As in previous waves, the DfE have asked groups to pre-register their intention to apply. Pre-registration is now mandatory. Once pre-registered, applicants will be sent an editable application form by DfE. The editable version of the application form will only be available through the pre-registration process.
Because of this, applicants who pre-registered for wave 13 using the previous pre-registration form will need to do so again using the new form. The new pre-registration form can be found here.
There have been a number of criteria changes between waves 12 and 13. Some of these may mean that applications that would have been considered high potential in wave 12 are no longer likely to be considered approvable by DfE.
The wave 13 criteria outline that the focus of the free school programme will now be:
- Specific areas identified by the DfE as having the lowest educational performance and the lowest capacity to improve
- Areas with both a basic need for new places and low standards
- Areas as yet untouched by the free school programme
In practical terms, this means that in order to make a compelling need case for a new school, applicants need to show that:
- a high proportion of the places being proposed are required to meet basic need; and
- the proposed school will serve one of the third of local authority (LA) districts identified by DfE as having the lowest standards and capacity to improve; or
- the proposed school is in a pocket of low standards where there is a very strong case that a new free school will address the standards issue.
The one third of LA districts referenced above are listed in Annex G of the DfE criteria. The DfE have also published maps which identify these local authority districts and overlay basic need for school places, based upon the latest SCAP data and internal DfE metrics. You can find these here.
The How to Apply Guide also includes detail regarding how a pocket of low standards is defined.
The criteria make it clear that applications opening outside of the targeted local authority districts and seeking to address a pocket of low standards will have to make a very strong case and will not be approved where standards are only slightly below average. We expect that the vast majority of free schools approved in wave 13 will therefore be in the targeted LA districts identified by DfE.
Information relating to the need for your proposed school will now be outlined in section B of the application. The criteria make it clear that applications that fail to meet criteria for this section will not be assessed further.
The wave 13 criteria change the requirements for which type of applicant needs to complete the financial template. Previously applicants opening a school of the same type and phase as one they already ran successfully did not need to complete a template unless they wished to but this is no longer the case.
Groups that have already opened a free school are no longer required to complete a template however. The criteria make it clear that any substantial changes in terms of funding model may mean that DfE ask such proposers to complete a financial template ahead of interview though. As such, we would suggest that any groups that have previously established a successful free school but are opening a school of a new phase – e.g. have an open primary free school but are proposing a secondary – complete the template as part of their application.
Staff recruitment and retention
The section of the application that deals with staffing – section E3 – now includes a specific requirement for groups to outline their approach to the recruitment and retention of staff. This should show an understanding of the local context in which your school will operate and any regional or national factors that will affect recruitment and retention.
In line with the aims of the Integrated Communities Green Paper published in March 2018, the wave 13 criteria outline the DfE’s intention to assess the impact of any new free school proposal on integration, community cohesion and the likely change to the intake of local schools.
Although the criteria do not specifically require anything additional to assist with this assessment, it is important that applicants reference their proposed admissions arrangements and explain how these arrangements facilitate enable cohesion or integration if appropriate.
The aims of the green paper mean that the criteria also provide additional suggestions for proposers of faith schools to consider. These include considering the level of diversity on their trust board, structured twinning programmes and becoming/developing a mixed faith MAT. More detail on these concepts can be found here.
The new criteria include an increased focus on ensuring the best possible outcomes for disadvantaged pupils. In particular, the definition of ‘strong track record,’ which is provided to show applicants the background the DfE expect a groups’ education lead to have, now includes an explicit reference to ensuring that an individual/school has expertise in delivering outcomes for disadvantaged pupils that are above local and national averages.
The criteria explicitly state that the DfE will preference projects for which they are able to secure a value for money site in a timely manner with an acceptable level of risk.
In practice means that the DfE will give preference to:
- Applications that identify an LA or government owned site
- Applications that identify a site available on a peppercorn basis
All applicants should now ensure they discuss site availability with the relevant LA ahead of submitting an application and complete a more detailed section H. In particular, all groups now have to specify a full postcode indicating their preferred site.
16-19 free schools
The DfE have set out that the bar for approval of 16-19 provision in wave 13 will be higher than in previous waves. The criteria state that all applicants proposing 16-19 provision, either as part of secondary school bid or as a standalone school, need to take into account the outcomes of the recently published Further Education Area Reviews. These can be found here. Applicants are also required to prove the demographic need for the school they are proposing. The criteria list a range of data that groups may wish to include. This can be found here.
The wave 13 criteria make it a presumption that all primary and all-through free schools will include nursery provision. Those applicants not intending to include a nursery provision as part of primary or all-through applications will need to justify this decision in their application.
Unlike in previous waves, the DfE will not be considering applications for independent schools wishing to join the state sector as part of wave 13.