The ebb and flow of school enrolments

  • Year-group cohorts can vary greatly in size, sometimes by 20% or more, and often rise and fall in waves. This seems to have measurable effects on class sizes and school occupancy (pupil headcount as a percentage of school capacity).
  • Overall primary school occupancy is currently falling because the cohorts that have recently entered Reception and Key Stage 1 are smaller than their recent predecessors. We expect overall primary school enrolments to fall further as these smaller Key Stage 1 cohorts enter Key Stage 2 and replace the larger cohorts currently occupying those year groups.
  • Furthermore, recent declining birth rates suggest that future Reception cohorts will be even smaller, so the overall decline in primary school enrolment is likely to continue for at least the next few years.
  • The resulting reductions in primary school occupancy are not uniform, but tend to affect certain types of schools more than others. In particular, smaller primary schools and those with lower Ofsted ratings not only had lower occupancies in 2015, before the current declines began, they have also fallen further than other schools since then. These are the kinds of schools that are likely to face the biggest challenges with any ongoing decline in primary pupil numbers.
  • In contrast, overall secondary school occupancy has risen since 2015. Nevertheless, many of the same trends are evident: low Ofsted ratings, small school sizes and non-selective status all correlate with relatively low and decreasing school occupancy.
  • Depending on your point of view, these trends are increasing systemic inequality or are simply signs of an effective education market in action. In either case, they pose questions for those tasked with running schools and planning future provision.

Figure 1: Numbers of pupils attending state schools in England
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 2: Numbers of full-time pupils attending state schools in England
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 3: Capacity and pupil numbers for state schools in England
Notes: School capacity and pupil headcount data come from different times of the academic year, so may not correspond exactly. The relatively small number of all-through schools are included among secondary schools, not primary schools.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 4: Change in capacity by school type (2015-2019)
Notes: School groups are assigned based on current status in 2019. School deprivation figures based on pupils' eligibility for free school meals, with bands defined by the DfE. Local deprivation figures based on the mean IDACI of postcodes within a radius of 2km (primary) or 4km (secondary) of each school, with schools then divided into three roughly equally sized groups. Small primary schools have fewer than 200 pupils, large ones have more than 360; for secondary schools the thresholds are 700 and 1,200 pupils, respectively. A small proportion of low attainers means less than 12% and a high proportion means more than 18%. Urban, suburban and rural groups use ONS rural-urban categories applied to school postcodes.
Sources: Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 5: Change in school capacity by region (2015-2019)
Sources: Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 6: Mean size of one-teacher classes for state schools in England
Notes: All-through schools have been omitted from this analysis.
Sources: Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 7: Occupancy by school type (2015-2019)
Notes: See notes for Figure 4.
Sources: Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 8: School occupancy by region (2015-2019)
Sources: Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 9: Change in primary school occupancy (2015-2019) against starting occupancy (2015) by school type
Notes: Dot sizes correspond to pupil numbers. See also notes for Figure 4.
Sources: Department for Education; Department for Communities and Local Government; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 10: Change in secondary school occupancy (2015-2019) against starting occupancy (2015) by school type
Notes: See notes for Figure 4.
Sources: Department for Education; Department for Communities and Local Government; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 11: Live births (England and Wales) with corresponding school cohort sizes (England only)
Sources: Office for National Statistics; Department for Education; SchoolDash analysis.
  1. Note that the pupil numbers shown for year-group cohorts in Figure 1 and Figure 2 are slightly lower than total enrolment numbers shown in Figure 3. This is because the year-group breakdowns are not available for all schools. But this effect is small and broadly consistent from year to year, so does not significantly affect any of the analyses presented here.
  2. Even assuming flawless data collection, the number of (eg) Year 6 pupils at any given time is unlikely to be the same as the number of Year 5 pupils 12 months earlier, principally because children move in and out of the state system and the country.
  3. Comparable data for 2011-2014 are not readily available so have not been analysed.
  4. Our assumptions are as follows: Over the next three years, the cohorts currently in Reception to Year 3 will move through the state primary system without changing in size; during that time the current Year 4, 5 and 6 cohorts will leave primary school. These latter groups will be replaced by new Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 cohorts composed of children born between 2016 and 2018. The sizes of these new school cohorts will be in the same proportion to their corresponding birth-year cohorts as the current Reception cohort is to the group of children born in 2015 (ie, 88.5%, which is a bit lower than immediately preceding years but close to the mean for all years going back to 2004).

 

Hire education: What's happening in secondary school recruitment?

  • We detected 1,279 more teacher vacancy advertisements in the 2018/19 academic year than in 2017/18, representing an increase of 4.6%.
  • There was considerable variation by subject area. Increases were seen in Expressive Arts (+15%), Technology (+12%), English (+9%), Maths (+7%) and Science (+3%). In contrast, there were reductions in the numbers of advertisements seen for Humanities and Social Sciences (-2%) and Languages (-5%). (For details of which classroom subjects fall into each of these areas, see Footnote 1).
  • Recruiting activity also varied by region. After controlling for underlying teacher populations, the highest levels were seen in the South East and London, while the lowest were in the North East and North West.
  • Advertisements for maternity, temporary or part-time positions all showed increases in the 2018-19 academic year compared to the previous year. They were most common in the Humanities, English the Expressive Arts, possibly reflecting higher proportions of female teachers in those fields. They also tended to be more prevalent in relatively affluent areas and at schools with high Ofsted ratings.
  • Technician positions showed a similar overall year-on-year increase (4.8%) to teachers. These were concentrated in Science (+21%) and Technology (+10%), with Expressive Arts (-3%) showing a year-on-year reduction.
  • Consistent with our previous analysis of data to March 2019, these full-year results confirm that the proportions of science teacher positions that require a specialist in biology, chemistry or physics vary greatly by school location and type. This suggests big disparities in the provision of science education across the country. We also continue to find no evidence that specialist science positions are any harder to fill than general science positions.
Figure 1: Numbers of teacher recruitment advertisements by subject area and academic year
Notes: Academic year 2017-18 corresponds to August 2017-July 2018 inclusive and similarly for 2018-19.
For details of which classroom subjects fall into each subject area, see Footnote 1.
Sources: School websites; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 2: Numbers of technician recruitment advertisements by subject area and academic year
Notes: See footnotes to Figure 1.
Sources: School websites; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 3: Numbers of teacher recruitment advertisements by month and academic year
Notes: See footnotes to Figure 1.
Sources: School websites; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 4: Numbers of technician recruitment advertisements by month and academic year
Notes: See footnotes to Figure 1.
Sources: School websites; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 5: Recruitment advertisements per 1,000 teachers by school type
Notes: School deprivation figures based on pupils' eligibility for free school meals, with bands defined by the DfE. Local deprivation figures based on the mean IDACI of postcodes within a 4km radius of each school, with schools then divided into three roughly equally sized groups. Small schools have fewer than 700 pupils, large ones have more than 1,200. A small proportion of low attainers means less than 12% and a high proportion means more than 18%. Urban, suburban and rural groups use ONS rural-urban categories applied to school postcodes.
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 6: Recruitment advertisements per 1,000 teachers by region
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Map 1: Recruitment advertisements per 1,000 teachers by region
Figure 7: Proportions of maternity, part-time and temporary positions by academic year
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 8: Proportions of maternity, part-time and temporary positions by subject area (August 2017 - July 2019)
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 9: Proportions of maternity, part-time and temporary positions by school type (August 2017 - July 2019)
Notes: Advertisements issued by multi-school groups have been omitted. For further details see notes to Figure 5.
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; SchoolDash analysis.
Figure 10: Proportions of maternity, part-time and temporary positions by region (August 2017 - July 2019)
Notes: Advertisements issued by multi-school groups have been omitted.
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Map 2: Proportions of maternity, part-time and temporary positions by region (August 2017 - July 2019)
Figure 11: Specialist science teacher positions by region
Note: Advertisements issued by multi-school groups and putative repeat advertisements have been omitted. See Footnote 4 for further details.
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
Map 3: Specialist science teacher positions by region
Figure 12: Repeat advertising rates for science teacher positions by region (2017-19)
Note: Advertisements issued by multi-school groups have been omitted.
Sources: School websites; Department for Education; Office for National Statistics; SchoolDash analysis.
  1. 'Expressive Arts' include Art, Drama and Music. 'Technology' includes Design & Technology and Computing. 'Humanities and Social Sciences' include Geography, History, Economics, Sociology and Religious Studies. 'Other' subjects include Physical Education, Business Studies and Media Studies.
  2. This analysis is based on data gathered by indexing school websites every weekday to search for any new vacancies advertised. This process does not capture all vacant positions because: (a) not all positions are advertised on school websites, (b) even when they are, they are not necessarily presented in a way that can be automatically indexed, and (c) websites are sometimes unresponsive or otherwise unavailable. For this reason, the data presented should be thought of as being based not on a comprehensive list of all vacancies but on a subset. However, positions were detected for well over 90% of schools and the representation of different subgroups was generally consistent with the overall population of schools, so there are no obvious reasons to suspect systematic biases. This means that any variations, such as differences between subjects or changes over time, are likely to represent genuine underlying trends. All data presented in this analysis are from mainstream state secondary schools, sixth-form colleges and FE colleges in England. Primary schools, special schools, independent schools and establishments outside England have been omitted.
  3. These were defined as positions for which the part-time, temporary or maternity status was explicitly stated within or close to the job title. It does not include positions where this was specified elsewhere or not included at all in the online information.
  4. Consistent with our previous analysis of science teacher recruiting, repeat advertisements are defined as new advertisements that overlap with the subject area of an earlier advertisement for the same school which appeared at least 21 days but no more than 90 days previously. This method almost certainly creates both false positives and false negatives, but manual inspection suggests that the results are in line with classifications made by human experts.
  5. It is important to qualify this finding. Because general science positions are more numerous than biology, chemistry and physics positions, it is more likely that we will overestimate the repeat rate for the former. For a longer explanation, see the relevant footnote in our earlier blog post.

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