Frequently asked questions

All free schools receive all or part of their funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which is part of the Department for Education. However, different types of free school receive different amounts:


Yes. Traditionally special schools have only been able to admit children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), other than in certain specific circumstances. However, special free schools can now admit children with SEN, both with or without an EHCP. These children must have a type of SEN for which the school is designated.

Education provision for pupils aged 16-19 is not technically classed as AP, although it can offer an AP style education.

If an AP free school providing education to pre-16 pupils wishes to have a 16-19 element they can do so, but there will be some differences in terms of funding and admissions which are outlined below.

Yes. In addition to the criteria for all applicants, existing providers wishing to become AP free schools must meet the following requirements:
  • Be registered as an independent school,
  • Have no significant outstanding issues on compliance in their most recent inspection report,
  • Have a good track record of financial management; and
  • Provide a link to their most recent inspection report with the application.

Yes. Free schools can and do generate additional income which is usually used to fund enrichment and extra-curricular activities. However, the Department for Education state that free schools must be able to deliver their core educational offer within the funding that they receive from the government.

No. Whilst free schools can find additional sources of funding beyond their core funding, this must feed back into the running of the school. All free schools must be run by non-profit making academy trusts, which are exempt charities.

If a governor, or a person connected to a governor, is paid for providing goods or services to the Academy Trust then this represents a potential conflict of interest. 

Governors can be employed by the Academy Trust or provide services to it if this conflict is managed and obligations relating to public procurement rules are complied with.

Local Authorities retain their statutory duty to ensure appropriate planning of school places. However, the most recent Education Act states that when a new school is required, the LA should seek proposals for a free school or academy as its first step.

Yes. Both LA maintained schools and academies can set up free schools of any age range and type. However, existing secondary schools with an age range of 11-16 should be aware that they cannot use the free school process as a means of extending their age range. To do this an LA maintained school has to apply for this extension through their LA, and academies have to apply for this extension through the DfE’s academy extension programme.

Yes. Non-maintained and Independent Special Schools can convert to become Special Free Schools, where they have proven that they will enhance choice and quality locally or meet a need for places. In order to convert to become a special free school, they must also demonstrate that they have no significant outstanding issues on compliance in their most recent inspection report and have achieved a judgement of good or better in key areas, relating to the quality of education provided and students’ personal development and welfare.