Mainstream free schools are state-funded primary, secondary, middle or all-through schools. They are funded on locally determined funding formulae in line with all other schools in the area. They are funded directly by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) on a per-pupil basis. Mainstream free schools are also able to offer nursery provision and post-16 provision. 

Alternative provision free schools cater principally for children of compulsory school age who, for reasons such as behaviour or medical needs, would not receive a suitable education in a mainstream school. They may also cater for 16 to 19-year-olds (further guidance on law and policy for alternative provision schools can be found on page 16 of this guide). Children of compulsory school age can be referred to alternative provision free schools by local authorities, maintained schools and academies (‘commissioners’). Students aged 16 to 19 can either be referred by commissioners or apply to the free school directly, where mainstream 16 to 19 funding arrangements will apply. New alternative provision free schools will receive £10,000 per pre-16 place from the EFA and negotiate top-up funding levels with the commissioners (and/or budget holders) of pupil places. After the provision has been open for two years, the funding will still be paid directly to the school by the EFA, but the equivalent cost will be recovered from the local authority. This is to recognise the fact that some alternative provision free schools accept pupils from local authorities other than the one in which they are located or from schools and academies in other local authority areas. The initial two years provide the opportunity for the new schools to become established and give local areas time to plan. After the first two years, the local authority will bear the cost of the place funding.

Special free schools provide education for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). They are designated for a specific type(s) of SEND. Once a school is open, approval from the Secretary of State is required if the school wishes to change or extend its designation to cater for children with other types of SEND. A special free school can cater for statemented pupils/pupils with an education, health and care (EHC) plan, non-statemented pupils/pupils without an EHC plan or a mixture of both. Special free schools receive £10,000 per statemented/EHC plan place from the EFA and negotiate top-up funding levels with local authorities. Students without statements/EHC plans can either be referred by commissioners or apply to the free school directly, where mainstream funding arrangements will apply.

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