Wave 14 is open to mainstream applicants only.

This wave continues to focus on areas where there is both a need for more school places and low educational standards.  The information on this page is a brief summary of the changes to the criteria for wave 14.

Basic need and low educational standards

As in wave 13, applicants are required to demonstrate that there is basic need for a high proportion of school places that the free school will provide. Section B1 on ‘evidence of basic need’ has not changed for Wave 14.

As well as demonstrating a basic need for places, applicants must also demonstrate that the free school will serve an area of educational underperformance.   The Department for Education (DfE) have suggested ways that applicants might demonstrate this in the How to Apply Guide.  This could include Achieving Excellence Areas in categories 5 and 6, areas identified as ‘cold spots’ by the Social Mobility Commission and areas where a large proportion of schools are rated Requires Improvement or Inadequate, or where standards are poor.  This information is required in section B2, and all applicants must now complete this section.


In Wave 14, the DfE have been clear that it is extremely unlikely they will approve post 16 provision, including sixth forms as part of secondary schools.

For applicants proposing 16-19 education, the requirements are the same as in Wave 13 but these must now be included in different sections of the application form. The following points must now be addressed in Section B2:

  • the quality of current post-16 options for young people in the area; and
  • current outcomes for young people aged 16-19 in the area.

Teacher workload

A new focus of Wave 14 is on managing teacher workload and achieving a sustainable work-life balance for staff. This is relevant to Section C: Vision and Section E3: Staffing. In Section C, applicants are expected to explain how they will manage and develop the workforce to create a sustainable work-life balance for all staff. Section E3 should develop this in more detail and must include plans of how teacher workload will be managed to ensure it is sustainable. The DfE provides examples of how groups can address this in the How to apply guide

Section F3 also asks applicants to show that governing board requirements will not result in unnecessary workloads for the head teacher or other staff members. This means groups should demonstrate that their reporting processes are proportionate, efficient and streamlined.

Track record

As in Wave 13, applicants with existing state schools are required to demonstrate a strong educational track record. This means that applicants’ existing school(s) should be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, and achievement and progress should be above local and national averages. There is also a requirement to demonstrate a strong track record for disadvantaged pupils.

For MATs in Wave 14, the DfE will also take into account the efficacy of governance arrangements and the financial health of the trust when assessing this track record and the capacity of your trust to undertake a free school project.

Technical focus/specialism

The Wave 14 How to apply guide includes specific criteria for applicants proposing a school with a technical focus or specialism. This is relevant to the following sections of the application:

  • C: here applicants must set out a rationale for the chosen specialism
  • E1: Here groups must ensure their curriculum plan includes an appropriate balance between academic education and the technical specialism and must include detail about how pupils will be prepared for progression opportunities.
  • F2:  Applicant groups must include an individual with expertise relevant to the proposed specialism. The application should generally have a stronger focus on employer engagement and links to relevant employment opportunities.


There remains  a presumption that applicants proposing primary or all-through schools should include a nursery as part of their application.

SEN Units

As part of wave 14, applicants can express an interest in opening a mainstream school with a SEN unit or resourced provision. SEN units or resourced provision must be set up in response to local authorities’ needs as they commission and fund places for children with EHCPs. Successful applicants who expressed an interest in opening a SEN unit or resourced provision will be supported in the pre-opening period to develop plans to establish it.


There are no significant changes to section F3. However, applicants should note that the wave 14 criteria includes an emphasis on The Governance Handbook’s requirements surrounding the constitution of the board of trustees and the degree of separation  between members and trustees.


The wave 14 criteria explicitly state that the DfE will take into account the financial health of any schools you currently run in their overall assessment.

In wave 13, applicants who had previously opened a free school did not have to complete the Excel financial template; this now only applies to those who have opened a free school of the same phase and type as the proposed free school since 2016. All other applicants must complete the template. Wave 14 applicants must ensure they use the DfE’s May 2019 financial template for their financial plan.