Free schools are new state schools. They provide a way for groups of parents, teachers, charities, existing schools or other organisations to respond to a need for a new school in their community – whether for extra places, to raise standards, or provide choice for families.
Like all state schools, free schools are free to attend and open to all children. They have been opened all over England by parents, teachers, existing outstanding schools, community groups and charities. They can be primary, secondary, all-through or 16-19, and can open specifically for children with special educational needs or those who struggle in mainstream schools (alternative provision).
Setting up a new school is a challenging and rigorous process. Applicant groups have to demonstrate to the Department for Education that they have excellent educational expertise and a strong team that is capable of responsibly governing a school. They also have to prove that there is demand for the school in their community and show that they have developed a detailed education plan that will meet the needs of their students.
Once established, free schools are legally academies so are funded by central government and have a range of freedoms:
- They can extend the school day or year: most use this freedom to add more time for learning or extra-curricular activity.
- They have to offer a broad and balanced curriculum, but this does not have to be the National Curriculum: some schools use this freedom to teach in an innovative way, whether that is focusing on STEM subjects or taking a different approach to learning, such as outdoor expeditionary lessons.
- They have more flexibility in the way they employ their staff: some choose to offer teachers performance related pay to keep and reward their best staff while others choose to bring in outside expertise by employing people without traditional teaching qualifications.
- They decide how they spend their full budget: they receive all of their funding direct from central government, which means they have complete independence over how it is spent
- They have independent governance: free schools are run by an Academy Trust, and are independent of Local Authority oversight.
Facts and Figures
Harmonize Academy in Liverpool has made a successful ‘significant changes’ application to the DfE to create additional student places. From the beginning of the September 2021 academic year, the number of students was officially increased from 104 to 150.
The ‘significant changes’ application involved a rigorous and challenging process, requiring Harmonize to clearly demonstrate they have a strong team with educational expertise capable of managing and governing the increased student intake.
Children who joined Canary Wharf College East Ferry, one of the first cohort of free schools to open in the heart of the East End of London, have worked their way from joining the embryo school in Year 2, to receiving their Year 11 GCSE results.
The students who joined in 2011 to came through the whole of Key Stage 2 in the primary and continue into Canary Wharf College Crossharbour secondary school, received an astounding 94% 9-4 grade pass rate.
The superb A-levels outcomes will have secured the first cohort of Year 13 students with places at top leaving destinations. These include 13% achieving straight A*s and two students gaining entrance to medical school, with the majority of other students obtaining access to top Russell Group universities.