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Northern Ireland Schools Census


Dataset summary

Full title of dataset: Northern Ireland Schools Census.

Period covered: From 1990 to present. 

Frequency of release: Annual.

Geography: Northern Ireland.

Data updated: Data collected in October is available at summary level in December and at detailed level in the following February.

Format output: The standard format releases made available are in Excel or SPSS.  Other formats may be available on request.

Size: Contains data from approximately 1,200 schools, 400 pre-schools and individual level records for over 300,000 pupils each year.

Data quality: High quality. See specific section for further information.

Example variables: Pupil characteristics: date of birth, religion, ethnicity, year group, free school meal entitlement, special educational needs status, home language.

Access: Yes, via application to individual schools. 

Documentation: Available on the Department of Education website and in the DoE PDF pack available on this website.

Contact Details: General enquiries should be directed to the Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) Statistics and Research Team. Telephone 028 9127 9401 or email

For more in depth enquiries about the Schools Census data please contact either of the following people in the Statistics and Research team:

Karen McCullough, telephone 028 9127 9677 or email
Ivor Graham, telephone 028 9127 9613 or email
Gemma Reid, telephone 028 9127 9707 or email


The Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) collects data annually from schools at the end of the first full working week in October.  The data collection covers school enrolments and attendance and is collectively referred to as the Schools Census.  DENI collects enrolment data from all primary, post-primary (secondary), special, nursery, hospital, independent, voluntary and pre-school centres in Northern Ireland. 

DENI has a legal power to ask schools for data.  The statutory provisions are set out in the Education and Libraries (NI) Order 2003 Article 37.  The legislative position in Northern Ireland allows DENI to use the data to enable it to carry out its statutory functions.  The decision to release data to researchers for research purposes rests with the principal of the individual schools concerned.

The Schools Census returns represent a snap shot of information held by schools in relation to their pupils at census date.  The method and level of the Schools Census data collection varies.  For primary, special and post-primary schools, data is collected at pupil level via an electronic return, facilitated through computerised school records.  For nursery, hospital, independent, voluntary and pre-school centres data is collected via a paper return, with data aggregated at centre level.

The information collected through the Schools Census varies according to the type and level of schools.  Examples of the variables covered within the dataset include information on pupil characteristics such as date of birth, gender, ethnicity, religion, free school meal entitlement (FSME), special educational needs (SEN) status, home postcode and attendance. A full list of variables collected is available from the DoE website and the DoE PDF pack.

Historically, school attendance data was available in limited detail at school level for post-primary schools only.  In 2004, the Northern Ireland Audit Office report ‘Improving Pupil Attendance at School’ emphasised the importance of using data to plan effective initiatives to deal with the problem of low attendance.  In particular they felt that data at school level and on the type of absence was essential to identify patterns, trends and factors.  School attendance statistics were collected at pupil level for the first time in the Schools Census in October 2008. DENI now receives data on the number of sessions a pupil is absent throughout the year and for what reason, allowing for more detailed analysis. Reasons for absence allow DENI to calculate overall attendance, absence – both authorised and unauthorised – for all pupils. The definitions of absence are given in the metadata which is available to download in the documents section.

The Statistics and Research section of the DENI website ( contains further information on the Schools Census exercise and other statistics relating to schools, pupils and teachers, including the School Leavers Survey, school performance and an annual return on teachers.  A number of statistical releases are made available through the DENI website covering data on enrolments, participation rates, pupil teacher ratios, school leavers, attendance and school performance.  Summary statistics at different levels of aggregation (the lowest being school level data) and some time series data are available to download for free from the DENI website in the form of Excel spreadsheets.

The DENI Statistics and Research Team also carries out bespoke analysis of Schools Census data on request, and provides non-disclosive aggregated outputs.  This service is usually provided free of charge, subject to workload considerations and provided the data is not being used for commercial gain.  Any charges for analysis would be considered on a case-by-case basis.  For more information contact DENI Statistics and Research Team, telephone 028 9127 9401 or email

The Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service (NINIS) provides free access to statistical and locational information relating to small areas across Northern Ireland including educational data.  The data is aggregated and available to download (Microsoft Excel). 

An eSchools data warehouse has recently been developed which assists schools with self-evaluation, summarises performance information, identifies trends, and enables schools to compare themselves with similar schools.  The system will also allow access to monthly aggregated reports about schools for DENI, as well as collection of data from schools through an eForm facility.


The Schools Census data covers school level data for each pre, nursery hospital and independent school and pupil level data for each special, primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland.

Similar data collection systems are run by the Department for Education in England, the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales and the Scottish Government in Scotland.

Data updates
Schools Census data is collected in October.  Headline enrolment figures are released in December with more detailed data released in the following February.  Specific requests for data can be fulfilled following the February release.

There are several publications issued annually in relation to school enrolments.  The first, usually in December, contains some basic enrolment figures.  The main press release is usually published at the end of February and contains a more detailed breakdown of figures.  Additionally, a series of tables containing information from the exercise are published on the Statistics and Research section on the DENI website

For further information on the School Census dataset releases download our administrative data timetable here.  You can also follow the ADLS on Twitter to receive information about when new School Census releases are available.


Examples of usage
The Schools Census data is primarily used by DENI and Education and Library Boards (ELBs) to inform policy development and evaluation.  DENI also receives requests for school enrolments data from various sources, including academic researchers, journalists, lobby groups and members of the public. 

The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure is an example of a project which has made use of pupil level data covering the whole of Northern Ireland.  For more information see:

The DENI website includes an archive of published research reports that the Department has produced since 2004.

Publications using this research data are available from our Publication Hub here.

Technical guidance
Individual pupil level Schools Census records for post-primary level are available from the early 1990s.  However there have been various changes to the variables collected.  A more limited set of information is covered by earlier years of the census.  The data for primary level schools is also available in relation to this period, although only at pupil level from 2006/07 onwards. School attendance data is available from 2008/09. The DoE statistics and research team will be able to advise on these changes.

Researchers should be aware of how changes to the variables collected affect the comparability of data across different years.  Details of the variables currently collected and information relating to changes in data collected over recent years are available to download from the documents page in this section.  Technical guidance and metadata in relation to specific datasets will be provided by the Statistics and Research Branch at the time of the data request.


The legislative position in Northern Ireland allows DENI to use the data to enable it to carry out its statutory functions.  The decision to release data to researchers for research purposes rests with the principal of the individual schools concerned.    Therefore researchers seeking to access data should:

1. Contact schools directly detailing your research proposals including why identifiable data is needed and your data security arrangements.  Address details for all schools in Northern Ireland can be found on the DENI website here.

2. Once permission for the data to be released has been obtained from the individual schools, DENI will release the data to researchers, subject to a data sharing agreement. 

 At the present time, there is no procedure to apply to all schools at once.  Applications for data, including the verification of permissions and data sharing agreements, will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Data quality

The Schools Census data collection is facilitated by C2k, who are responsible for the provision of ICT systems in schools.  Robust validation checks are built into the reporting processes, enabling schools to check the accuracy of data prior to making the census returns.  Further checks are carried out by DENI, including comparisons with data obtained from ELBs, on variables such as FSME status.  The data is expected to be of a high quality.  Once the validation process is complete, the data is anonymised within the department.


The data contained in the School Census is highly sensitive.  Researchers applying to schools for data will have to make a strong business case in order to be granted access, particularly where potentially disclosive data such as home postcode is requested.  Researchers will be expected to comply with the Data Protection Act.  Information about the Data Protection Act and further advice on how to use sensitive data safely and securely can be found on the ADLS website.


The provision of a Unique Pupil Number (UPN) facilitates the linkages of individual records across different years of the Schools Census.  Prior to 2010/11, new UPNs were issued to pupils when they entered post-primary level education.  Therefore it was not possible to track individuals from primary to post-primary.  With effect from 2010/11, the pupil’s UPN will remain consistent throughout their time in school.

The 11+ examinations which assisted secondary school selections were discontinued in 2008.  It is not possible to link this dataset with the Schools Census as they were collected by two different bodies with no common unique identifiers. 

If you require data containing pupil attainment scores then you should apply for access to the School Leaver Survey.  This contains both attainment and most of the information from the census.

There is the potential for Schools Census data to be linked to other datasets for example through matching date of birth and postcode information to other sources. 

Research users / comments

Please contact us with any comments regarding this dataset.

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