Education in the UK – Key Facts and Stats

Official Statistics on schools, teachers and educational achievement provided by the United Kingdom government provide an overview of the education system. They are useful for providing an ‘introduction to the state of education in the U.K’, before embarking on the core content of any sociology of education course and providing a basis for comparing the U.K. education system to the education systems of other countries, which would be relevant to the module on global development.

I will also provide a brief discussion of the validity and representativeness of the official statistics below, tying this into research methods.

I only deal with state-schools in this post, I’ll do a separate post in future on private, or independent schools in comparison to state schools.

The Government spent 83.4 billion on education in 2015-16, or 4.4% of GDP, a decrease from 5.3% in  2011-12

The above chart, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (link below), clearly shows you the extent of the Tory funding cuts to education since 2010.

There are 32, 142 schools in the U.K.


For an overview of the different types of school please see this post: different types of school in England and Wales (forthcoming post).

The majority of schools in England and Wales are state funded, and there are 5 times as many primary schools as secondary schools.

  • There are 21000 primary schools
  • There are 4100 secondary schoolsNumber of schools UK by type

This means primary schools are lot smaller in scale in that each of them has, on average, fewer pupils in them, and should be more ‘locally based for most parents; while secondary schools are a lot larger, will have many more pupils in them, have more of an ‘education factory’ feel to them and be more widely dispersed, meaning children will have to travel further to them.

There are 5.5 million pupils in primary schools in the U.K. and 3.8 million secondary school pupils (figures for state maintained schools)Pupil numbers UK

  • The number of pupils in secondary schools decreased by 2.4% between 2011 and 2015
  • The number of pupils in primary schools increased by 8.3% between 2011 to 2015.
  • This probably reflects demographic trends in the United Kingdom (although by all means do verify this); if this is the case, it means we might reasonably expect to see an increase in secondary school numbers over the next few years.

There are 122 000 pupils in special schools, and 15 000 in pupil referral units

The numbers of pupils in both special schools and pupil referral units are increasing: between 2012 and 2016:

  • the number of students in special schools increased by 17,000, or 21%,
  • the number of students in pupil referral units increased by 2600, or 16.2%

A total of 14.4% of pupils have Special Education Needs

but only 2.8% of them have an SEN statement with a further 11.6% receiving SEN support, mostly within mainstream maintained schools.

Between 2010 to 2015 the number of pupils with special educational needs fell from 21% to 15%

NB – if you read this in conjunction with the previous chart, then it suggests that special educational needs students are becoming increasingly segregated into special schools and/ or pupil referral units, rather than being dealt with in mainstream secondary schools.

Another thing to note about the chart above is that it’s highly unlikely that the number of statemented SEN children are increasing while there’s been a fairly sharp decrease in non-statemented SEN kids, this has got ‘change in labelling’ written all over it as an explanation (no pun intended).

In 2015 the proportion of 16-18 year olds in education and work-based learning was 81.6%

This is he highest level since consistent records began in 1994

  • At age 16 the participation rate was 94.1%
  • At age 17 it was 87.8%.
  • At age 18 it was 63.8% (but of course, most of the ‘missing’ 36.2% will be in paid-work!)

NEETS –  The number of 16-24 year-olds Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) across the UK has fallen to around 15%

There were 1.3 million students studying towards their first degree in 2015/16, an 8% increase since 2010/11

statistics study first degree U.K.

In 2015 there were 456 900 full time equivalent teachers in England and Wales

The overall number of teachers has increased over the last five years, but this increase is mainly in primary teachers. The number of secondary school teachers has actually decreased.

13% of qualified teachers drop out after just one year of teaching, and 30% drop out after five years of teaching

Teacher drop out rate

The current number of qualified teachers aged under 60 (and not in receipt of a pension from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme) that have worked in state funded schools in England and were not employed as at December 2013 is 227 100

How useful are these education statistics?

Such statistics are a useful starting point if we wish to make cross-national comparisons between the U.K. education system and the rest of the world, which would be useful for students of global development, given that education plays a key role in development. Indeed if we wish to compare the relationship between education and development in several countries, statistical rather than qualitative comparisons may be the only way of doing so.

From an arrogant, modernisation theory perspective, these statistics provide an indication of the level of investment required in terms of expenditure and teachers, and the types of outcome that less developed countries should be aiming for.

Most of the education statistics above count as ‘hard statistics’, i.e. there’s little room for disagreement over the ‘social facts’ which they show – for example, it’s hard to argue with the stats on ‘number of schools’ and ‘number of qualified teachers’.

However, others are much softer, and have more validity problems, and can be criticised for being social constructions rather than reflecting underlying reality: the statistics on special educational needs clearly come under this category – there is simply no way the underlying numbers of students with ‘SEN’ have decline from 21 to 15% in 5 years while the number of certificated SEN kids have increased – what’s really happened is that the number of kids which schools categorise as having Special Education Needs has decreased in the last 5 years, probably because the Tory’s cut previously existing funding for this category of student in 2010 (ish).

Links to statistics on education in the United Kingdom:

Most of the statistical sets below are updated yearly, or more frequently.

Education and Training Statistics for the U.K. – published by the department for education. In this source you’ll find data on the number of schools, teachers, and teacher-pupil ratios as well as basic educational achievement data by Free School Meals, gender and ethnicity. Published annually in November.

School Workforce in England – covers teacher numbers and pupil-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. Published annually every June.

Special Education Needs in England – details of children with special education needs, by type of need, and broken down by school type and gender (statistics derived from the ‘schools census’).

Participation in Education, Training and Employment by 16-18 year olds in England: End 2015 – produced by the DFS focusing on 16-18 education and training.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies – section on trends in government expenditure on education

The Association of Colleges produces a useful document of infographics focusing on colleges – ‘Key Further Education Statistics’



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.