How local authorities should collect and submit data about providers of early years education to complete the annual early years census.

The early years 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.

All local authorities must submit data for this census.

The census collects information about early years providers who receive direct government funding for 2-, 3- or 4-year-olds, including:

  • all private, voluntary or independent nurseries and providers of early years education
  • schools that provide day care for full days or in shorter sessions
  • childminders and childminding networks

Important dates

The 2020 census deadlines for:

  • census day: Thursday 16 January 2020
  • local authorities to submit their data: Friday 6 March 2020
  • final submission date: Friday 10 April 2020

Submit your data

You’ll need to:

  • register and log in with DfE Sign-in
  • use COLLECT to submit your school census 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
  • ‘school 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

The following guidance documents will help you complete the 2019 census:

The following technical document is available for local authorities and software suppliers:

If you are looking for guides from past early years census collections, visit the ‘Early years census: closed collections’ page.

Do you need help?

Submitting data

For complex questions, please use the service request form. 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 July 2019 + show all updates

  1. Added Early years census 2020 guide
  2. Updated census dates for 2020. Added links to the 2020 technical specification and validation rules.
  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 final submission date to important dates
  6. Updated census dates for 2019. Added links to the 2019 guide for local authorities and the 2017 technical specification and validation rules.
  7. Updated census documents and important dates for 2018.
  8. Added link to new generic COLLECT guides for schools and local authorities.
  9. Updated census dates for 2017. Added links to the 2017 guide for local authorities and the 2017 technical specification and validation rules.
  10. Added important dates for the 2016 collection and links to the 2016 guide and technical specification.
  11. Added a link to the ‘Early years census 2015: local authority COLLECT guide’ document.
  12. Added a link to the ‘Early years census 2015: XML spreadsheet generator’.
  13. Added a link to ‘Early years census 2015: guide’.
  14. Added a link to ‘Early years census 2015: XML schema files’.
  15. Changed important dates and added a link to ‘Early years census 2015: technical specification’.
  16. First published.