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 (DfE).

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 a Department for Education application form, which you submit to the DfE in one of their application windows. 
  • The DfE ask you to pre-register
  • 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 or not to approve your proposal based on your application and your performance at interview.

A summary of wave 14 criteria can be found here

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

If you intend to submit an application in wave 14 and would like NSN support, please get in touch via or 020 7537 9208. 

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.