There are four stages that proposers (groups wanting to set up a Free School) need to follow.

For proposers without experience in making such applications, advice will be available to make sure they are not disadvantaged at any point in the process.

Free schools process

Stage 1: Preparation

Proposers interested in setting up a Free School may want to contact the New Schools Network to discuss their ideas.

The New Schools Network is acting as the first point of contact for the majority of groups interested in establishing a Free School. It will provide information and advice on setting up a new school, and help groups through the process.

Stage 2: Proposal

After proposers have worked up their ideas they will need to complete a form which asks them to set out

  • the aims and objectives of the new school
  • the main people and organisations involved in the project
  • evidence of parental demand (e.g. a petition)
  • possible premises that have been considered.

The proposal form is available to download. The New Schools Network can offer support and advice on completing the form.

Completed forms should be submitted to the Department by emailing them to Incomplete forms will be rejected. Where a form has been rejected as incomplete, proposers are free to re-submit a completed version and may seek the advice of the New Schools Network in doing so.

The Secretary of State will make a judgement on the potential of the project – based on criteria relating to educational aims and objectives, evidence of demand, potential premises and suitability of provider - to decide whether the proposed Free School project should move into stage 3.

We intend to publish the final versions of all proposals on our website.

Stage 3: Full business case and plan

Proposers will prepare a fully detailed business case and plan for the new school. This will need to include

  • a detailed statement of educational aims and curriculum
  • final details of the key people and organisations that will be involved in the running of the school
  • full evidence that there is demand for the school and that it will be financially viable over a minimum five-year period
  • evidence that the school will meet all required standards (including the Independent School Standards and the Admissions Code) and a commitment to conduct national tests where appropriate
  • details of proposed premises and a full business case for the public value of all start-up costs
  • financial projections for operating the school on an ongoing basis.

You can download the template for a free school business case and plan from this page. The business case and plan will be a substantial document and most proposers will require professional support to complete it to the required standard. We are working with these initial proposers who have started the business case and plan stage to support them through the process for setting up Free Schools. This document is therefore subject to change as the process develops through work to set up the first Free Schools.

An indication of the level of detail required can be found in expressions of interest for previous academy projects and signed funding agreements for previous academy projects. While these documents provide an indication of the level of detail required, proposers should note that the Free Schools business case and plan requires some different information and that Free Schools will be set up in different contexts to previous academies. Your Departmental project lead will help you understand what is required to assess a business case and plan for your project.

Projects will be supported by a named official from the Department. An assessment of the support the individual project needs will be made, working with the proposer. Depending on the individual project, this could include help to bring appropriate partners on board, support to develop the educational aims and objectives in more detail, support to develop the site, staffing and financial plans or project management support to drive the proposals forward. Proposers of Free School projects will need to have a proposal approved by the Secretary of State before the Department can consider a business case and plan. Approval of a proposal will release support from the Department to help the proposer prepare their business case and plan.

The Secretary of State will make an assessment of whether the project has met all the criteria to allow a new school to be set up and receive state funding based on the final business case and plan.

Stage 4: Pre-opening

Proposers will sign a funding agreement contract with the Department to trigger the release of potential start-up funding. The school will need to set up new financial systems and contractual arrangements, completing registrations and ensuring that all Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks are carried out as necessary. The Department will support the school to ensure all legal documents are completed relating to governance, land transfer and company registration.

Length of time to set up a Free School

The length of the process will vary depending on the level of preparation and expertise of the proposers wanting to set up the new school and also the complexity of the issues associated with their particular project. The first wave of Free Schools will allow us to work through common issues and the details of the policy and process to help those schools coming into the programme in the future. We expect the first Free Schools to open in September 2011.