The application process | New Schools Network

The application process

This page outlines the application process through which you can set up a free school, and the upcoming windows in which you can submit an application to the Department for Education.

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 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 introduction to free schools document.

When can I apply

Wave 13 will close in November. If you are planning on applying through the central route (wave 13), applications to join the Development Programme closed on 14th September. If you intend to submit an application in wave 13 and would like NSN support, please get in touch via or 020 7537 9208. This round will be for schools with a proposed opening date of September 2019 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 3-6 months to develop a free school application.


To find out about the criteria to apply to open a free school in wave 13, click here