Evidence of need

All free school applicants must provide evidence that there is a need or demand for their proposed free school in their area, and demonstrate that their school will be popular and fill to capacity.

The requirements for mainstream, special, and alternative provision schools are quite different so it is very important that you are clear about what you need to show, and how you can present this in your application. The guidance below explains the different requirements.

Showing a need for your school


You must show that there is a need for your school by showing that at least one of the following applies in your area:

  • A shortage of places - in the year your school opens and in subsequent years
  • Underperformance in existing schools - demonstrated through Ofsted judgements of less than Good, or through pupil attainment or progress results that are below national averages
  • A need for greater choice and diversity - if your school would add to the existing offer of local schools, for example through its curriculum, ethos, or pedagogy
  • A social need - by demonstrating that the school will address a social issue relevant to its location, such as a need to bring together pupils from different ethnic or faith groups.
  • Parental demand

More detailed guidance on how to show a need for your school can be found in our Application guidance

Alternative provision

  • Gathering evidence of need – This guidance focuses on helping your group identify how to successfully engage with potential commissioners - both local schools and the Local Authorities - for your AP school.
  • Sample support letter – We have put together a letter that you can adapt with your school’s details when approaching local commissioners.

Special schools

  • Evidence of need – This guidance focuses on helping your group to identify ways to successfully engage with parents and the Local Authorities (LAs) in order to provide evidence that they would place children at your school.
  • Sample survey – This is an example of the kind of survey we recommend you use to engage with parents.
  • Sample support letter – This is a letter we have put together for you to adapt when approaching the LA for support, demand from parents for the free school you are proposing and solid evidence that LA would place children at your school.
  • Accepting non-statemented children – This guidance explains what your group may need to consider, or what would change, should you choose to accept pupils with no SEN statement into your school. 

Engaging with your community

The DfE also require applicants to show that you have engaged with your community on your proposal. This is particularly important for Mainstream and 16-19 schools, though all applicants should do this.

Engaging with your community is one of the most important, and time consuming elements of applying to set up a free school. You will need to gather evidence that demonstrates that you have actively engaged with a wide cross-section of your community, and that they were supportive of your proposal. Groups that you will almost certainly want to engage with include:

  • Parents (and young people for 16-19)
  • Local schools or nurseries, especially feeder schools
  • The Local Authority
  • Other relevant organisations or individuals such as local businesses, politicians and community organisations

Read our Marketing and Communications guidance on how to effectively engage with your community and market your school for more information.

Other useful resources

  • Our map of need shows where there is a need for new schools across England.
  • The section on gathering evidence of demand (section E) in our Applicant's Handbook gives more detailed guidance on writing this section for your application. Review what is required for mainstream, special and alternative provision schools.
  • DfE guidance here and here on how the need for a mainstream free school is assessed at the application stage
  • Our Data sources page has links to various sources of information that may be useful to you when constructing a case for why your school is needed in your area.