Overview: How to set up a Free School
The process of setting up a Free School may seem daunting at first – but it is achievable. It takes commitment and dedication to turn your vision into a reality but New Schools Network has helped hundreds of groups submit successful Free School applications. We’ve put together this guide to help you plan and complete your application to a high standard and our advisers will be there to assist you at every step along the way.
The process of setting up a Free School is split into 4 stages: Pre-application, Interview, Pre-opening and Opening.
The diagram below was produced by the Department for Education and gives a brief overview of the structure of the application process from putting together the application to approval for Free Schools looking to open in September 2014.
The guidance on our website is designed to set out a staged process for you to follow:
- Decide which type of school you wish to set up; whether Mainstream, 16-19, Special or AP. If you would like further inforamtion about which tye of Free School is best for you, please download the document at the end of this page descibing the differences between each type, or contact our advisory team.
- Decide on your vision for the Free School, the team that will be working on submitting the application and setting up the school, and starting to build your evidence of demand. Your adviser will be able to assist with each stage of this process.
- Start to write your application form you will be able to meet with one of our specialist advisers in education and school finance/operations to further refine your plans.
- Put together your full application using our detailed guidance handbooks and in consultation with your adviser who will be able to give feedback throughout the process.
Different Types of Free Schools
There are four different types of Free Schools:
Mainstream Free Schools are all-ability schools catering for students of statutory school age. Mainstream schools can be established as either Primary, Middle, Secondary or all-through schools. Mainstream schools must follow the School Admissions Code and SEN Code of Practice and they must offer a broad and balanced curriculum. Demand for Mainstream Free Schools comes from local parents and funding is received on a per pupil basis directly from the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
16-19 Free Schools offer tailored education to students aged 16-19. 16-19 Free Schools are broadly similar to Mainstream Free Schools but don’t have to follow the School Admissions Code nor offer a broad and balanced curriculum. They do not have to follow Special Educational Needs legislation but must give due regard to equalities legislation. Demand for 16-19 Schools come from the prospective students themselves rather than parents, and funding is received on a per pupil basis directly from the EFA.
Special Free Schools cater for students with Special Education Needs (SEN) aged 4-19, both with and without Statements of SEN. Special Free Schools will provide personalised education for students with SEN which should be broad and balanced where appropriate. They will have a particular SEN designation or designations, such as Visual Impairment or Autism. Special Free Schools catering for pupils with Statements of SEN must show that the Local Authority or Authorities would be willing to name that school on Statements of SEN and parents or students with the particular SEN or types of SEN that that school will cater for would support the school being named on those Statements. For children who have the SEN for which the school is designated but who do not have a Statement demand must come from the parents of those children. For these pupils Special Free Schools must adhere to the School Admissions Code and will be funded on a per pupil basis that is equivalent to Mainstream Free Schools. For pupils with a Statement of SEN Special Free Schools are funded at a rate of £10,000 per place from the EFA, with top-up funding per pupil at a rate negotiated between the Free School and the Local Authority.
Alternative Provision Free Schools offer targeted education to students of statutory school age who may be unsuited to Mainstream schools for a variety of reasons, including exclusion or illness. Students are admitted directly through referrals from commissioners, who may be Local Authorities, schools or groups of schools, and Academies. Alternative Provision Free Schools are funded at a rate of £8,000 per place from the EFA, with a per pupil top up fee negotiated directly with their commissioners.
Hybrid Free Schools:
Hybrid Free Schools are a combination of two or more Free School types, such as an Alternative Provision Free School that wishes to accept pupils with Statements of Special Educational Needs on a long term basis. The Department for Education allows groups to set out the Free School model that best suits their vision, allowing you to determine what’s best for your school as long as it’s justifiable and in the students’ best interests. If you’re thinking about a hybrid school, take care to read the unique guidance of both types of Free School that you are looking to combine. Please note that a Mainstream secondary school for pupils aged 11-19 does not count as a hybrid – there is one application form for both Mainstream and 16-19 provision.
If you’re not sure of which Free School is right for you, or need additional information, you can download New Schools Network’s “Comparisons of Different School Types” document in the Resources section at the bottom of the page. If it is still unclear which type of Free School best fits with your vision then the likelihood is that you will be proposing a hybrid model. Please do talk to our advisers for tailored guidance about how to make this work for you.
When you’ve decided which type of Free School is the best fit then please navigate to the first steps guidance page for your chosen type.