How do I apply to set up a free school?
Setting up a free school requires having a team with the necessary expertise and availability to complete the DfE's application form in a way that meets their criteria. This team must be able to lead the project through to completion.
The application process
Setting up a free school involves completing the Department for Education’s application form, which you submit to the DfE in one of their application windows. The next window in which applicants can apply to the DfE to set up a free school is in March 2017.
You can download the application forms and guidance from the DfE's website. The DfE ask you to pre-register your application before applying. We advise doing this as the DfE say they may contact you if there does not appear to be a need for a school in your area, and they may also begin looking for potential sites for your school.
The DfE assess your application against their criteria and decide whether or not to invite you to attend an interview where they will question you on your proposal. They then decide whether to approve or reject your proposal based on your application and your performance at interview.
Regional Schools Commissioners
Regional Schools Commissioners have a role in deciding which free school applications are approved, and deciding whether to cancel, defer or enter into funding agreements with free school projects. More information about RSCs can be found on the DfE’s website and in their Free school pre-opening guide.
For more information on what free schools are and how to go about submitting an application, read our An introduction to free schools document.
When can I apply
The next window in which applicants can apply to the DfE to set up a free school is in March 2017. This is for schools with a proposed opening date of September 2018 and beyond.
The amount of time you will need to complete your application will vary depending on your experience of running schools and how developed your proposals are. In our experience of supporting applicant groups, it takes between 3-6 months to develop your free school application.