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The Administrative Data Research Network is an ESRC-funded project that ran from October 2013 - July 2018. It is currently at the end of its funding cycle and is no longer taking applications. Administrative data research will be taken forward in a new project, to be launched later in 2018.

Welsh Pupil Level Annual Schools Census and Pupil Attainment, 2004-

Title Details

Welsh Pupil Level Annual Schools Census and Pupil Attainment, 2004-
Principal investigator(s):
Welsh Government
Data collector(s):
Welsh Government

Subject Categories

  • Education


  • Abstract copyright ADRN.

    Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) and Pupil Attainment data have been collected annually from all maintained sector primary, secondary, and special schools in Wales since 2004. Statutory requirements govern the returns made by schools. Before 2004 data on pupil enrolments and attainment were collected at school level only.

    Prior to 2008, the census and attainment data were collectively referred to as the National Pupil Database (NPD) which was maintained by the Local Government Data Unit for Wales (not to be confused with the English NPD, which is run by the Department for Education). Following a review of the NPD, the management of schools data was transferred to the Welsh Government School Statistics team. Both the PLASC and Pupil Attainment datasets are now referred to separately, although they are still linked at the individual level using a Unique Pupil Number, as was the case with the NPD. Whilst the PLASC and Pupil Attainment datasets could be used independently, they are more valuable as a merged dataset in order to combine information on pupil characteristics with attainment results.

    The PLASC and Pupil Attainment dataset covers pupil and school level data for all maintained primary, secondary, nursery and special schools in Wales. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate systems. From 2004, PLASC and Pupil Attainment data have been collected from schools at an individual pupil level and in a standardised computerised form. Previously data were collected at school level only.

    Each school maintains electronic records on their pupils throughout the year using a Management Information System. Returns are made via a secure online data transfer system managed by the Welsh Government.

    The PLASC data contain approximately 0.475 million records for each academic year and include variables on pupil characteristics including date of birth, gender, home postcode, special education need status and free school meal status. PLASC data are collected annually from schools in January. The Pupil Attainment data are collected annually from schools in June for Foundation Phase (formerly known as Key Stage 1), Key Stages 2 to 3 and from awarding organisations for Key Stage 4 and above in August of each year.

    Data on the results of pupils’ Foundation Phase and Key Stage attainment tests are collected from schools during a separate exercise, usually carried out in June. Foundation Phase and Key Stage tests are taken at four different age points during compulsory education, typically at ages 7, 11, 14 and 16. In Wales, Foundation Phase, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 are now examined by teacher assessment only. More specifically, Key Stage 4 relates to attainment in GCSE and equivalent qualifications. Foundation Phase covers pupils from the age of 5-7. Key Stage 2 covers pupils from 7-11 years of age. Key Stage 3 covers pupils from 11-14 years of age. Key Stage 4 covers pupils from 14-16 years of age.

    The Welsh Government website contains information on PLASC and Pupil Attainment data as well as other data collected from schools including absenteeism rates, teacher assessments of non-core subjects and information on teachers (note that these datasets may not be at an individual level). StatsWales is run by the Welsh Government and provides access to a range of government data including data on schools and teachers. Some of the data are available across a time series dating back to 1977/78, and there is a further section on historical data containing data collected prior to 1974. The data are presented as aggregated totals limiting its use as a resource for detailed analysis.

    It is important for researchers to take into consideration any changes to the data collection over time and how these changes affect the comparability of data from subsequent years. In line with the requirements of the data holders and attempts to improve the quality of the data, there have been various changes made to the variables collected in PLASC. Recently the coding of a pupil’s ethnicity has been extended to cover a series of sub-categories not previously available. Another recent change is the introduction of more detailed categories of English as an Additional Language to provide information about the level of English speaking acquired by the pupil.

    The guidance notes issued to schools to aid in their completion of PLASC provide a full overview of the variables currently collected and further details of recent amendments (see Documentation section).

    The computerised systems used by schools to record and make returns include robust validation checks. Further checks on the accuracy of data are made by the Schools Statistics team before the data are published or made available to researchers. Furthermore, the data are expected to be of a high quality. However, there may be instances where pupil data are missing, for example, if a child did not attend school on the day of a GCSE exam assessment or when a child has previously been educated outside of the state system or moved to Wales from abroad.

    Independent schools and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) do not produce a PLASC return. Pupils who leave or join the education system in Wales between the PLASC census day and the time of the assessments (May to July) are not included in the dataset. Such pupils will either be missing pupil characteristics or an attainment level.

    In 2002, the Welsh Government decided to stop the tests at Foundation Phase. Instead, optional teacher assessment materials were provided to schools in 2003 for use in English, Mathematics, and Welsh. At the end of 2003, the Daugherty Report was commissioned by the Welsh Government to undertake a review of the country’s assessment procedures. Following the outcome of the Daugherty Assessment Review Group in 2004, Key Stage 2 tasks/tests were made optional in 2005 and Key Stage 3 tasks/tests were made optional in 2006.

    At Key Stage 3, the National Curriculum consists of the “core subjects” of English and Welsh, Mathematics and Science, and the “non-core subjects” of Welsh second language, modern foreign languages, design and technology, information technology, history, geography, art, music, physical education and religious education. At Key Stage 4, only five National Curriculum subjects are mandatory (English, Welsh or Welsh second language, Mathematics, Science, and Physical Education) and schools have greater flexibility to provide optional subjects that meet the needs and interests of their pupils.

    Care should be taken when comparing the performance of ethnic groups with relatively few pupils because results for such small groups will show more volatility year on year than for groups with larger numbers of pupils. In the PLASC data collection, pupils and their parents are encouraged to choose the most appropriate ethnic background. However in 2010, the ethnic background for between around 12 and 16 per cent of pupils in the relevant key stages each year was chosen by the school after parents/pupils did not choose a category (and did not explicitly state that they did not want one recorded by the school). The category chosen by the school will have been made available to parents/pupils for amendment but in cases where it was not amended the chosen category may not reflect the ethnic background to which the pupils feel they belong. Pupils from an ethnic minority background are not evenly dispersed around Wales. They are concentrated in four local authorities, and in particular schools within these local authorities. The educational policies in place in such areas may have an impact on the academic achievement of such pupils.

    Research Usage and Linkage

    Both the PLASC and Pupil Attainment datasets are a key source of education statistical analysis used by the Welsh Government and are published as Official Statistics. For example, yearly reports are published on National Curriculum assessments and GCSE attainment, class sizes, absenteeism rates and other topics. It is particularly useful for schools and local authorities for comparisons and benchmarking purposes.

    Other key users include the Ministers and the Members Research Service in the National Assembly for Wales, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education and Training in Wales, Wales Audit Office, the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills in the Welsh Assembly Government, local authorities and the Department for Education in England.

    The Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) provides a good example of a research project which uses pupil level data. Using data from a linked dataset of PLASC and Pupil Attainment, the WIMD contains indicators of Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 average point scores and primary and secondary school absence rates. The home postcode information collected in PLASC enables the indicators to be constructed at a small area level (Lower layer Super Output Area).

    Each individual pupil record in PLASC can be linked to the corresponding Pupil Attainment data via the Unique Pupil Number (UPN). Data can also be linked longitudinally using the UPN to trace pupils over time. In theory it is also possible to compare PLASC and Pupil Attainment records with those from the English NPD. Attainment comparisons with the Scottish and Northern Ireland education systems should be treated with caution due to differing examination systems.

Coverage, universe, methodology

Time period:
2004 -
Observation units:
Kind of data:
Individual (micro) level
Pupils and schools for all maintained primary, secondary, nursery and special schools in Wales from 2004.

Time dimensions:
Repeated cross-sectional study
Sampling procedures:
No sampling (total universe)
Number of units:
Approximately 0.475 million records each academic year
Method of data collection:

Compilation or synthesis of existing material

Each school maintains electronic records on their pupils throughout the year using a Management Information System. Returns are made via a secure online data transfer system managed by the Welsh Government.

Frequency of release:
Data Updated:

Administrative and access information

Crown copyright
Access conditions:
Contact the Network



By principal investigator(s):

  • EALAW (2003) The achievement of ethnic minority pupils in Wales, Welsh Assembly Government.
  • Holtom, D., Sims, J. (2009) Working Better Together., Welsh Assembly Government's New Ideas Fund.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2009) Pupils leaving full time education with no qualifications 2008/09.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2009) Schools in Wales:.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2010) Assessment and Examination Performance: Comparison with England and its Regions, 2009.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2010) Cross Border Flows in Education.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2010) National Curriculum Assessments of 7, 11 and 14 year olds: Wales, 2010.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2011) Independent Schools' Census, January 2011.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2011) Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation 2011.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2012) School Census Results, 2012.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2013) Academic Achievement by Pupil Characteristics, 2012.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2013) Achievement and Entitlement to Free School Meals in Wales, 2012.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2013) Examination results in Wales, 2012/13.
  • Welsh Assembly Government (2013) Key Stage 2 and 3 Assessment Performance in Wales: Comparison with England and its Regions, 2012.

Resulting from secondary analysis:

  • Gore, T., Smith, N. (2001) Patterns of Educational Attainment in the British Coalfields, Department for Education and Skills.
  • Office for National Statistics (2007) Report from the review of equality data, Office for National Statistics.
  • Chanfreau, J., Cebulla, A. (2009) Educational attainment of blind and partially sighted pupils, National Centre for Social Research for the Royal National Institute of Blind People..

Page last updated: 20/09/2017