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.

Also, the post below deals primarily with England and Wales, I will add in details for Wales and Scotland when I can.

Education and Training Statistics UK 2020-21

Government spending on Education 2021-2

The government spent a total of £94.9 billion on education in 2020-21, equivalent to 4.5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Education and Training Statistics UK 2020-21

For 2020-21 expenditure per education sector broke down as follows:

  • Primary education expenditure – £27.3 billion
  • Secondary education expenditure – £40.0 billion
  • Tertiary education expenditure – £4.9 billion

Spending Per Pupil was £6500 in 2019-2020

The above chart, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows us education spending in real terms at 2019-2020 places. We can see that in real terms expenditure per pupil has decreased slightly since 2010, when New Labour left office and the Tories came to power.

There are 32, 163 schools in the U.K.

Education and Training Statistics UK 2020-21
  • There are almost 21000 primary schools
  • There are almost 4100 secondary schools

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.

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.

This is despite the fact that there are more secondary school aged pupils compared to primary school aged pupils.

There were 10.5 million school pupils in England and Wales in 2020-2021

Education and Training Statistics UK 2020-21
  • There were 5.5 million secondary school pupils
  • There were 4.1 million primary aged pupils
  • This reflects recent demographic trends in the United Kingdom – a baby boom which started in the mid 2000s has seen an increase of 400 000 pupils in the school system as a whole (primary and secondary).

There were 11 600 pupils in Pupil Referral Units in 2021

The number of pupils in PRUs fell from over 15000 in 2015/16 to just just 11 000 by 2020/21

A total of 12.6% of pupils have Special Education Needs in 2021-2022

And four percent of these have a formal statement.

SEN Statistics, gov UK 2022

There has been a slight increase in the number of Special Education Needs pupils since 2015/ 16 – a 1% increase in all SEN pupils and a 1.2% increase in SEN pupils with statements.

I’ve left the following historical data in place following a recent update of this post (updated October 2022) as I think it demonstrates how such statistics in particular are socially constructed…

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 ‘types of school chart’ above, then it suggests that special educational needs (SEN) students are becoming increasingly segregated into special schools and/ or pupil referral units, rather than being dealt with in mainstream secondary schools.

You might also want to think about the extent to which ‘Special Educational Needs’ and ‘Special Educational Needs with statements’ are socially constructed.

Looking back at 2007, 20% of pupils were officially characterised as SEN, but by 2021 this had fallen to 12.6%.

According to labelling theory this is more likely to be because the formal criteria and processes according to which pupils are given the SEN label have changed over the past 15 years, rather than any underlying changes in the actual number of pupils with Special Educational needs.

At the end of 2020 the proportion of 16-18 year olds in education and work-based learning was 81.2%

Education and Training Statistics

This proportion has been stable (around the 80% mark) since at least 2015.

  • At age 17 the rate was 90.5%.
  • At age 18 it was 62.3% (almost 30% are in work with just under 10% being classified as NEET )
  • Overall only 6.4% of 16-18 year olds are classified as NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training.

11% of 16-24 year olds classify as NEET

Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training.

NEET stands for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ and the government keeps records of the proportion of 16-14 year olds which fit into this category.

The medium term trend in NEETs is that the proportion has fallen from 16% of 16-24 year olds in 2013 down to 11% in 2017.

The NEET figure has been relatively stable for the last five years, holding at around 11% up until today in 2022.

There were 2.4 million students in UK Higher Education Institutions in 2019-2020

Higher Education Facts and Figures

The number of full time equivalent students studying their first degrees or post graduate degrees has been increasing steadily over the past few years.

Around 1.9 million students are studying undergraduate degrees or equivalent while 0.5 million are studying towards a Postgraduate degree.

The vast majority of students studying towards their first degree are British, almost 80% in fact, but around 40% of students studying PostGraduate degrees in UK institutions are from abroad, and most of those from outside the UK!

There were 465000 Teachers (FTE) in the UK in 2021/22

  • There were 465 000 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) teachers employed in England and Wales in 2021/22.
  • There were 503 000 Full Time Equivalent support staff
  • The total FTE number of staff employed in schools in 2021/22 was 968 000.

30% of teachers drop out after 5 years of qualifying

  • 12.5% of teachers drop out after just one year of qualifying
  • Just over 30% drop out within five years.

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).

Signposting and Related Posts

As mentioned above this is introductory material for the education topic. For more posts covering theories of education, education policies and educational inequalities by class, gender and ethnicity, please see my sociology of education page.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

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.

Schools, Pupils and their Characteristicsincludes data on pupils in England by PRU, FSM and Ethnicity status.

School Workforce in England – covers teacher numbers and pupil-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales. The latest figures from November 2021.

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.

Young People Not in Education or Trainingpublished in August 2022.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency – or HESA for short – collects data on university figures and publishes them online in a very accessible way!

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’

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