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Guidance on Determining School Capacities





1. This circular provides guidance to education authorities on aspects of the determination of "school capacity". This is statutory guidance issued under Section 28A(1A) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (the "1980 Act"), and authorities are required to have regard to it. It specifically addresses the exception to the duty to comply with placing requests in what will become section 28A(3)(a)(vii) of the 1980 Act, concerning school capacity, as from 31 December 2004.

2. Although education authorities are required to have regard to this guidance, it remains the responsibility of authorities under the 1980 Act to determine whether the individual circumstances of a placing request fall within any of the statutory exceptions.

3. Different factors will have a greater or lesser impact on school capacities depending on local circumstances, and the effective management of the relevant factors. In view of this we have not set out a single blueprint for authorities to follow when determining school capacities. It is for education authorities, as part of their duties and responsibilities, to determine school capacities and to be accountable to their electorates for their policies and decisions.


4. Education authorities are responsible for the delivery of education services at the local level. That carries with it many attendant responsibilities, including the administration of the placing request system in their area. The legislation on placing requests sets the broad framework within which authorities may decide their own policies and guidelines, as appropriate.

5. The last three lines of Section 44(4) of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000 will come into force on 31 December 2004. This inserts an amendment into Section 28A of the 1980 Act by way of a new sub-section which will enable authorities to refuse a placing request in certain circumstances if to allow it would have the consequence that the capacity of the school would be exceeded in terms of pupil numbers. The new provision on school capacity in relation to placing requests will become section 28A(3)(a)(vii) of the 1980 Act. It will read:

"though neither of the tests set out in sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) above is satisfied, have the consequence that the capacity of the school would be exceeded in terms of pupil numbers".

The full text of the new Section 28A(3) of the 1980 Act is set out in the Annex to this guidance.

6. This guidance does not relate to placing requests involving a child or young person with additional support needs; such requests are governed by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. This Act is expected to be commenced in the autumn of 2005 and contains the same provision concerning school capacity as section 28A(3) of the 1980 Act.


7. Education authorities already determine school capacities for various purposes, and have developed their own methodologies and systems for doing so. Authorities may find it helpful to discuss with each other the different methods they use.

8. Authorities will want to ensure that their system for determining school capacities is open, transparent, fair and rigorous. They will also want to ensure that this system is applied consistently to schools across their area. Authorities will, of course, regularly review school capacities and revise them as necessary. Under Section 28B of the 1980 Act, authorities are required to make information available about their arrangements for placing children in schools. To aid transparency, we suggest that authorities consider detailing how they determine school capacities as part of this information.

9. There are many factors which impinge on school capacities and, in determining the capacity of any given school, authorities will need to consider how factors can be managed and what effect this will have on a school's capacity. Management of time and space in a school can reduce the impact physical and non-physical factors have on a school's capacity.


10. The general role and responsibilities of education authorities are set out in legislation. Two pieces of subordinate legislation are of particularly relevance when considering school capacities. These are:

  • Regulation 8 from the Schools General (Scotland) Regulations 1975 (SI 1975/1133); and
  • the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) Regulations 1967 (SI 1967/1199), as amended.

Schools General (Scotland) Regulations 1975 (SI 1975/1133)

11. Regulation 8 (1) of the Schools General (Scotland) Regulations 1975, states that:

"An education authority shall determine from time to time the maximum number of pupils who may be suitably accommodated in every room to which this regulation applies in any school under their management and, in discharging their duty under this regulation, the authority shall have regard to the dimensions of the room and the type of equipment provided, or to be provided, the safety and health of the pupils to be accommodated and the type of instruction to be given, in the room; and any determination under the regulation may provide for different maximum numbers in relation to different types of instruction."

Regulation 8 also requires education authorities to ensure that each school keeps a record of these maximum numbers of pupils for each room in the school. Under the regulations "room" means every room that is, or may be, used for any form of instruction and open plan teaching areas.

School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) Regulations 1967 (SI 1967/1199)

12. The School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) Regulations 1967, as amended, set out standards in relation to the minimum requirements for school sites, playing fields and educational accommodation. They also prescribe standards for the provision of ancillary accommodation including kitchen premises, sanitary facilities, washing accommodation, storage accommodation, medical inspection accommodation, and staff accommodation. Authorities should be aware of these Regulations when determining school capacities. For further information, please contact Harry McWilliams in the Schools Division of the Scottish Executive Education Department on 0131 244 0943 and at Harry.McWilliams@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

Other legislation

13. Other legislation that may be relevant when determining school capacities includes:

  • employment law, which sets minimum requirements for the authority's employees in relation to sanitary facilities, office accommodation, etc.;
  • the Education (Lower Primary Class Sizes) (Scotland) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/1080);
  • the accessibility strategies that authorities are implementing under the Education (Disabilities Strategies and Pupils' Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002, and authorities' obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.


14. Authorities will of course take into account a wide range of physical factors when determining school capacities. However this does not mean that all such factors will necessarily have an impact on any given school's capacity, and the degree of impact such factors have will differ from school to school.

15. It may be that authorities can address and 'adjust' the impact of physical factors on a school's capacity through management solutions. For example, the impact of narrow corridors may be reduced if a one-way system is in operation. Equally the impact of particular "pinch points" in a school may be reduced by timetabling to minimise the problem.

Physical size of school

16. Whilst the physical size of a school will clearly limit its capacity, education authorities will want to consider the flexible use of space, and how the use of space affects school capacities. In determining school capacities authorities will need to take into account:

  • the size and number of classrooms;
  • the size of dining spaces;
  • the number of toilets;
  • any circulation requirements;
  • the size and number of any staircases;
  • planning to improve access to education for pupils with disabilities.

17. Also relevant may be the design of the building (open plan, modern, traditional, etc.) and how this bears on the use of space. If a building includes community facilities within the school authorities will need to decide which parts of the building are to be taken into consideration when determining a school's capacity.

Teaching Facilities

18. In determining school capacities authorities will need to consider specialist areas for the teaching of specific subjects. These will include areas and facilities such as:

  • science labs;
  • sports facilities;
  • craft workshops;
  • teaching kitchens;
  • ICT rooms;
  • music rooms and studios;
  • art rooms;
  • libraries;
  • TV, video, multimedia rooms;
  • drama rooms and studios;
  • other non-classroom teaching areas, such as general purpose rooms used by classes as necessary.

Some schools make provision for pupils with additional support needs, and this may also need to be considered by authorities when determining capacities. Authorities need to make a judgement about how the number, size, and availability of areas and facilities such as those above, and the flexibility with which they can be used, will affect a school's capacity.

Non-Teaching Facilities

19. Non-teaching facilities can have an impact on school capacities. These include such things as:

  • pupil social space;
  • parenting rooms;
  • the size of any playground(s);
  • storage facilities;
  • the number of toilets;
  • dining spaces.

Temporary School Accommodation and Facilities

20. The status accorded to temporary school accommodation is also a factor to be considered when determining school capacities. Authorities may wish to distinguish between permanent and temporary accommodation, and will want to make clear how temporary accommodation has been taken into account in the determination of any given school's capacity.

Health and Safety

21. Health and safety issues will also be relevant. These include factors such as the avoidance of excessive over-crowding in corridors and stairs, and fire evacuation considerations.


22. As well as the physical size of a school's buildings and facilities other factors may have an effect on the number of pupils a school can accept. These include factors such as the class size limits and timetabling. Authorities will want to consider the points made in paragraph 9 above about the management of physical and non-physical factors, and the impact this can have on school capacities.

Class sizes

23. Statutory requirements on the size of classes are set out in the Education (Lower Primary Class Sizes) (Scotland) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/1080). Maximum sizes for timetabled classes are also detailed in the Scheme of Salaries and Conditions of Service Document for Teaching Staff in School Education. In determining school capacities authorities will need to ensure that class sizes will be in accordance with these limits, and any changes to them. The most up to date information on class size limits can be obtained from Rod Minty of the Teachers Division in the Scottish Executive Education Department. He can be contacted on 0131 244 0988 and at Rod.Minty@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.


24. Timetabling will be a major factor in determining school capacities for secondary schools. Authorities will want to consider how timetabling can be used to optimise the use of classrooms and other facilities, and therefore increase a school's capacity. This will be closely linked to the availability of specific teaching facilities (e.g. science laboratories, sports halls). Authorities will also want to consider the amount of space needed for the safe circulation of pupils between lessons and at break and lunch times.


25. It is for education authorities themselves to determine the capacity of individual schools. Whilst this guidance sets out some of the factors they will want to consider when determining school capacities it is not exhaustive. Authorities will, of course, want to exercise discretion and take into account the individual circumstances of schools.


26. Enquiries relating to this circular should be addressed to Ben Haynes in the Schools Division in the Scottish Executive Education Department, based in Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, EH6 6QQ, telephone 0131 244 7048. Enquiries can also be e-mailed to: schoolcapacity@scotland.gsi.gov.uk .

27. Electronic copies of this guidance are available on the Scottish Executive and 'Parentzone' websites at www.scotland.gov.uk and www.parentzonescotland.gov.uk. Hard copies of this guidance are also available by contacting Schools Division in the Scottish Executive on 0131 244 4485.

Scottish Executive Education Department

10 December 2004


Summary reference is made in this guidance to relevant primary and secondary legislation, although it cannot be taken as an authoritative interpretation of any statutory provisions. Interested parties need to refer to the legislation and regulations directly for full details.