Visualizing the numbers of different types of school in the UK

how useful are different types of data visualization for displaying information about the number of schools in the UK, and how they are changing over time?


I’ve just been experimenting with different ways of visualizing the relative number of different types of school in the UK, and how these school types are changing over time.

The main school types I’ve focused on are:

  • nurseries
  • primary
  • middle (hardly any of these!)
  • secondary
  • non-maintained schools
  • special schools
  • pupil referral units.

You can view all of my visualizations on my Tableau profile. If you click on any of the images below, they will take you to the live vizes on Tableau.

The data comes from DFE’s Education and Training Stats 2018.

Tree Map of School Types in the UK

I think the Tree Map is the best way of providing an overview of the different types of school in the UK. As you can see from the tree map below, there are A LOT more primary schools than secondary schools in the UK, and primary and secondary together (unsurprisingly) account for most of the schools in the UK. In contrast, there are hardly any Pupil Referral Units.

NB – make sure you’ve only got one year box checked, otherwise you get totals of the years checked, which is pointless!

The limitations of the Tree Map Visualization

Although (IMO) this type of viz provides the best ‘frozen in time’ overview, it doesn’t actually allow you to make comparisons across time very easily, because you can only see the distribution for one year at a time.

One could overcome this by having two or more tree maps on display at once, but this still wouldn’t make for easy comparison as the layout of the boxes is likely to change as the data changes. To show changes over time effectively you need different types of visualization:

Changing schools viz 1

This is the most basic type of viz showing changes over time…

line chart showing changes to school types in the UK 2012-2016

Changing schools viz 2

I think viz 2 is much better as the fill gives you a much more immediate impression of how many of each type of school there is.

Changing schools viz 3

Given the relatively small amount of data for this particular viz I think this works quite nicely too, gives you a bit more of a sense of the relative numbers and much better for highlighting smaller numbers…

How useful are these visualizations?

As they stand they only show us a very general level of information, with no granularity. All of these vizes could be much more useful if you could ‘drill down’ into the data to see how the stats vary by England, Wales and Scotland.

Also, these have been designed as only the first stage in a story which also focus in on pupil numbers in different school types (also in relation to pupil types – male/ female etc.), and teacher numbers and teacher-student ratios.

There’s more to come!


Leave a Reply

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