Free schools: the basics

 

Free schools are new state schools. They provide a way for groups of parents, teachers, charities, existing schools or other organisations to respond to a need for a new school in their community – whether for extra places, to raise standards, or provide choice for families. 

Like all state schools, free schools are free to attend and open to all children. They have been opened all over England by parents, teachers, existing outstanding schools, community groups and charities. They can be primary, secondary, all-through or 16-19, and can open specifically for children with special educational needs or those who struggle in mainstream schools (alternative provision). 

Setting up a new school is a challenging and rigorous process. Applicant groups have to demonstrate to the Department for Education that they have excellent educational expertise and a strong team that is capable of responsibly governing a school. They also have to prove that there is demand for the school in their community and show that they have developed a detailed education plan that will meet the needs of their students. 

Once established, free schools are legally academies so are funded by central government and have a range of freedoms:

  • They can extend the school day or year: most use this freedom to add more time for learning or extra-curricular activity.
  • They have to offer a broad and balanced curriculum, but this does not have to be the National Curriculum: some schools use this freedom to teach in an innovative way, whether that is focusing on STEM subjects or taking a different approach to learning, such as outdoor expeditionary lessons.
  • They have more flexibility in the way they employ their staff: some choose to offer teachers performance related pay to keep and reward their best staff while others choose to bring in outside expertise by employing people without traditional teaching qualifications.
  • They decide how they spend their full budget: they receive all of their funding direct from central government, which means they have complete independence over how it is spent
  • They have independent governance: free schools are run by an Academy Trust, and are independent of Local Authority oversight. 

Facts and Figures

560
open free schools
240+
more on the way
31%
rated Outstanding

Latest news

The research, commissioned to mark ten years since the first free schools were approved to open, covers pupil attainment, popularity with parents, and teacher workforce.

Findings show free schools are the top performing type of school at GCSE; that 16-19 free schools are the highest performing post-16 providers; that free schools are more popular with parents than the closest neighbouring schools; and that free schools are more likely to be rated Outstanding by Ofsted.

The Secretary of State for Education has decided that Dixons’ application to establish a free school in Manchester should proceed to the ‘pre-opening’ phase. This is a significant step towards opening the school.

“We are delighted that our free school in Manchester will proceed to the pre-opening phase.  We already run six highly successful free schools, achieving some of the best results in the country.  We now want to bring the same success to Manchester.

Deborah, Nicholas and Nuno visited Langley Hall to witness what the school does best within its Music Department and to offer their unconditional support and testimonial towards the opening of Langley Hall’s new Music Academy in January 2021.