The school census is vital for helping education authorities determine what kinds of support a school needs. It takes a close look at the individual characteristics of a school and helps ensure that the right funding goes to the right places, to support the right outcomes.
In this blog, we’ll give you key school census guidance, including what it means for you, the types of funding it helps determine, and how technology can help.
What is a school census?
The school census is the electronic collection of data across several different data points and is required by law of every state-funded school in England, including primary, secondary, special schools and pupil referral units.
The level of data collected is detailed, including personal data on each pupil (such as name, postcode, age, gender, ethnicity and personal circumstances), educational data (i.e. exam results and other achievements), and other relevant factors such as absences and exclusions.
The census should be taken on a specific day three times a year. After each census day, a school has a few weeks to return the data. The school census dates for 2021/22 are as follows:
- Autumn census: Thursday 7 October; return by Wednesday 3 November
- Spring census: Thursday 20 January; return by Wednesday 16 February
- Summer census: Thursday 19 May; return by Wednesday 15 June
What is the purpose of the school census?
The reason the school census takes place is so authorities can make better-informed decisions around funding for individual schools. By taking into account pupil-specific, school-specific and local community factors, and going deeper than the basics of how many pupils a school has, they can ensure that funding is directed to the right places, with more going to the schools and pupils who need it most.
Where does school census data go?
In normal circumstances, school census data is used in three different ways. The first is to determine funding that goes direct to academies; the second is to determine funding that goes to local authorities, which they then distribute to the relevant schools in their area; and the third is for publication of official government statistics and school performance tables.
In more recent times, due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the data has also been used by the Department for Education to make quick decisions about additional funding needed to maintain learning through periods of disruption.
What types of funding are there?
There are many different types of funding that are determined based on the school census data. For each of them, different data points and results will influence levels of funding for particular areas. These types of funding include (but are not necessarily limited to):
Schools Block funding
Core funding that is allocated to each school/academy on a per-pupil basis, taking into account societal factors such as free school meals, deprivation and low prior attainment. The October census data is generally used to inform these decisions for the year ahead, although January data for reception pupils can also be included.
EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) funding
This funding helps schools and other education bodies support better education for pupils aged between two and four. Data from the spring census is used for the initial allocation, with the early years census providing the definitive numbers for the remainder of funding each term.
Universal Infant Free School Meals
UIFSM funding is made available for all students in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, who are not already eligible for free school meals. The number of pupils funded is based on the average of school meals taken on October and January census days for Years 1 and 2, and from the higher of the two census counts for Reception.
This funding is designed to improve educational outcomes for pupils that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, narrowing the gap between them and their more advantaged peers. It can be spent on teaching, targeted academic support, or on support for non-academic issues that affect learning, such as social interaction. Spending decisions are made by school leaders.
PE and Sports Premium
This funding is for primary schools and helps them improve the quality of PE and sports provision, to support better physical and mental health among younger pupils. Funding decisions are made using January census data, based on the number of pupils in Years 1 to 6 (or between the ages of five and ten).
How can technology help?
While the school census is an important function, the level of detail required from it means that it can be a laborious and time-consuming task, especially if large parts of collection and collation are manual.
This is where a Management Information System (MIS) such as Juniper Horizons can make such a difference. Not only can all the data required for the census be collected and stored within Horizons over the course of normal school business, but census returns can also be prepared and submitted through the platform. Horizons can process and create an XML file that is then uploaded to the DfE connect site.
Couple this with the ability to record and track attendance, safeguard children and communicate with parents, especially at a time when schools are looking for any efficiencies in their operations, Horizons can remove the stress and admin burden from the census process, each and every term.