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Statistics on schools, teachers and pupils in Wales as at January 2023.

Data on pupils eligible for free school meals

After the first release of these headline statistics on 25 May 2023 we analysed the data in more detail as part of our normal programme of work which raised some concerns relating to the free school meal eligibility data. To address these concerns, we carried out additional validation of this data on pupils eligible for free school meals with local authorities.

The result of this additional validation showed that some pupils who were only receiving free school meals due to transitional protection or through the universal primary free school meal policy had been incorrectly recorded as being eligible for free school meals via the means-tested criteria (pupils are eligible for free school meals if their parents or guardians are in receipt of certain means-tested benefits or support payments, see Free school meals: information for parents and carers). See below for information about transitional protection. As a result of the corrections received from local authorities, the percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 who were known to be eligible for free school meals at January 2023 through the means-tested criteria has been revised down from 23.9% to 22.2%. This data is now considered final.

Table 1: Number and percentage of pupils aged 5 to 15 known to be eligible for free school meals (FSM) or transitionally protected (TP), January 2023
Number eligible for FSM91,49185,057
% eligible for FSM23.922.2
Number TP only18,85124,920
% TP only4.96.5
Number eligible for FSM or TP110,342109,977
% eligible for FSM or TP28.828.7


The number of pupils eligible for free school meals through the means-tested criteria may have also been over recorded in 2020 to 2022, but it is not possible to revise this data. This over recording may be in part due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which presented a significant challenge to schools and local authorities and led directly to the suspension or cancellation of a number of data collections. Also, even where collections went ahead the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have had further implications on the quality of the data which might not have been immediately apparent. As shown below, the school censuses in 2020 to 2022 were all affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:

  • The January 2020 census did not undergo the usual final validation process as part of the Welsh Local Government Finance Settlement due to the first national lockdown from March 2020.
  • The 2021 census was delayed until April 2021 due to the second national lockdown in Spring 2021.
  • The 2022 census was delayed until February 2022 due to a phased return for pupils following winter 2021.

We will carry out more work to fully understand the reasons for the revisions and how to improve data quality in future, then publish a blog/quality report with the findings in the coming weeks.

At this time we are only publishing a limited set of information. We will be releasing our usual full suite of data via an Open Document Spreadsheet and StatsWales in September 2023.

Main points for January 2023

  • There were 1,463 local authority maintained schools, down 7 compared with February 2022.
  • There were 469,872 (r) pupils in local authority maintained schools, down 1,259 (r) compared with February 2022.
  • Of the 383,065 (r) pupils aged 5 to 15, 22.2% (r) were known to be eligible for free school meals. These figures do not include transitional protection (see below).
  • 28.7% (r) of pupils aged 5 to 15 were known to be eligible for free school meals or transitionally protected, up from 26.9% at February 2022.
  • There were 63,089 (r) pupils with additional learning needs (ALN) or special educational needs (SEN) in maintained schools (13.4% of all pupils), down from 74,661 (15.8%) at February 2022.
  • There were 10,499 (r) pupils with Individual Development Plans under the new ALN system in maintained schools (16.6% of pupils with ALN or SEN), up from 3,330 (4.5%) at February 2022. See note below.
  • There were 24,884 (r) full-time equivalent qualified teachers in maintained schools, up 228 (r) compared with February 2022.

(r) Revised on 16 August 2023.

Changes to special educational needs (SEN) data following the Implementation of the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018

The Additional Learning Needs Code for Wales 2021 (the ALN Code) and regulations came into force on 1 September 2021 to ensure children and young people aged 0 to 25 can access additional support to meet their needs that is properly planned for and protected, with learners at the heart of the process.

Implementation is underway, with children moving from the special educational needs (SEN) system to the additional learning needs (ALN) system in groups over 4 years until August 2025. On 20 March 2023, in response to feedback from the sector, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language announced an extension to the implementation period from 3 to 4 years. This will allow more time to move learners from the SEN system to the ALN system and create more flexibility for those bodies who are responsible for this process.

Implementation of the ALN Code has taken place in partnership with education transformation leads, delivery partners and education establishments, with a programme of learning and development, and creation of new statutory roles in local authorities, schools and the health service.

Last year’s 2022 schools census represented the first submissions from dedicated ALN Coordinators across Wales, as part of the Implementation of the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018.

Analysis of the data, along with feedback from local authorities suggests that the fall in ALN/SEN pupils over the last two years is due to a systematic review by schools of their ALN/SEN registers in readiness for the rollout of the ALN system. Those pupils with low level needs, who were not identified as having a recognised ALN/SEN, were removed from the register.

Schools were also asked to stop using the ‘General learning difficulties’ category and to reassess an appropriate category of need for such pupils. This category had become a catch-all for those requiring catch up support, with minor needs and/or where multiple needs existed, instead of its original intent, which was to capture learners awaiting assessment. This has led to some pupils being removed from the register if they were identified as not having ALN/SEN. The ‘General learning difficulties’ category was removed from the 2023 schools census.

Additionally, many pupils on School Action Plans (those requiring the least amount of special educational provision) have been removed from the ALN/SEN register. This was either because their needs were short term but they had remained on the register, or they do not require provision additional to, or different from, that which is provided for other learners, that can be addressed as part of holistic provision.

Welsh Government will continue to monitor the numbers throughout implementation of the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act and work with our partners to ensure the data presents an accurate reflection of the numbers and categories of learners with ALN in Wales.

Transitional protection for free school meals

On 1 April 2019 the Welsh Government introduced a new transitional protection for free school meals policy. This was brought in to ensure that pupils have their free school meals protected during the Universal Credit rollout period.

This protection applies to individual pupils and will continue until the end of their current schools phase, being the end of primary school or end of secondary school.

Any pupil that was eligible for free school meals on the introduction of the policy on 1 April 2019 should be transitionally protected. In addition, any pupil that has become eligible at any point during the Universal Credit rollout under the new eligibility criteria should also be transitionally protected.

Universal primary free school meals (UPFSM)

As part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, all primary school children in Wales will get free school meals by 2024. The rollout began in September 2022 with most local authorities delivering free school meals to Reception aged children from the start of the autumn term (September 2022) and extending the offer to years 1 and 2 no later than the start of the summer term (April 2023).

Whilst this rollout of free school meals to those not previously eligible for them has started, the data presented in this release does not reflect the total number of pupils receiving free school meals in January 2023. Instead, it includes only the number of pupils who are eligible for free school meals if their parents or guardians are in receipt of certain benefits (as reported in previous years). Please see the free school meal information guide for full details of eligibility criteria and benefits.


Datasets and interactive tools

Schools' census results (headline statistics): January 2023 (revised) , file type: ODS, file size: 10 KB

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Geraint Turner

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