This methodology provides information on the data sources used in the ‘School capacity’ release. It also provides information on the data quality and coverage, and highlights any key limitations.
School capacity: methodology
Information in the ‘School capacity’ release has been derived from 3 data sources:
- School Capacity survey – an annual survey returned by local authorities that collects information on the below areas. Further detail is available at School capacity survey 2019: guidance for local authorities.
- School capacity
- School sixth form capacity, collected as a voluntary field
- Pupil forecasts, including forecasts of the number of places to be funded through housing developer contribution (HDC) agreements
- Local authority planned places, including additional, bulge and removed places
- School Census – a termly census of all schools in England, used to provide pupil number on roll figures.
- Central Programmes data – administrative data about the provision of places through centrally funded programmes. Further detail is available in the technical guidance for the school place planning estimates accompanying the ‘School capacity: Academic year 2018/19’ release.
Changes to School Capacity survey in 2019
Data on additional, bulge and removed places were collected through the main School Capacity survey in 2019, rather than the Capital Spend data collection as in previous years. The following changes have been made:
- Additional and bulge places are now collected and reported separately. Prior to 2019, they were published together as one 'planned places' figure. For further information on additional and bulge places, see ‘Definitions’.
- 2019 is the first year data on removed places has been collected and published. For further information on removed places, see ‘Definitions’.
- Data now includes places for Year 12 to Year 14. Prior to 2019, data did not include places for Year 12 to Year 14 places and places were reported in the first year they were due to become available only.
- Additional, bulge and removed places are now reported cumulatively, i.e. the 2021/22 additional places figure is the sum of additional places planned for 2019/10, 2020/21, and 2021/22. Prior to 2019, planned places were reported in the first year they were due to be available only.
All the data submitted by local authorities in the School Capacity survey have undergone a thorough data cleaning process with validation at source and at the department. Anomalies have been raised with local authorities to check that the guidance has been followed. Except where noted in the tables, all data has been signed off by local authorities’ Directors of Children’s Services (or equivalent roles) as complete and accurate.
School capacity includes community, foundation, voluntary and middle schools as deemed. It includes academies and free schools. It excludes all special schools.
School capacity includes sixth form places. It excludes nursery places.
In constructing the timeseries of school capacity data from 2009/10 onwards, minor revisions have been made to 2016/17 and earlier data to account for slight inconsistencies in methodology in how the published tables were produced.
In the 2009/10 published tables, school capacity data for academies were originally published separately from local authority maintained schools. In the timeseries of school capacity data, 2009/10 data for academies and local authority maintained schools have been combined together to be consistent with subsequent years' releases.
Local authority pupil forecasts
Forecast data is generated by local authorities based on their own data and local knowledge. These forecasts are challenged extensively during data cleaning processes. There are variations in the forecasting methodologies and data sources used across local authorities. This means there is the potential for local anomalies within the methodology. As with any forecast figures, there will be variation between the forecasts and the subsequent actual pupil numbers.
As with all forecasts, the level of accuracy is expected to reduce as forecasts are made further into the future. Care should be taken when using forecasts from the later years.
Forecasting accuracy measures are calculated and published for each local authority in the Local Authority School Places Scorecards. The Local Authority School Places Scorecards can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/school-places-scorecards
Forecasting accuracy is derived retrospectively, once actual pupil numbers for the forecast data become available. Most local authorities’ forecasting accuracy tends to be within +/-1% one year ahead.
Local authority planned places
Local authority planned places, including additional, bulge and removed places, are based on local authority estimates. They include only places for projects where the local authority has a high degree of certainty the project will go ahead. Further information is available at: School capacity survey 2019: guidance for local authorities.
School sixth form capacity: experimental statistics
Sixth form capacity in schools was collected for the second time in the 2019 School Capacity survey, as a voluntary field. It includes sixth form capacity in community, foundation, voluntary and middle schools as deemed. It includes sixth form capacity in academies/free schools. It excludes all special schools.
These statistics are still considered experimental as there may be limitations due to incomplete coverage and the requirement for further operational testing. In particular, any comparisons between 2018/19 data and 2017/18 data should be treated with caution as changes from year to year may not reflect actual changes in figures but may simply indicate improvements in data quality. They are, however, useful to assess capacity in sixth forms attached to schools and have been published for transparency purposes.
80% of local authorities with at least one school with pupils on roll in year groups 12, 13 or 14 submitted complete data in 2019 compared to 65% in 2018.
The ‘School place planning estimates’ data file includes the estimated number of places needed in order to meet future demand.
These estimates factor in existing capacity reported at 1 May 2019, additional capacity from local authorities planned places, and additional capacity being provided through centrally funded programmes (e.g. free schools). This capacity is then compared with the forecasts provided by the local authorities. This comparison of capacity and pupil forecasts is made at planning area level (see ‘Definitions) and national curriculum year group level, i.e. places have to be available in the correct planning area and year group. Further information on how these estimates are calculated, how to interpret them and their limitations are available in the technical guidance accompanying the ‘School capacity: Academic year 2018/19’ release.
The national pupil forecast figures in the ‘School capacity’ release will differ to the National Pupil Projections published annually by the Department for Education due to methodological and timing reasons.
Local authorities supply the department with their own low-level planning area forecasts using their own methodologies that are based on a variety of local factors (including ONS data on live births, local migration patterns, pupil yield from housing developments and data provided by local health bodies). These are then added together to create the national figures shown in the ‘School capacity’ release.
National Pupil Projections are calculated at national level only and are based on ONS age-based projections, adjusted for school years; they also use historic population and birth data from ONS and the department’s school census figures.
The pupil forecasts within the ‘School capacity: Academic year 2018/19’ release are comparable to ‘National-level pupil projections: July 2018 (2019 update)’ which was updated on 11 July 2019. They are based on the mid-2016 population projections from ONS and cover a longer time period (up to 2027) than in the school capacity release. They provide national pupil forecasts by actual age whereas this publication provides local authority forecasts by national curriculum year group. Differences in the methodologies used by individual local authorities for pupil number forecasts mean that the aggregated totals in the school capacity release will differ from the national-level projections, but the trends in both are broadly similar.
More up-to-date national pupil projections (published 16 July 2020) are available at ‘National pupil projections: Reporting year 2020’, based on mid-2018 population estimates from ONS. However, they include an additional year of actual pupil numbers compared to the local authority pupil forecasts within the ‘School capacity: Academic year 2018/19’ release.
For maintained schools (local authority funded), capacity is defined by a physical measurement, and calculated in the net capacity assessment. Academies are not required to complete a net capacity assessment. Therefore, their final net capacity is reported as per their funding agreement (subject to any information that the local authority holds in addition).
For capacity, schools are reported as deemed. Therefore, for a middle-deemed primary school all capacity is counted as primary and for a middle-deemed secondary or all-through school all capacity is counted as secondary. Sixth form places are included in the total secondary capacity.
Free schools are reported at their final intended capacity and in their final intended planning area. The capacities of local authority maintained schools are reported as built and ready-to-use.
Number on roll
Number on roll (actual pupil numbers) within the ‘Local authority pupil forecasts and forecast housing developer contribution (HDC) places’ data file are based on the January 2019 census. Number on roll figures within the ‘School capacity’ and the ‘School sixth form capacity: experimental statistics’ data file are taken from the May census for the relevant academic year, except for new schools (including schools that have become academies) where figures are based on data gathered during the School Capacity survey. Number on roll relates to pupils in reception year group and above.
Schools at or over capacity
A school is identified as at or in excess of capacity when their number on roll is greater than or equal to capacity.
The number of unfilled places is the extent of capacity above number on roll. A school is identified as having unfilled places if the capacity is higher than the number of pupils on roll.
Planning areas are groups of schools, often (but not exclusively) in a similar geographic area, reflecting patterns of provision. The planning areas for primary are different to the planning areas for secondary. Schools may be assigned both a primary and a secondary planning area if they have pupils on roll in both primary and secondary year groups. This includes all-through schools, middle-deemed primary schools, and middle-deemed secondary schools.
Pupil forecast data is split by phase. Primary includes year groups R - 6 only, and secondary includes year groups 7 - 14.
Local authority planned places
Additional places - permanent places that will not move through the school with a specific cohort.
Bulge places - temporary places used to accommodate large cohorts. They move through the school as the cohort progresses.
Removed places - places local authorities plan to permanently remove from their school capacity.