School pupil numbers are collected nationally by the Department for Education (DfE) via the termly School Census. The School Census is a statutory return (which means that it is a legal requirement for all state-funded schools in England to supply the information) and the census dates for each academic year are the first Thursday in October, followed by the third Thursday in January and the third Thursday in May.
The School Census is the primary source of administrative data about pupils attending schools in England. The data collected is vital in supporting a number of the DfE's strategic objectives and is widely used for the purpose of improving and promoting the education or well-being of children in England. For example, the data collected helps the DfE target funding in line with Government policy. The School Census also collects general pupil characteristic information and data which contributes to published DfE national statistics. Anonymised data (i.e. without the pupils’ personal details) may be shared by DfE with carefully vetted and strictly controlled research partners (e.g. universities, examination boards, and other professional education organisations).
Data from the School Census is used by the DfE and the local authority for many purposes including to calculate school funding, and to plan school provision in both the short-term and further into the future by projecting past and present numbers to forecast likely numbers in the coming years.
The downloadable School Number on Roll Summaries are an aggregate of the pupil level data that the census collects.