Evidence of need for mainstream schools

All free school applicants must provide evidence that there is a need for their proposed free school in their area, and that they have engaged successfully with their local community.

Evidence of need

You will need to make a case in your application that there is a need or demand for more high quality school places in your area. This case should demonstrate that at least one of the following is true for your area:

  • A shortage of places - in the year your school opens and in subsequent years
  • Existing schools are underperforming; specifically that there are more pupils in schools rated less than 'Good' by Ofsted than would attend your school, or that results for pupil attainment or progress are below average.
  • 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

The DfE has produced guidance explaining how the need for a free school was assessed at the application stage, which can be found here and here. This explains what information applicants need to include in their application to make a good case that a school is needed in their area, and will therefore be highly useful when developing your application. You should bear in mind that the application criteria have changed since these documents were produced, so they are only applicable to the criteria around a shortage of places and underperformance.

To find out whether there is a need for a new school in your area, use our map of need.

For more information on how you can demonstrate a need for your school, please see our Application guidance.

Engagement with parents and the community

Engaging with stakeholders and your local community can be one of the time-consuming elements of applying to set-up a free school. You will need to show that you have engaged with a wide cross-section of your community and provide evidence that your school will be popular and fill to capacity once open. 

Our guidance explains how you can go about engaging with your community in more detail.

Other useful resources:

  • Our map of need shows where there is a need for new schools across England.
  • Our data sources page has a wide range of some of the data sources free school groups use in compiling their application, relating to projected need for more school places in an area, underperformance in schools and other relevant areas.
  • Mainstream Sample survey and 16-19 sample survey
  • Preparing your press release explains how to ensure that the message you are getting across to the press and the public is accurate, of interest and casts you in a positive light.
  • Using Facebook Ads - our guidance on how to use Facebook Ads to promote your school.
  • Application resources outlining how you can best present information in your application form