An introduction to free schools

You should start here to make the first decisions about your school and understand what setting up a free school involves. 

What are free schools?

Free schools are new state schools that are:

  • Comprehensive - they do not select on ability and they must be open to pupils of all backgrounds and faiths.
  • Free to attend - like all state schools they cannot charge fees.
  • Accountable to the Secretary of State - free schools are charitable trusts whose Members and Directors answer directly to the Secretary of State, rather than the Local Authority.
  • Autonomous - free schools are a form of “academy” – a school which is given freedoms over its curriculum, staffing, finances and governance so that they can adapt their model to what the local community wants and needs.

The success of free schools so far

Over 300 free schools are open in England, with over 240 approved by the DfE. Once full, all currently open or planned free schools will provide over 330,000 new places.

Free schools are inspected by Ofsted under the new, more rigorous, Ofsted framework. Of the free schools that have been inspected, 25% have been judged as ‘Outstanding’ - around twice the proportion of other state schools inspected in the same period.

A range of studies have shown that free schools in other countries:

  • Achieve higher results
  • Help other schools improve
  • Are more popular with parents

You can read more about the evidence on this on our 'Free school facts and figures' page.

Next steps

  • Find out how you can set up a free school and what the application involves here.
  • For more information on what free schools are and how to go about submitting an application, read the full An introduction to free schools document.


How we can help

The New Schools Network provides a range of support to free school groups, all of which is free to access.