Free School FAQs | New Schools Network

Frequently asked questions

In order to become a Company Limited by Guarantee free school groups must register at Companies House. They do not need to register their company with the Charities Commission since their CLG will be an ‘exempt charity’. This means that it will operate like a normal charity, but with oversight from the DfE instead of the Charities Commission.

There is not a fixed amount of capital funding that free schools are eligible for as each school will have very different requirements depending on the type of school and location.

Your team members must have significant time for the project both before you apply, as you prepare to open the free school and once it is up and running.

You will need to make an assessment of the time that will be needed in pre-opening for each area, and the best way to do this is to speak to similar free schools who have been approved. As a general rule however, we would recommend that:

The DfE specifies that applicant groups must have appropriate educational and financial expertise at minimum to submit a successful application.

Educational expertise should include someone who has been a Head or Deputy Head of a school of the same age range as the proposed school, which is rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

Financial expertise might be provided by a Bursar or School Business Manager and financial or accounting professionals.

If your free school is approved, you will receive a Project Development Grant from the DfE in the pre-opening phase of the project - after the application has been approved, but before the school opens. This is to enable you to complete all the tasks in the run up to the school opening. The amount varies depending on the type of school you are proposing, and more details can be found in the DfE's pre-opening guide.

Free schools are legally academies. They are held accountable through the same mechanisms – principally the Funding Agreement between the Secretary of State for Education and the Academy Trust which operates the free school or academy.

However, free schools are set up through a specific application process. There are therefore some requirements for free schools that are not the case for academies. Specfically:

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which is part of the DfE, provides all funding for free schools including capital funding. Once approved, free schools are given an ESFA contact who will work with them to acquire a suitable site for the school.

The ESFA will pay for the purchase and lease of the building or land as well as any building work or refurbishment that needs to be done.