Like all NSN support for groups in the application stage, the Development Programme is free of charge. We ask groups to apply for a place to ensure we work with groups who are best placed to submit high quality applications meeting the DfE's criteria.  

We have worked with around two thirds of approved free schools, and feedback we have had from groups who have been on the Development Programme has been overwhelmingly positive. Approval rates for groups on the Development Programme clearly illustrate its success, with Development Programme groups around a third more likely to get an interview, and 50% more likely to get approved than those not on it. 

Groups on the Development Programme are eligible for a range of services which will be tailored to the needs of each individual group, as assessed by our team:

  • A named personal NSN Adviser who will work with you on the development of your application
  • Networking with other free schools
  • Feedback on your proposal from specialist free school advisers in education, operations, finance and governance, including former head teachers and school business managers
  •  A personalised support plan to help you complete the application to a good standard
  • Written feedback on drafts of your application
  • A series of tailored workshops on completing a high-quality application and opening a good school
  • A mock interview designed to replicate the interview you would have with the DfE if you were invited to one. If you have already been through the free school application process we may not be able to offer this to you
  • Support to plan marketing your school
  • Financial support may be available, although this is not guaranteed and the level of support will be determined on a case-by-case basis

Please note that the Development Programme is in no way linked to the DfE’s assessment process.

Applying to join the Development Programme

If you wish to apply to an open local authority presumption competition, you can read the Development Programme criteria here and apply to join the Development Programme here.

NSN’s Development Programme is open to groups applying to free school competitions. The most recent central free school application window has now closed and we are awaiting information about future free school waves. Click here to find out how you can prepare for a future free school wave.