Challenging net capacity

This article applies to schools maintained by a local authority, although the principles involved in assessing capacity will be relevant to academies.

Academies are not required to undergo a local authority net capacity assessment and will instead agree a capacity figure with the Department for Education (DfE). An academy wishing to challenge its capacity figure should establish the basis for the agreed figure with the DfE.

What is net capacity?

'Net capacity' is a calculation applied to maintained schools by local authorities. It sets out the total number of pupils that a school can admit based on its available teaching space. The net capacity figure will be written into the school's funding agreement.

Net capacity is separate from a school's published admission number (PAN), which is an assessment of the number of pupils in each age group that the school will admit each year.

Calculating net capacity

Net capacity assessments are carried out by local authorities with limited input from schools. In general, a school's only involvement in the calculations is at the initial assessment stage and is essentially confined to confirming that the data to be used in the calculation are correct.

The calculations are complex and involved. They are made from school floorplans using an algorithm that dictates space per student; certain space usage (such as space used for SEN purposes) is discounted when calculating the overall number.

If net capacity figures appear inconsistent with aggregated PAN, it should be noted that net capacity is calculated with an upper and lower limit and that it is the upper limit that is taken as the school's capacity figure. A net capacity figure that is higher than a school's PAN may, therefore, still be correct.

Once net capacity has been established, recalculations only need to be made by the local authority if there have been changes to the school's usable space.

Challenging net capacity assessments

A school's calculated net capacity may be significantly different from its PAN and it may wish to clarify or challenge this, particularly if it is dealing with issues over admissions policy. There is no specific process for challenging net capacity and, if a school wishes to amend the figure, it will have to seek approval for variation of its funding agreement.

This remains an untested area but, in the first instance, it may be advisable to request the data on which the capacity assessment was made by the local authority. It may be possible to challenge net capacity on the basis of, for example, incorrect application of assessment criteria, changes in building usage or expansion of services such as SEN. One of the factors in the calculation is a school's planned number of admissions at the time of the calculation; if actual admission numbers are different, this may affect a recalculation.

If you need any further information, please contact our education law specialist Russell Holland on 01179 069323 or at