Case studies

There are over 500 open free schools across England. They are in every region of the country and span all school types and age ranges. Find out more about some of the exciting innovations these schools are bringing to their local community.

Shortlisted for the TES Schools Awards 2020: Pinner High School

Tes editor Ann Mroz said: “It is always a highlight of the education calendar to see the best ideas and people lauded at the Tes Schools Awards. But this year, it felt more important than ever to run an event that showcased and celebrated the hard work that teachers and school staff do for children and their local community every single day. This has been one of the most difficult years in education, but – as ever – teachers continue to rise to the challenge.

Case study: Harmonize AP Academy

The school, which opened in 2012, focuses on English, Maths and Science, as well as the Performing and Urban Arts, PE, PSHE and Enterprise/Vocational Skills.

Case study: Dixons Music Primary

DMP is a mixed mainstream primary school for 4-11-year-olds in Bradford.

The school, which opened in 2012, was set up by Dixons Academy Trust which runs seven other schools in the city, including two other free schools. The school has a specialism in music, which is used to help raise standards of achievement across the curriculum. Pupils take part in a wide range of music and performance activities, including 1:1 tuition and group sessions, with all given the opportunity to learn an instrument.

Case study: Michaela Community School

Michaela Community School is a non-denominational, non-fee paying, 11-18, mixed free school which opened in Wembley Park in September 2014.

Michaela brings the values and advantages of a private education to young people of all backgrounds by providing a highly academic curriculum and strong discipline. Traditional subjects are given additional lesson time through the longer school day to give pupils a better grounding for further study. In 2017, Michaela was judged Outstanding by Ofsted.

Free school story: St Marylebone CE Bridge School

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One of only three special free schools catering to children with this type of need, the school ensures that each of its pupils, aged 11-18, receives a personalised education. Speech and language therapists work with whole classes as well as individuals and small groups, and lessons such as maths and computing are taught in small classes, concentrating on different targets depending on what is appropriate for each group of students.

Free school story: St Martin's Academy Chester

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Opening for the first time in September 2013, St Martin’s was established by North West Academies Trust in response to a need for extra primary school places in the city. Inspected by Ofsted after just 6 terms, inspectors judged the school to be ‘Outstanding’ in every category, praising the school’s leaders for the way that, ‘no stone is left unturned in the drive to ensure children begin to develop into well-rounded young people.’

Free school story: Cambourne Village College

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The school opened in September 2013, becoming the first new school in Cambridgeshire for decades. It was established by Comberton Academy Trust, which runs five other successful schools in the area, in order to provide a local school for children in the surrounding villages, who previously had to travel long distances to attend a secondary school.

Free school story: The Boulevard Academy

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50% of secondary schools in the city are rated as ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted but inspectors found that Hull’s first free school, The Boulevard Academy, is already ‘Outstanding’ less than two years after opening.

Free school story: Derby Pride Academy

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The first AP free school to be judged Outstanding by Ofsted was Derby Pride Academy, a joint venture between Derby Moor Sports College and a number of community organisations within the city, including Derby County Football Club. The school, which is now in its third year of operation, will cater to 50 pupils when full. It supports young people between the ages of 11-16 who are facing difficulties at school because of their behaviour.

Free school story: Holyport College

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The school replicates the academic aspirations and exemplary pastoral care currently provided by Eton College and aims to be of particular benefit to the most disadvantaged.

The school, which is already well oversubscribed, caters for boys and girls aged 11-19, with a sixth form set to open in 2017. Unusually, the school has entry point in year 7 and year 9 and caters for 500 pupils: 225 boarders and 275 day pupils.

Free school story: ARK Conway

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ARK Conway’s vision is “to inspire excellence”, something it is clearly doing already. Last year’s Key Stage 1 results showed that it had the best joint mathematics and reading scores of any school in the country, outperforming all other schools in both the state and independent sector, and the fifth best writing results.

Free school story: School 21

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One of the significant benefits of being all-through is that pupils avoid the often difficult transition between primary and secondary school - the free school programme has led to a 50% increase in the number of schools in England that offer children a high quality education from 4-16 or 4-18. 

Free school story: Nottingham Free School

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Torch Academy Gateway Trust already runs several successful schools across Nottingham. When local parents approached them about the idea of starting a new secondary school in the area, they decided to use their expertise to establish a free school.

Free school story: ARK Atwood Primary Academy

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The academy is run by ARK Schools, an educational charity that runs a network of successful academies in London, Birmingham and Portsmouth which are all characterised by high ambitions, high achievement and exemplary behaviour.

 ARK Atwood benefits from this network’s expertise in governance, staff training and operations but it is also very much its own school, with a desire to become a focal point for the local community. When Ofsted visited the school they praised the way that the school celebrated the diverse cultural heritages of its pupils.

Free school story: Gildredge House Free School

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Set between the sea and the South Downs, Gildredge House School in Eastbourne has a beautiful location and impressive facilities, on a site which belonged to a school up until the 1930s.

But it’s what’s taking place inside the school that has attracted local parents, with the school well oversubscribed less than two years after it opened for the first time.

Free school story: King’s Leadership Academy

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The school is the brain-child of Sir Iain Hall, knighted for his work in turning around struggling schools in nearby Merseyside. After being approached by a group of Warrington parents, he worked with a group of teachers to design a school which was informed by his years of experience and the evidence of success he had seen in US Charter Schools, which are having a huge impact in low income communities there. The parents endorsed this vision for the school so strongly that 500 of them signed their support for it in just seven days.

Free school story: Emmanuel Community School

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The school’s Christian ethos is at the heart of its mission to serve the local community, though it welcomes children of all faiths and none.  The school’s values are prominently displayed around the school and regularly shared in assemblies and class activities, with pupils being rewarded for demonstrating them.

Free school story: Alban City School

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 Alban City School opened its doors in 2012, and, when Ofsted visited in 2014 they said that, “there is a real sense that this is ‘our school’, established to meet a local need. There is a strong commitment to its success.”

Free school story: Dixons McMillan Academy

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This free school was started by Dixons Academies Trust, which already runs a number of successful schools in the city, including Dixons Trinity Academy – the first secondary free school to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Like all Dixons’ schools, it serves one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Bradford, but this has no impact on the school’s ambitions, with all children working towards entry into university.