Net capacity for schools

The net capacity is a calculation of the number of children that a school can reasonably be expected to accommodate.

The capacity figures for primary and secondary schools have been calculated using the Department for Education’s (DfE‘s) Net Capacity Assessment Tool.

The method, or formula, takes into account the floor space of the teaching areas and how those teaching areas are used, for example, general teaching area, practical teaching area, laboratories etc. The teaching area information is then used to calculate a figure for the school’s capacity to accommodate pupils and also considers the school’s Published Admission Number (PAN).

Measuring school capacity summary guide for local authorities (PDF, 200KB)

For primary schools, the net capacity is calculated on the basis of the number and size of spaces designated as ‘class bases’. For secondary schools, it is based on the number, size and type of time-tabled teaching spaces and the age range of the school. In both cases, this is checked against the total usable space.

Net capacity assessments do not apply to nursery schools or pupil referral units, for which an appropriate DfE Building Bulletin can be used to calculate appropriate space requirements. Net Capacities for Special Schools are being introduced through the annual school capacity return (SCAP) process.

The capacity of academies is based on the number of places the school has agreed to provide as reflected in the school’s funding agreement however, the net capacity calculation is still applied to ensure consistency across the school estate.

From 2023 to 2025, the DfE’s Net Capacity Assessment (NCA) programme will ensure accurate and up-to-date information on pupil capacity is available for every government-funded secondary school and special school in England.

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA ) will visit approximately 4,500 schools in England to collect data on pupil capacity.

The VOA will:

  • measure rooms
  • record room types
  • use the NCA tool and methodology to calculate the number of children a school can accommodate, based on the size and use of spaces available

NCA reports will be shared with:

  • schools
  • local authorities
  • dioceses
  • multi-academy trusts

Further information can be found in the NCA programme guide

Page last reviewed: 02 May 2024