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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The residential schools investigation report


A.3: Education in England and Wales

14. The majority of children in England and Wales attend school, with fewer than 1 percent of children being home schooled.[1]

14.1. In February 2021, there were around nine million pupils in schools in England.[2] The English school system has a number of different stages. Primary education ranges from ages 4 to 11, with some form of education compulsory from the term following a child’s fifth birthday.[3] Secondary education is for children aged 11 to 16 or 18 years old, with some form of education or training being compulsory for all young people in England until the age of 18.[4]

14.2. Based on figures from 2020 and 2021, there were approximately 475,000 pupils in Wales.[5] Children aged 3 to 7 follow a foundation stage curriculum but school is only compulsory from the term after their fifth birthday. Primary education is from 5 to 11 years old, with secondary education compulsory from 11 to 16 years old and voluntary from 16 to 18. There is no requirement for young people in Wales to be in education or training between the ages of 16 and 18.

(2020/21 academic year)
(2020/21 academic year)
Number of schools (state and independent) 24,413 1,553
Number of children aged 3 to 18 in school (total) 8,832,948 475,181
Number of independent schools 2,366 79
Number of pupils in independent schools 569,332 9,698
Number of special schools (state and independent) 1,629 77
Number of pupils in special schools
(state and independent)
157,068 5,216
Number of residential special schools
(state and independent)
229 23
Number of residential special school pupils
(state and independent)
Number of schools offering boarding
(state and independent)
707 27
Total number of pupils who board
(state and independent)
63,925 1,756

a DFE003478; b All figures provided by the Welsh Government: WGT000489_001-002; c Number of pupils in schools that had some pupils recorded as boarders in January 2021 school census; d Number of pupils in schools that are flagged as residential on Get Information about Schools at 8 November 2021.

15. The statutory framework for governance and oversight of schools in England and Wales is complex, with a number of different agencies holding responsibilities. As it has developed incrementally over time, the current system is now a patchwork of different types of schools, with different funding arrangements and different forms of oversight.

15.1. There are now two types of state-funded schools in England: schools maintained by the local authority and academies. Academies are funded by central government or partially funded by sponsors, which could be private companies or charities. Before the introduction of academy schools in 2000, the vast majority of state-funded schools were maintained by local authorities. However, 37 percent of state-funded primary schools and 78 percent of state-funded secondary schools were academies by 2021.[6] In Wales, all state-funded schools are local authority maintained schools; there are no academy schools.

15.2. Independent schools (also known as private schools) charge fees to attend and are registered by the Department for Education (in England) or the Welsh Government (in Wales).[7] There are mainstream independent schools and independent schools specifically for children with special educational needs and disabilities.[8]

15.3. Residential schools provide overnight accommodation for pupils as well as education. The majority of mainstream boarding schools are in the independent sector. In November 2020, there were 34 state-funded boarding schools in England where the education is free but the boarding element is fee paying.[9] There are no state boarding schools in Wales. Boarders typically stay at school on a weekly or termly basis, although some schools offer flexi-boarding where pupils are able to stay overnight at school on a more ad hoc basis. In both the independent and state-funded sectors, there are also residential special schools which educate and care for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

15.4. For the purposes of this report, the term mainstream school is used to describe a state-funded or independent school which provides education for all children generally, rather than those established specifically for children with special educational needs. The majority of children with special educational needs attend mainstream schools; approximately 1 million children in England[10] and 93,000 pupils in Wales.[11]

15.5. A special school – which may be a state-funded or an independent school – is specially organised to make provision for pupils with special educational needs.[12] Children have special educational needs if they have significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or a disability which prevents them from making use of facilities of a kind usually provided within mainstream schools.[13]

Further details about the education system are set out in Annexes 3 and 4.


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