Alternative provision census: guide to submitting data

How local authorities should submit data for the alternative provision census.

The alternative provision (AP) census is a statutory census that takes place every January. You must complete statutory censuses by law unless there’s a good reason not to.

AP settings provide education for children who cannot attend a mainstream school.

The AP census collects information about pupils who are either:

  • attending a school not maintained by a local authority (for example, a non-maintained special school) and the local authority is paying for the full tuition
  • receiving education under arrangements made and funded by the local authority, but not in a school or a pupil referral unit (for example, pupils in community homes or units)

Important dates

The 2020 census deadlines:

  • census day: Thursday 16 January 2020
  • deadline for submitting data: Friday 28 February 2020

Submit your data

You’ll need to:

  • register and log in with DfE Sign-in
  • use COLLECT to submit your data

Please contact your school or local authority approver, if:

  • you want to request a DfE Sign-in username or password so you can access COLLECT
  • ‘alternative provision (AP) census’ is not on the list of collections you can see in COLLECT

Get help using DfE Sign-in

If you do not know who your approver is, please use the DfE Sign-in request form.

If you’ve forgotten your password, use DfE Sign-in to reset it. You will need to click ‘Start now’ and then the ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ link.

Note that we’ll only be able to change the status of your data submission to ‘authorised’ once you’ve cleared all errors in the data in COLLECT.

Census documents

These guides will help you complete the 2020 AP census:

The following documents are available for local authorities and software suppliers:

If you are looking for guides from past AP census collections, visit the ‘Alternative provision census: closed collections’ page.

Do you need help?

Submitting data

Please use the service request form if you have any questions about your data. We aim to answer your question within 5 working days.


Please use the feedback form if you have any comments about our data collection service, including COLLECT and the helpdesk service.

Published 25 March 2014
Last updated 25 September 2019 + show all updates
  1. Added link to 'Alternative provision census 2020 XML converter and guide'.

  2. Added 2020 census deadlines.

  3. Updated 'Submit your data section' and DfE Sign-in help links.

  4. Updated COLLECT link from secure access to DfE sign in.

  5. Added link to 'Alternative provision census 2019: guide'.

  6. Updated the 2019 census deadline dates and related documents.

  7. Updated the 2018 census deadline dates and related documents.

  8. Added link to new generic COLLECT guides for schools and local authorities.

  9. Updated the census deadlines. Added links to the 2017 guide, and to the business and technical specification.

  10. Corrected 2016 alternative provision census return date to Friday 4 March 2016.

  11. Added a link to 'Alternative provision census 2016: COLLECT guide'.

  12. Updated the census deadlines. Added links to the 2016 guide for local authorities and AP providers, and to the business and technical specification.

  13. Added link to the alternative provision census 2015: COLLECT guide for local authorities.

  14. Added link to 'Alternative provision census 2015: XML schema files'.

  15. Added link to the 2015 census guide.

  16. Added the technical specification and important dates for the 2015 census.

  17. First published.