This topic has a broad content including class sizes and pupil teacher ratios, buildings, sports and IT facilities. There is an overlap with the Funding topic where more information can be found. Parliamentary Answers are a good source of information on resource provision as MPs tend to ask about this. In particular, the provision of school buildings to accommodate the increasing number of pupils is one of the greatest challenges facing the Government and local authorities.

A major factor is the number of pupils for whom school resources must be provided. Traditionally this fluctuated according to changes in the birth rate, but inward migration of children has become increasingly significant. A rapid increase in numbers began in 2010 and is expected to continue.


Figures for the number of pupils and schools and class sizes can be found in the Statistical First Release, Schools, Pupils and their characteristics, published each June based on the school census taken in the previous January. The 2015 version showed that the number of pupils in schools in England was 8,435,000, up from a low of 8,092,000 in 2009. The Office for National Statistics estimates that by 2037 there will be 9.8 million children aged 5-16 in England.

In January 2015 the average size of both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 classes taught by one teacher was 27.4. The average size of classes taught by one teacher in state-funded secondary schools was 20.1.

Pupil teacher ratios (PTRs) can be found in the Statistical First Release on the School Workforce, published in July based on a survey taken in the previous November. In November 2014 the pupil teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools were 21.0 and 15.8 respectively (compared with 20.9 and 15.6 in November 2010). PTRs for the whole of the UK can be found in the yearly Statistical Volume produced in December.

Current issues


After a long period of underspending on the school estate a major programme Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was launched in 2004. Its aim was to rebuild or refurbish every secondary school by 2020 and half of primary schools by 2023. Spending of £45 billion was expected. In 2010 the programme was cancelled, replaced in 2012 by the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), in which £4.4 billion was planned to be spent over the period of the spending review. Phase one benefited 261 of the schools most in need. The programme is administered by the Education Funding Agency, an agency of the DfE. In addition, a Property Data Survey was set up, in order to audit the condition of the school estate. It is regularly updated.

In 2014 the Royal Institute of British Architects reported that the PSBP was not progressing quickly enough; three years on from the announcement of the PSBP, building work had started in “fewer than 30 schools”. According to RIBA, cost cutting under the PSBP could also risk “worse quality outcomes”; narrow corridors can “exacerbate bullying and harassment as a result of overcrowding” and students have less space outside classrooms.

In 2015 the Government announced that 277 schools would benefit from phase two of PSBP between 2015 and 2021 at a cost of £2 billion.

The increasingly apparent need for additional school places to accommodate the rapidly rising child population has led to further spending allocations. The Government announced in June 2013 that it would commit itself to investing an additional £7 billion in new school places between 2015 and 2021. The Government estimated that, once fully operational, all free schools now open or in the pipeline will provide around 200,000 places. This includes over 160,000 school places from reception year to year 11 in mainstream schools and around 40,000 places for sixth forms, 16 to 19 colleges, and other non-mainstream schools (such as special schools or alternative provision schools).

In April 2015 the Local Government Association estimated that by September 2016 40% of local authorities would have a shortage of places, rising to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018. It said that over the next decade there would need to be places for an extra 880,000 pupils at a cost of £12bn.

There are regulations on the standards for school premises, for example, those for the provision of toilets and lighting have been recently updated.


Successive governments have professed a commitment to improving reading standards. Until 2013 the charity Book Trust was funded by the Government to provide free book packs to primary schools. The Welsh government continues to fund Book Trust. In 2015 the Government provided funding of £100,000 for a programme run by the charity Teaching Agency to support book clubs for Key Stage 2 pupils in 200 primary schools, with clubs running between October 2015 and February 2016. The schools had below average Key Stage 2 reading levels and above average numbers of children receiving the pupil premium. There was also support for these schools to enrol their Year 3 pupils with a public library.


The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) was the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning. It was abolished in March 2011 as part of the cull of various quangos. The Government passed to schools and colleges procurement and management of IT systems.

In March 2014 the DfE published ICT buying advice for your school to support schools. It suggested that schools would benefit from working together on procurement and recommended the use of a purchasing body or framework. In October 2014 the Government instituted a framework, ICT Services for Education, led by the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to run from March 2015 for four years. The agreement is estimated by CCS to be worth £300 million over its lifetime. The agreement is aimed at providing the full range of ICT goods, services and solutions needed by educational bodies, including hardware, software, networks, peripherals, user devices and mobile connectivity.

Class size

The 10-year trends are towards larger classes in primary and smaller classes in secondary schools.

In December 2011, the DfE published an overview of the existing evidence on class size and education in England, the changes in class size over time, the effect of the increasing birth rate and what evidence there is of the impact of class size on educational outcomes. The authors conclude that: “Class size is found to have some positive impact on attainment and behaviour, but this effect is often small and diminishes after a few years. The value for money of class size reduction policies therefore needs to be assessed relative to other potential options, such as improving teacher effectiveness. Section 5 has shown that average class size varies amongst the OECD countries. The UK is ranked as having large average class sizes for primary schools and has smaller average class sizes for secondary schools in comparison to other OECD countries. However, there is no clear relationship between a country’s average class size and attainment.”

More recent reviewers have concluded that a small effect is found for smaller classes only in early years provision. It has been found that smaller classes facilitate more active pedagogies.


The School Games, established in 2011, is a competition over four levels for school children aged from 5 to under 19 to enable every school and child to participate in competitive sport, including opportunities for disabled youngsters. There are four levels of participation, ranging from intra-school competition through area festivals to UK finals. In the year 2014-15, 19,511 schools participated at a cost to the Government of £21.6 million. Some 177,630 participants, with 51% of them girls, took part in the county festivals.

In December 2015 the Government published Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation. Sport England’s remit was extended to include 5-19 year olds. DCMS committed itself to:

  • develop in the first half of 2016 the most appropriate extension of the Active Lives method for measuring children’s engagement in sport and physical activity
  • establish a working group to advise on how to ensure no child leaves school unable to meet a minimum standard of capability and confidence in swimming
  • ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn to ride a bike, through the Bikeability cycle training programme
  • continue investment in the Primary PE and Sport Premium
  • seek to better understand the barriers and issues around the drop-off in engagement from primary to secondary as well as identify good practice, particularly for those groups who are most affected, such as girls.

In many places there is a shortage of sites available for school building or expansion as required by the pressure on school places. There is concern that school playing fields will be lost as a result. Between 2001 and 2010 the Government approved 242 applications for the disposal of playing fields, with a further 116 approved between 2010 and 2015. There is a requirement that the proceeds of disposal are used for alternative sport or other school provision.

January 2016


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