentage of pupils aged under 16 that live in families that are income deprived, this means they are in receipt of certain benefits and their equivalised income is below 60% of median before housing costs. Further information about IDACI can be found at English indices of deprivation 2015.  

The IDACI bands used in this publication are based on 2015 IDACI scores. IDACI band breakdowns for 2011 to 2014 are based on 2010 IDACI scores, breakdowns for 2008, 2009 and 2010 are based on 2007 IDACI scores and IDACI tables for 2007 and earlier are based on 2004 IDACI scores, so care should be taken when using IDACI scores from earlier years. In the 2023 release, the residency of pupils is base don the 2021 census but the IDACI scores are based on the 2015 IDACI scores. This has lead to some pupil's IDACI scores being unable to be matched. These have been classified as unknown.

In the past, the DfE has used figures for children who reside in the 30 per cent most deprived lower super output areas in England (IDACI deciles 0-10, 10-20 and 20-30) as a marker for deprivation. This target was introduced following the 2004 Spending Review and was a recognised way of identifying deprived wards. These figures are no longer used to measure progress against Government Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets and have not been since 2008. 


Geographic data, which is matched to the department’s data collections and used in all official statistics, is provided by ONS Geography, a business unit of ONS that provides the geographic data and services that support the production of high quality statistics. 

The ONS’s presentation guidance for administrative areas sets out the recommended standard for presenting and publishing statistics at regional and sub-regional levels in the UK ONS guidance: presenting statistics for administrative areas

The geography structures and codes used in the production of pupil characteristic statistical releases can be downloaded from the ONS geography portal

Local authority

Local authority (LA) data show the LA that maintains the school which returned a pupil’s attainment record for the relevant key stage. This data is collected as part of the key stage collection. The current local government structure has 151 'upper tier' authorities, which all have the function of local education authority. City of London does not have any state funded secondary schools, therefore there is no attainment data provided for this local authority in this release. Changes to the new merged unitary of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Dorset have all been operative from 1 April 2019. Data for these local authorities from 2019 onwards is not comparable to previous years. 

The 2020/21 local authority data was updated to reflect the changes in Northamptonshire where the old authority has been replaced by the creation of two new ones; North Northamptonshire and West Northamptonshire.  

The 2022/23 local authority data was updated to reflect the changes in Cumbria where the old authority has been replaced by the creation of two new ones; Cumbria and Westmorland and Furness.

School location and pupil residency

Data showing attainment by either school location or pupil residency are created by matching the relevant school or pupil postcode to a cut of the National Statistics Postcode Lookup (NSPL), an ONS product available on the ONS open geography portal. Since 2012 the February cut of the NSPL has been used annually to match on geography fields. Prior to 2012 the May version of the NSPL was used. 

The local authority district is an example of a geographic field matched from the National Statistics Postcode Lookup (NSPL). Tables are included in the pupil characteristic statistical releases showing the LAD based on either the pupil’s postcode or the school’s postcode (key stage 2 and key stage 4 only). 

The term ‘local authority district (LAD)’ refers to the lower tier of local government. This includes non-metropolitan districts, metropolitan districts, unitary authorities and London boroughs. Structural changes to local government in England were effected on 1 April 2009, whereby a number of new unitary authorities were created in parts of the country that previously operated a 'two-tier' system of counties and districts. The current structure consists of 326 'lower tier' authorities (LADs). 

Further changes to the LADs of St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield have been operative from 1 April 2012. Changes to the unitary authority of Northumberland, the metropolitan district of Gateshead and the non-metropolitan districts of East Hertfordshire and Stevenage, have all been operative from 1 April 2013. 

Codes are shown in the tables as those relevant to the district at the start of the academic year reported. 

Further information on local government restructuring can be found here


The rural-urban classification of postcodes for 2021 is based on the 2011 classification of output areas released in August 2013. Census output areas forming settlements with populations of over 10,000 are defined as urban, which can be further sub-divided into three broad morphological types based on the predominant settlement component. The remainder are defined as one of three rural types. 

Further information can be found at 2011 rural urban classification.

Coherence and comparability

Coherence is the degree to which the statistical processes, by which two or more outputs are generated, use the same concepts and harmonised methods. Comparability is the degree to which data can be compared over time, region or other domain. We use the same methodology to produce the data within our statistical releases and the school level performance data. We also use a dataset produced at the same time for the school level performance data and the statistical release. As a result, the national and local authority figures included in the statistical releases and the school level data will match when comparing measures with the same definition. In 2022/23 there was a return to pre-pandemic standards for GCSEs, with protection built into the grading process to recognise the disruption that students have faced.  For this reason, users need to exercise extreme caution when considering comparisons over time, as they may not reflect changes in pupil performance alone.

There have been a number of other changes to key stage 4 data which make comparisons over time difficult. These, and further information on the extent to which school type groupings can be compared over time, can be found in the 2019 KS4 methodology document:

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If non-media

Key stage 4 performance tables team, Data, Insight and Statistics Division, Data Directorate, Operations Group, Department for Education, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT

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