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.

Free school story: Chapeltown Academy - getting to open film

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Chapeltown Academy, which was started by a group of ambitious teachers, is determined to offer students in north Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley aged 16-19 access to a high-quality, academic education which will lead onto outstanding A-Level results. The school focuses purely on the subjects which evidence shows are the most likely to lead onto successful applications to top universities. Students are taught by experts in their field, with many of the school’s first cohort of staff having attended Oxford, Cambridge and Russell Group universities themselves.

Free school story: XP School

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Expeditionary Learning, which is based on the idea that pupils learn best by completing challenging ‘expeditions’, has been popular in the United States for over 30 years and has been praised by Barack Obama for its success. But it hasn’t been an option in the UK, until now.

Free school story: The Rise School

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Pupils at The Rise School are as academically able as other children of their age but their autism means that they need specialist support, which isn’t available in mainstream schools. This is a key reason why, currently, only around 15% of young people with autism leave school and go onto further education, employment or training.

The Rise School aims to turn this statistic on its head by offering a unique environment, which is a blend of both special and mainstream education.

Free school story: LIPA Primary School

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The school is sponsored by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) – a centre of excellence for the performing arts, which was co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney – and Edge Hill University, a leading provider of teacher training.

Drawing on its freedoms as a free school, LIPA Primary School teaches its pupils through a curriculum based around projects and events, rather than individual subjects. This is brought to life through the world class facilities at LIPA and strong links with arts organisations across the city.

Free school story: The Island Free School

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The Isle of Wight is a beautiful place but its picture-postcard setting hides a long history of educational failure. All but one of its schools are rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted, with GCSE results some of the lowest in the country.

The Island Free School was set up to change this story, by offering a smaller, more personalised type of education than the other secondary schools on the island. The school has high academic expectations for its pupils, with all of them expected to study subjects leading towards the English Baccalaureate, including Latin.

Free school films

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We followed six free schools as they prepared to open in September 2014; The Island Free School, The Rise School, Dixons McMillan Academy, LIPA Primary School, Chapeltown Academy and XP School. These are their stories…

Free school story: Cathedral Primary School

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The school was started by Bristol Cathedral Choir School, the most oversubscribed secondary school in the city, to help meet a pressing need for new school places and create a smooth pathway for children all-through their time in education. 

Free school story: Europa School UK

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At Europa School all pupils learn in two languages from the moment they join the school, spending half of the week learning in English and the other half learning in either French or German. Complete immersion in each language and the support of staff who are native speakers’ means that by the time they leave the secondary section of the school, many pupils can expect to have language skills in two languages that are at or close to native speaker level.

Free school story: Corby Technical School

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The school’s curriculum reflects this through a particular emphasis on technical knowledge and skills. As a free school, it has the flexibility to move away from the national curriculum and dedicates every Wednesday afternoon to the study of STEM subjects - science, engineering, technology and maths – and how they combine. In these sessions, pupils come off the normal timetable and take part in group activities which develop their research, investigation and practical skills. For example, pupils recently worked in teams to design, build and then race solar powered cars.

Free school story: Reach Academy Feltham

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The school has been open since 2012 and was the first all-through free school to be judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

When they set out to create a new school, Reach Academy’s founders, Ed Vainker, Rebecca Cramer - now the Principal and Head of Secondary respectively – and Jon McIntosh, had a clear mission: to provide all pupils with the skills, attitudes and academic qualifications to flourish and live happy and fulfilled lives.

Free school story: Dixons Trinity Academy

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The school is led by Luke Sparkes, one of a handful of free school principals who has been through the Future Leaders development programme and has a strong focus on literacy and numeracy. The school has gained particular attention for its impressive implementation of intensive catch-up programmes designed to ensure that year 7 pupils entering the school with lower than average attainment quickly improve.

Free school story: City Gateway

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The school was set up by the City Gateway social enterprise, as extension of the work they have been doing with the community in Tower Hamlets since 1999.

Free school story: Stone Soup Academy

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The school, located in the heart of the city alongside architect firms and banks, caters to pupils who are not thriving in mainstream schools, and who have often been previously excluded or are at risk of exclusion.

The idea for Stone Soup came from a social enterprise of the same name. These roots can be seen in the ethos and curriculum of the school which, alongside maths and English, has a creative arts and enterprise focus.

Free school story: Tyndale Community School

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Set up in 2013 by Chapel St Community Schools Trust, which also runs Atherton Community School, a free school in Lancashire, Tyndale is located in the south of Oxford, serving a diverse and in some cases deprived community. It has a 21st century Christian ethos, but the school is open to all and is attended by children of several faiths and none.

Free school story: Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form

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As the name implies, the school has a specialist focus on maths and science and every pupil studies for at least three qualifications in the sciences, as well as completing an extended research project on a topic of their choice. It is just one way that the school seeks to go beyond the basic curriculum to give their pupils a real passion for what they are learning.

Free school story: Route 39 Academy

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They set out to build something different and, with the help of a former Headteacher, have developed an approach which gives pupils a personalised education. All pupils receive a personal mentoring session each week and classes are organised by ‘stage not age’, to allow pupils to learn at their own pace.

This approach means that the school has moved away from the format of traditional lessons, with a combination of workshops, larger lectures and personal study time being used, depending on what pupils are learning.

Free school story: Dixons Music Primary

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Like the other Dixons academies and free schools, Dixons Music Primary’s mission is to enable pupils to “climb the mountain to university, succeed when they get there, thrive in a top job and have a great life.  A step up that mountain every day; a little bit of progress every day”.

Free school story: Cobham Free School

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The School is committed to building substantial and long-term partnerships with its local community, which allows it to offer its pupils unique opportunities in sport and music. 

This is captured in Cobham’s motto ‘Optimum Omnibus’ which means ‘The best for all’, and is what the school seeks to provide by drawing on the strengths of its local community.

Free school story: Marine Academy Primary

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This school was started by an existing secondary school - the Marine Academy – and its curriculum is based around marine themes which relate to Plymouth’s history as a city of the sea and its future as a place where marine industries will play a crucial part in its prosperity. Trips to the local area bring this learning to life, with pupils this year already benefiting from a trip to the beach to think about journeys across the sea and a visit to the fish market to help their designs for when building boats.

Free school story: Atherton Community School

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Atherton Community School is a small Christian-ethos secondary school in Wigan. It opened with a year 7 class in 2012 and the first year 12 students joined the sixth form in 2013. The school grew out of a partnership of local parents and community leaders supported by Chapel St – the school sponsor. Atherton puts a high priority on community engagement and giving students a strong sense of social responsibility is a key focus.