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The Department collects information on the capacity of schools and the number of pupils on roll as part of the annual School Capacity (SCAP) survey. A school is identified as having surplus places if the capacity is higher than the number of pupils on roll.
An efficient system requires a degree of unfilled or surplus places at any point. Retaining a reasonable level of surplus places provides for parental choice and allows local authorities to manage shifting demand for places. A range of factors contributes to the level of surplus places held. For example, surplus places can be evidence of local authorities planning ahead of future need, as the increase in pupil numbers at primary level over recent years begins to move into secondary level. Unfilled places can also be attributed to the building of completely new schools, which fill up year by year, leaving space in the upper years.