School places sufficiency survey: methodology



This methodology provides information on the data sources used in the ‘School places sufficiency survey: Academic Year 2019/20’ release. It also provides information on the data quality and coverage, and highlights any key limitations. As this one-off survey was voluntary, the data has limited coverage and is therefore being published as transparency data rather than official statistics.

Data Collection

Information in the ‘School places sufficiency’ release has been derived from the School places sufficiency survey – a voluntary survey of local authorities in England in September 2020 that collected information on: 

  • Significant changes to school capacity between May 2019 and May 2020
  • Local authority planned additional places for September 2021, which rely on ongoing building works

Local authorities were not asked to provide information on brand new schools or whole school closures.

Data coverage and quality

The data submitted by local authorities in the School places sufficiency survey was voluntary and had limited coverage as it did not ask about all schools. It has undergone a limited data cleaning process with some validation at source and some minimal editing by the department post submission (mainly in relation to change type).

School capacity

School capacity as at May 2020, for a small number of state-funded primary and secondary schools in England. Included are schools that have seen a significant change in capacity since May 2019[1] (opens in a new tab), as reported to us by the local authorities that responded to the survey. Includes community, foundation, voluntary, academies and free schools. It excludes all special schools. 

School capacity includes sixth form places. It excludes nursery places.

Local authority planned places

Local authority planned places for those local authorities that responded, including permanent and temporary places, are based on local authority estimates. They include only places for projects which are reliant on ongoing building work. Data includes only additional places in mainstream schools. Data does not include additional places from centrally funded programs such as Free Schools. The survey asked for planned places for September 2021, however there were also a small number of planned places reported for September 2022 and September 2023. Even though places are sometimes delivered in phases, the data contains the academic year when all the places will be available (based on the target completion date).

[1] (opens in a new tab) Some local authorities also told us about a few non-significant capacity changes.  We have included these for completeness if local authorities have done so.



The number of places the school can provide for. 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). 

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.

Sixth form places are included in the total secondary capacity. 

significant change to school capacity was defined as an increase in net capacity of 30 school places or more per school, any reduction in net capacity at a school, any change in the age range of existing provision or a reorganisation of existing schools due to amalgamation, merger or split.

Net capacity assessment

The net capacity assessment is the standard method for measuring the number of pupil places available in any mainstream school. It is intended to provide a single, robust and consistent method of assessing the capacity of schools.

Academy funding agreement

The funding agreement is a legal contract between an academy trust and the Secretary of State for Education. It sets out funding arrangements, obligations of both parties and the termination provisions. The funding agreement provides the framework for an academy to operate in.

Bulge expansion

Temporary increase in places used to accommodate large cohorts. They move through the school as the cohort progresses.

Bulge removal

Removal of temporary places used to accommodate large cohorts. The cohort may have now left the school, so the extra places are no longer needed.

Planning areas

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 for instance all-through schools.

Local authority planned places

Local authority estimates of the total school places to become available from projects such as school expansions. They can include both permanent expansions (new block, extension or internal remodelling) and temporary expansions (for modular/temporary classroom). Data does not include additional places from centrally funded programs such as Free Schools.

Help and support

Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about School places sufficiency survey statistics and data:

Pupil Place Planning Team

Contact name: Natalie Paterson
Telephone: 01325 340948

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