Applying to open


Groups that want to set up a new free school must submit an application to the Department for Education (DfE). There are different routes available for doing this, depending on the type of school you wish to set up.

  • Central Route: The central route is open to proposers looking to set up a new mainstream school in areas of underperformance and/or basic need. The school may offer something different and increase parental choice to the community. To apply to open a mainstream school, groups must apply to the Department of Education during a live application ‘wave’. The DfE will outline a set of criteria in each wave that applications must meet to be approved. Any group with the right expertise and skills can apply through the central route. The most recent application wave, Wave 14, closed in November 2019. 
  • Local Authority presumption competition: The local authority publish a specification for a school and invite trusts to apply to run that school. This requires you to submit an application to your local authority, demonstrating how you meet the local authority’s criteria. Presumption competitions are announced throughout the year and can be for any type of school.
  • Special and AP Competitions: At present, special and alternative provision schools can only be opened through a dedicated wave in which local authorities invite proposers to submit an application for a school. 

We have many resources and offer guidance to all free school applicants. 

Please note: The Department for Education no longer funds New Schools Network to provide support for free school applicant groups. For more information about applying to open a free school, visit


(WAVE 14)

Find out more about the latest application window, including changes to criteria.

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Find out about local authority presumption competitions. 

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Find out more about opening a special or AP free school in response to a local authority presumption competition. 

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