Free schools | Wave 13: Criteria | New Schools Network

Wave 13: Criteria

The deadline to apply to set up a free school as part of wave 13 was Monday 5th November 2018.

Wave 13 was only open to proposer groups seeking to open mainstream and 16-19 free schools. You can refer to the application form and criteria for wave 13 here. The details of wave 14, including the criteria and application form have not yet been announced by the DfE.

Applicants who would like to open a special or AP free school should be aware wave 13 was only open to mainstream (including 16-19) schools and wave 14 is likely to be the same. The DfE launched a separate process for special and AP applicants in summer 2018. Details of this process can be found here


As in previous waves, the DfE ask groups to pre-register their intention to apply. Once pre-registered, applicants are sent an editable application form by the DfE. The editable version of the application form will only be available through the pre-registration process.

Application criteria

Wave 13 saw a focus on need and underperformance and the wave 14 criteria will outline the DfE's priorities for the next wave. 


The focus of central route applications has been:

  • 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.

Financial template

The wave 13 criteria changed 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 – included 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 criteria for wave 13 included 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, included 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 stated 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

This is something that is unlikely to change for wave 14. 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 would be higher than in previous waves. The criteria state that all applicants proposing 16-19 provision, either as part of a 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. 

Nursery provision

The wave 13 criteria made it a presumption that all primary and all-through free schools would include nursery provision. As this is unlikely to change in wave 14, 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.

Independent converters

Unlike in previous waves, the DfE did not be considering applications for independent schools wishing to join the state sector as part of wave 13.