Independent converters

The DfE has a range of specific requirements for independent converters which you will need to consider if you are thinking about becoming a free school. 

'Good' or 'Outstanding'

You must have achieved a judgement of ‘Good’ or better in your most recent inspection report. For schools inspected by Ofsted, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate or the School Inspection Service both the overall judgement and those for the catagories of quality of education, safeguarding, and promoting the moral, social and cultural development of pupils must be at least 'Good'. For information on what is required of schools inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate please see the DfE's application guidance (page 13). As part of the application independent converters must also complete a self-assessment against the Ofsted criteria.

Financial track record

You must have a good track record of managing your finances. The DfE will require you to provide your last two years of audited accounts as part of the application

Value for money

You must demonstrate that the school will provide good value for money and be successful in the state sector. The DfE will look at the following when making this judgement:

  • The school’s latest inspection rating (this must be ‘Good’ or better).
  • The school’s plans to create new places (either by filling existing vacancies or creating new places).
  • The level of basic need and deprivation locally.
  • The level of debt of the existing school. The DfE will be extremely unwilling to take on any debt from an independent converter and a high level of debt alone could mean the application is turned down.
  • Any capital investment needed.
  • Results, where applicable, at Key Stage 2, Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. The DfE expects these (at a minimum) to equal or exceed Local Authority averages.

In addition, we strongly recommend that you consider the ways in which your pupil intake may change. This must be reflected throughout your application but may have a particular impact on your educational approach and staffing plans. 

Differences between mainstream, AP and special converters 

The above factors apply to all independent converters. In addition to these, there are some differences in the process depending on the type of free school you are seeking to become:

  • Need: For a special or AP converter a need for places could mean (as it does for mainstream schools) that there are not enough places for pupils, or it could mean that pupils with particular needs are not being catered for by existing providers – for example, there could be a provision in your area with surplus places, but it could be unsuitable for the pupils that would attend your school.
  • Demand: Special and AP converters will need written support from commissioners stating that they would purchase places at the school at the agreed top-up fee. For special schools the commissioners will be local authorities, and for AP they could be local authorities or schools. Special converters should also demonstrate demand from prospective parents. Mainstream converters will need to show that parents who do not currently send their children to the school would be willing to do so as a free school, and a mainstream converter will have to demonstrate that they have engaged widely with all sections of their local community in order to collect this parental demand.

Other useful resources:

The below resources are mainly applicable to mainstream independent schools that are converting.