This guidance sets out the process for submitting a free school bid in a local authority presumption competition. It summarises the key elements of the process, including differences from the central application route, as well as the support that NSN can offer. The information provided is not exhaustive and should be read in conjunction with guidance provided by the Department for Education.



As of May 2015, new schools established through local authority presumption competitions are considered free schools. Schools opened through this process have the same legal status as all other free schools and academies. Where a local authority thinks there is a need for a new school in its area it must seek proposals to establish a new free school.

How to apply

If you wish to apply to set up a presumption free school, you must complete an application that follows the guidance documents published on the relevant local authority’s website. The Department for Education (DfE) provides templates for these documents, but each local authority may edit or expand them to meet its particular need.

The local authority must specify a closing date for the submission of applications. It should also provide a clear framework for how the assessment process will be conducted. All submitted applications are assessed by the relevant local authority, which may choose to request support from the DfE. The approval decision is delegated to the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), with the Secretary of State reserving the right to be the ultimate arbiter. 

If approved, you will move into the pre-opening period and work with the local authority to open the school. Details of this process, and the ways in which it differs from other free school routes, are set out in the sections below.

NSN provides support to presumption applicants through our Development Programme. If you are interested in learning more about this support please contact

Information for applicants

There are a number of things to consider about this process before you start to work on your application:

  • Applications must meet the requirements of the local authority’s specification document. This document will be published on its website. It will set out the key features of the proposed school and may include information on: type; age range; pupil capacity; admission arrangements; school ethos; SEN provision; nursery/sixth form provision,  etc.

  • Applicant groups must have academy sponsor status to open a presumption school and existing schools must have both academy status and academy sponsor status. You can be in the process of becoming an academy or an academy sponsor while preparing your free school presumption application. However, you must submit the academy sponsor and/or academy status application(s) to the RSC before submitting your presumption free school application.

  • It is important to note that the local authority is responsible for conducting assessment activities and that they may vary between competitions, e.g. after the paper assessment, a local authority may or may not invite applicants to interview.

The pre-opening period for presumption schools

The key difference in the pre-opening period for presumption free schools is their relationship with the DfE. The local authority is responsible for providing the site for the new school and meeting the associated capital costs, the DfE is also responsible for all funding of pre-opening development costs, as well as oversight for the project.

Note that the DfE does not give presumption free school groups in pre-opening a project development grant. The DfE will provide a one-off payment of £25,000 to the successful proposer for the legal costs associated with establishing a new free school through this route. Upon opening, the school will be funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency on the same basis as other academies and free schools in the same local authority area.

The NSN Delivery Programme has been designed to address the challenges of the rigorous pre-opening process, providing a range of support options to prepare schools for a successful opening. Details of these support packages can be found here.

Quick links

DfE presumption guidance and model criteria

Local authorities seeking free school proposers