Mainstream Free Schools are all-ability, state funded schools independent of the local authority. Anyone can apply to set them up without waiting for permission from local authorities or other schools. They can be primary, secondary, middle or all-through schools.

They receive the same basic per pupil funding as local authority maintained schools, including an element for levels of deprivation. Mainstream Free Schools are also able to offer nursery provision. This is funded separately through either the local authority or charging parents directly.

This guidance is for people who would like to establish a mainstream Free School or 16-19 Free School. It includes information about how to apply and tips and criteria for a successful application.


  • Things to know before you start
  • Getting started
  • The application process explained
  • How we assess applications
  • Preparing your application
  • Assessment criteria
  • Submitting your application
  • Support for applicants