What is a Free School?
Free schools are non – profit making, all ability state funded schools which are being set up to improve education for children in local communities.
Free schools are semi-independent and are being established by various groups including parents, charities, universities, businesses, educational groups and teachers. They are being set up in response to demand in local areas for a greater variety of schools, especially where there are not enough places in local schools and children have to travel long distances.
They are subject to the same Ofsted inspections as all state schools and are expected to maintain the same rigorous standards.
Who can set up a Free School?
A Free School can be set up by any suitable group, as long as there is evidence that there is demand for one in the area.
As a Free School is a brand new school, an existing maintained school cannot apply to become one. However, an Independent school can apply to become a Free School and is then a state funded Independent school.
Benefits of Free Schools
According to the Department for Education (DfE), Free Schools give talented and committed teachers, charities, parents and education experts the opportunity to open a school to address real demand within an area. The proposers can respond to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community.
The role of parents is crucial; they can drive the proposal, design the vision and ethos of the school with assistance from Government educators, choose and refine the curriculum (subject to DfE approval), write the admissions policy and, with the Governors, appoint the head teacher.
Free schools increase the variety of education in an area. They are required to meet high standards and must give pupils the best possible chance to succeed.
How to set up a Free School
Any groups who are interested in setting up a new Free School can contact the New Schools Network to discuss their ideas and receive information and advice for every stage of the application progress.
Initially, a proposal will need to be sent to the DfE which must include the following information:
- What are the aims and objectives of the new school?
- Who are the main people and organisations involved in the project?
- What evidence is there to show that there is a demand for this school?
- What premises have been considered for the new school?
Once the proposal has undergone rigorous suitability and vetting tests, the Secretary of State decides whether the application should move on to the next stage of the process. When it is approved, the school is assigned a contact at the DfE who looks after them throughout the entire process of setting up the Free School.
FAQs about Free Schools
Q. Can an existing maintained school become a Free School?
A. No. Free Schools are brand new schools which have been set up in order to meet local demand. However, an Independent school can apply to become a Free School and is then a state funded Independent school.
Q. Will I need to get approval from my local authority before setting up a Free School?
A. No, the local authority (LA) does not need to approve plans to open a Free School. LAs can play a helpful part in the process for any groups setting up a Free School, using their skills, experience and knowledge to help facilitate the process.
Q. How will admissions to Free Schools work?
A. Free Schools will be bound by the same Admissions Code that governs all publicly funded schools. Free Schools are expected to be open to pupils of all abilities and have admission arrangements which are fair and transparent. Parents apply for a place for their child at the school in the same way as they would with any other school.
Q. What support can I expect when applying to open a Free School?
Any group hoping to open a new Free School can expect to receive all the help and advice that they need from The New Schools Network, which provides initial guidance and advice, so the right decision can be made.
Any group who is committed to opening a free school, or has a plan under development, can seek advice from the DfE.
Q. How is a Free School funded?
Like academies, Free Schools are funded on a comparable basis to other state-funded schools. Groups running Free Schools cannot make a profit.