NSN publishes Free schools at 10: A decade of success

To celebrate 10 years since the first free schools opened their doors, NSN has published a new collection of interviews with free school founders.

The collection features free schools of all types and phase from across the country, and provides a candid insight into the process of establishing and running a free school. Interviews feature the founders and/or leaders of: 

  • Canary Wharf College, East Ferry, a primary free school that opened in London as part of the first cohort of free schools in 2011. 
  • Derby Pride Academy, an alternative provision free school in Derby that opened in 2012.
  • Dixons Academies Trust, which has opened six free schools in Bradford and Leeds between 2012-2019, and has been approved to open a seventh in Manchester. 
  • Exeter Mathematics Schools, a specialist 16-19 maths school opened in 2014 by the University of Exeter and Exeter College. 
  • King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, a mainstream secondary free school opened in 2012, one of four free schools established by the Great Schools Trust.
  • Lighthouse School, the first special school for children with an autistic spectrum condition, opened by five parents in Leeds in 2012. 
  • Marine Academy Primary, a primary free school opened in Plymouth in 2013, in partnership with an existing secondary school and the University of Plymouth. 
  • Reach Academy Feltham, an all-through free school opened in 2012, which now provides 'cradle-to-career' support for families in Hounslow. 
  • Star Academies, which operates 17 free schools - both primary and secondary - across Lancashire, Yorkshire, Manchester, London, and the West Midlands. One of the highest performing trusts in the country, Star recently announced a partnership with Eton College to open three 16-19 free schools.
  • XP School Trust, comprising eight school including three free schools, the first of which opened in Doncaster in 2014. Most recently, XP Gateshead opened in 2021, based on expeditionary learning models in the US. 

With a foreword by former Prime Minister The Rt Hon. David Cameron, the collection celebrates all that has been achieved by free schools since their inception. 

Full, unedited versions of the interviews will also be published as standalone blogs, available on the NSN website. 

Click here to read Free schools at 10: A decade of success.

The collection brings to a close a series of celebrations to commemorate the milestone, which included three free schools at 10 events:

  • Free schools at 10: Why we did it saw a panel of free school leaders representing a variety of stages and schools reflect on their experience of applying, establishing, and running free schools over the past ten years. Panellists included Katharine Birbalsingh CBE, Headmistress of Michaela Community School; Karen Hayes, Principal of Derby Pride Academy; Ed Vainker OBE, CEO of The Reach Foundation; Sir Iain Hall, former CEO of Great Schools Trust; and Trystan Williams, Principal of Venturers' Academy
  • Free schools at 10: Reflections on reform focused on the early formation of the policy, and success and shortcomings so far. Panellists included Rachel Wolf, Founding Partner of Public First, former education adviser to the Prime Minister, and founder of New Schools Network; and Sam Freedman, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government and Senior Adviser at Ark, and former Adviser to then Secretary of State for Education, The Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP
  • Free schools at 10: Where next? discussed the future of the policy with system and sector leaders. Speakers included Dame Rachel de Souza, Children's Commissioner for England and founder and former CEO of the Inspiration Trust; Sir Mufti Hamid Patel CBE, founder and CEO of Star Academies; and Martyn Oliver, CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust

Recordings of the events are available on the NSN YouTube channel.

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