Schools and local authorities are required to provide the Department for Education (DfE) with a school census return (using a DfE-designed survey instrument) covering a wide range of information on the characteristics of schools and the pupils within them in January each year. Additionally, independent schools, general hospital schools and alternative provision provide (via the local authority) details on the number and characteristics of their pupils at this time.
Guidance on what is collected in each of the censuses can be found at the links below:
The proposed month of publication is announced on gov.uk at least twelve months in advance and precise dates are announced at least four weeks prior to publication. In the unlikely event of a change to the pre-announced release schedule, the change and the reasons for it would be announced.
The figures in ‘Schools, pupils and their characteristics’ are initially available internally approximately two months after the census data collection is completed and the data has been cleaned. The pre-announced publication date is chosen in order to allow enough time to produce and quality assure all the tables in the release, but ensure that the data is still current and relates to the academic year in which it was collected.
The most recently published data is from the school census which took place on 19th January 2023.
Cross border movement
The main figures presented in the publication and data report geography based on where the pupil attends school, rather than where pupils live. The School Census collects further information about individual pupil residence and this data is used to produce the Cross Border Movement data. Pupils educated in independent schools are not included in this data and only figures for primary, secondary and special school pupils are published routinely.
Figures given at national or regional level are summaries of the number of pupils living in that country or region who are known to attend school in a different Local Authority (LA) in England to the one in which they live. A proportion of pupils at schools in England have resident postcodes which do not correspond to an English Local Authority area, either because the pupils live outside the boundaries of England or the postcode is not recognised. These unknown cases are denoted in the data in columns referring to country, region and la as ‘:’. The data shows the Local Authority in which these pupils are attending school. More than 99% of pupils attending state schools in England have resident postcodes indicating that they also live in a Local Authority in England.
Eligibility for free school meals
The headline eligibility for free school meals is based on all pupils of all ages at the school. The underlying data includes a measure ‘number of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals (Performance Tables)’. This is based on full-time pupils aged 0 to 15 and part-time pupils aged 5 to 15 at start of school year. This corresponds broadly to pupils of compulsory school age and is the measure reported on Get Information About Schools (GIAS): Get Information about Schools - GOV.UK (get-information-schools.service.gov.uk). Infant (Reception and Key Stage 1) pupils who are eligible by virtue of the income criteria are included in counts of FSM eligible pupils. FSM eligible does not include infant pupils who receive FSM solely by virtue of the Universal Infant Free School Meal (UIFSM) policy.
Eligibility for free school meals during the previous six years
Some aspects of school funding are calculated using the number of pupils who have been eligible for free school meals (FSM) at any point during the previous six years. The data for these calculations is taken from the school census. Pupil records are matched so that the same pupil can be identified across census sweeps and a cumulative record of FSM eligibility produced. The matching takes place after the main publication and these statistics showing FSM eligibility over an extended period of time are added into the release at a later date.
Information about young carers has been collected in the January school census since 2023. Schools other than nursery schools are required to return counts of pupils who have been identified as a person under 18 who provides or intends to provide care for another person (which isn’t to a contract or voluntary work), and to record whether they have been identified as such by the school (including by the pupil) or by a parent/guardian.
Prior to January 2023, the publication included figures for pupils being taught via alternative provision arranged by the local authority (collected via the alternative provision census) and pupils being taught in pupil referral units (collected via the main school census.) From 2023 the publication also includes figures for pupils attending alternative provision arranged by their school, collected via the main school census. At the same time, the term ‘pupil referral unit’ has been replaced with ‘state-funded AP schools’ – this is purely a change of terminology, the category ‘pupil referral unit’ has always included alternative provision free schools and academies.