Groups that want to set up a new free school must submit an application to the Department for Education (DfE). There are different routes available for doing this, depending on the type of school you wish to set up.

  • Central Route: The central route is open to proposers looking to set up a new mainstream school in areas of underperformance and/or basic need. The school may offer something different and increase parental choice to the community. To apply to open a mainstream school, groups must apply to the Department of Education during a live application ‘wave’. The DfE will outline a set of criteria in each wave that applications must meet to be approved. Any group with the right expertise and skills can apply through the central route.

    The last application wave, Wave 14, closed in November 2019. We are currently waiting for the launch of the next wave – but you can find out more about how to prepare for the next wave on this page.

  • Local Authority presumption competition: The local authority publish a specification for a school and invite trusts to apply to run that school. This requires you to submit an application to your local authority, demonstrating how you meet the local authority’s criteria. Presumption competitions are announced throughout the year and can be for any type of school.
  • Special and AP Competitions: At present, special and alternative provision schools can only be opened through a dedicated wave in which local authorities invite proposers to submit an application for a school. There are currently opportunities to apply for special schools in Bromley and Shropshire. To find out more about any of these routes, please get in touch through our helpdesk or book a 1:1 with our team.

New Schools Network provides a range of services to support free school applicants, all of which are free of charge. We have many resources and offer guidance to all free school applicants. Our most extensive support for applicants is offered through the Development Programme.



(WAVE 14)

Find out more about the latest application window, including changes to criteria and how to apply to join the Development Programme.

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Find out how NSN can support groups applying in response to a local authority presumption competition. 

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Find out how NSN can support groups applying to open a special or AP free school in response to a local authority presumption competition. 

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