Wave 14: Key points | newschoolsnetwork.org

Wave 14: Key points

This week, the Department for Education released criteria for applying to open a free school in Wave 14. The wave, which is for mainstream applicants only (more on that later), continues to focus on areas where this is both a need for more school places and low education standards. Our fantastic Advisory team have highlighted some of the key features of Wave 14 criteria.

Basic need and low educational standards

As in Wave 13, applications need to show a basic need for a high proportion of school places that the free school will provide. Section B1 on ‘evidence of basic need’ has not changed for Wave 14.

As well as demonstrating a basic need for places, applicants must also demonstrate that the free school will serve an area of educational underperformance. The Department has suggested ways that applicants might show this in the How to Apply Guide. This could include, for example, Achieving Excellence Areas in categories 5 and 6, areas identified as ‘cold spots’ by the Social Mobility Commission and areas where a large proportion of schools are rated Requires Improvement or Inadequate by Ofsted. This information is now a requirement in section B2 which all applicants must now complete.


In Wave 14, the DfE have been clear that it is extremely unlikely they will approve post 16 provision, including sixth forms as part of secondary schools. For applicants proposing 16-19 education, the requirements are the same as in Wave 13 but must now be included in different sections of the application form. As part of section B2, applicants must include information on the quality of current post-16 options for young people in the area and current outcomes for young people aged 16-19 in the area.

Teacher workload

A new focus in Wave 14 is on managing teacher workload and achieving a sustainable work-life balance for staff. In Section C, applicants are expected to explain how they will manage and develop the workforce to create a sustainable work-life balance for all staff, while Section E3 requires this to be developed in more detail – including plans of how teacher workload will be managed to ensure sustainability. The DfE provides examples of how groups can address this in the How to Apply Guide.

Section F3 asks applicants to show that governing board requirements will not result in unnecessary workloads for the head teacher or other staff members. This means groups should demonstrate that their reporting processes are proportionate, efficient and streamlined.

Track record

As in Wave 13, applicants with existing state schools are required to demonstrate a strong educational track record. This means that applicants’ existing school(s) should be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, and achievement and progress should be above local and national averages. There is also a requirement to demonstrate a strong track record for disadvantaged pupils.

For multi-academy trusts, the DfE will take into account the efficacy of governance arrangements and the financial health of the trust when assessing this track record and the capacity of your trust to undertake a free school project.

Technical focus/specialism

The Wave 14 How to apply guide includes specific criteria for applicants proposing a school with a technical focus or specialism. This is relevant to a number of sections, such as C, where applicants must set out a rationale for the chosen specialism, E, where groups much show a balance between academic education and technical specialism, and F, where a strong focus on employer engagement must be demonstrated.


There remains a presumption that applicants proposing primary or all-through schools should include a nursery as part of their application.

SEN Units

As part of Wave 14, applicants can express an interest in opening a mainstream school with a SEN unit or resourced provision. SEN units or resourced provision must be set up in response to local authorities’ needs as they commission and fund places for children with EHCPs. Successful applicants who expressed an interest in opening a SEN unit or resourced provision will be supported in the pre-opening period to develop plans to establish it.


There are no significant changes to section F3, but applicants should note that the Wave 14 criteria includes an emphasis on The Governance Handbook’s requirements surrounding the constitution of the board of trustees and the degree of separation between members and trustees.


The Wave 14 criteria explicitly state that the DfE will take into account the financial health of any schools you currently run in their overall assessment.


In Wave 13, applicants who had previously opened a free school did not have to complete the Excel financial template; this now only applies to those who have opened a free school of the same phase and type as the proposed free school since 2016. All other applicants must complete the template. Wave 14 applicants must ensure they use the DfE’s May 2019 financial template for their financial plan.

As ever, our Advisory team are on hand and ready to help, so if you’re thinking of submitting an application, why not book a one-to-one meeting to discuss your idea here. You can find out more about our support and the Development Programme here.

Blog topic:
Setting up a free school