The application process can seem daunting and sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. As we’ve helped hundreds of groups submit successful applications, we know that there are 3 key ‘First Steps’ in the application process:
Your vision is the backbone of your application and will underpin every decision that you make, so it is vital that you have a clear vision before you proceed. You will also need to build a team that is able to translate this vision into a high quality application. Forming a strong team with a shared vision is the most important first step. We’ll go through each of the First Steps in greater detail on the following pages, highlight what help NSN can provide and point you to helpful resources so that you can work through these initial steps.
Once you have a clear vision and have begun to form your team and write the application, you can meet with our specialist advisers to further develop your plans.
The education vision describes the purpose and goals of the school and is the foundation of a successful application. Your vision will provide the basis for all other decisions, including the way you organise your curriculum and your pupils, staffing, how you allocate the budget and what premises are appropriate. A clear vision is the foundation of a strong application – it will help to convince the DfE and your commissioners of the value of your proposed school and why it’s needed in the community.
You should think of your vision as the short summary that will convince the DfE, AP Commissioners and pupils (if applying for 16-19 provision) that your school is a good thing. Spend time getting the wording right.
The vision has three main components:
- The rationale for your school in your area;
- A description of the key features of the school: what will make it distinctive; and
- Your definition of success
It can be difficult to know where to begin and how to organise your ideas into a cohesive summary. To help you get started, try exploring the questions below. In addressing these questions you’ll start to see elements of your vision taking shape.
- Why is a new school needed in your area?
- What do you think a good school would look like?
- What would make your school unique?
- What would your school achieve?
New Schools Network will allocate you a personal Adviser to work with you throughout the application process. Your Adviser will give you detailed feedback on your vision and any other documents you intend to submit with your application.
If you are an existing provider of Alternative Provision seeking to convert to Free School status, or an organisation currently working with the young people who might form your Free School’s pupil intake, you should make the case as to why the Free Schools route will allow you to improve upon the provision which you are already offering. As well as addressing the points above concerning why your area needs an AP Free School, you should briefly explain:
- Your track record, either in running an Alternative or other educational provision, or in working with the type of young people who might be accessing your new provision;
- Why you are seeking to convert to become a Free School – what value do you feel the conversion would add to your provision
- Why you have chosen to expand on your work in this way (if you are working with young people in a different capacity) – why have your experiences led you to believe that those young people will be best served by your setting up an Alternative Provision Free School?
Successful Free School applications come from a diverse range of groups, from parents and teachers to academy chains and independent schools. However, to be approved by the DfE for opening you must be able to demonstrate that you have a team with the necessary skills and expertise required to set up and run a Free School. You’ll also need to prove that you have the time to commit to the project and be clear on the role your group will play in the ongoing operation of the school. On this page you’ll find guidance about what’s required in forming a strong team and how to choose a school model that best suits your vision for the school.
A strong team with the skills and commitment to deliver your vision is one of the foundations of a successful application. You’ll need to think carefully about who will be involved, the skills they would bring and where you’ll need to add capacity. You’ll also need to consider which, if any, elements of the application might be outsourced to other education providers or companies.
It’s important to be clear on your group’s expectations on long-term involvement in the running of the school. Some groups will want manage the school themselves and others prefer to plan their vision but engage with an education provider to run the school. There’s no ‘standard’ model, so it pays to think carefully about what arrangements best fit your vision. We’ll outline some common Free School models towards the end of this guidance.
The DfE specifies that you must have appropriate educational and financial expertise at minimum to submit a successful application. Educational expertise would normally be provided by an experienced school leader with a sound knowledge of delivering high-quality education of the type that you wish to provide in the Free School. Financial expertise might be provided by a Bursar or school Business Manager and financial or accounting professionals. You must show that these individual can commit sufficient time to the project, both for the application and then the process of setting up the Free School. You’ll also need to think about other skills relevant to the set up and running of a school, which could include:
- Setting up new businesses;
- Governing a school successfully;
- Human Resources;
- Property and Construction;
- Marketing; and
- Project management