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Free school (England)

Free schools have been championed by the former Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove.

A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, independent, state-funded school which is free to attend but which is not controlled by a Local Authority.[1] They are subject to the same School Admissions Code as all other State-funded schools.[2][3]

Like other types of academy, Free Schools are governed by non-profit charitable trusts that sign funding agreements with the Secretary of State.[4][5] There are different model funding agreements for Single Academy Trusts and Multi Academy Trusts.[6][7]

To set up a Free School, founding groups submit applications to the Department for Education.[8] Groups include those run by parents, education charities and religious groups. Ongoing funding is on an equivalent basis with other locally controlled state maintained schools, although additional start-up grants to establish the schools are also paid.[9] Free Schools are expected to offer a broad and balanced curriculum.[10] Free Schools are subject to the same Ofsted inspections as all other maintained schools and are expected to comply with standard performance measures.[11]

Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges are both sub-types of Free Schools.[12]

There are currently 174 free schools in England with another 120 approved to open from September 2014.[13] These make up 1% of all English schools.[14]


  • Policy creation and implementation 1
  • Free School Approvals 2
  • Similar models in other countries 3
  • Qualification of teachers 4
  • Reaction 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Policy creation and implementation

Free Schools were introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition following the 2010 general election as part of the Big Society initiative to make it possible for parents, teachers, charities and businesses to set up their own schools.[8] Free Schools are an extension of the existing Academies Programme.[11] The Academies Act 2010 authorised the creation of Free Schools and allowed all existing state schools to become academies. The first 24 Free Schools opened in autumn 2011.[15]

Following the passing of the Education Act 2011, Local Authorities that need to create a new school must in most circumstances seek proposals for an Academy or Free School.[16] They can only propose a traditional community school if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed.[17]

Free School Approvals

The Department for Education publishes and maintains the list of established free schools and those that are due to be established.[18]

Free Schools approvals are processed and announced in batches, known as 'waves'.[19]

Wave 1: In the autumn of 2010, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that 16 proposals for Free Schools had been given a green light by the Government and were expected to open in September 2011.[20]

This number eventually grew to 24:[21][22] Five of the original 16 schools were faith schools: two Jewish, one Evangelical Anglican, one Hindu and one Sikh.[23]

Wave 2: In September 2012 the Department of Education announced 55 new Free Schools would open that month.[24]

Wave 3: The DfE received 234 applications for the third wave of Free Schools,[25] of which 102 were approved to progress to the pre-opening stage.[26][27] The schools were due to open in September 2013.

Wave 4: Free Schools wishing to open in September 2014 submitted proposals to the DfE in January 2013.[28] In May 2013 it was announced that 102 schools had been approved.[29]

Waves 5,6,7: In March 2013, the Department for Education announced the application schedule for groups wishing to open Free Schools in 2015 and beyond.[30] The Wave 5 pre-approvals were announced in January 2014, with 11 new schools being approved.[31] Five months later another 38 were pre-approved for Wave 6, [32] and in September of the same year, a further 35 schools were pre-approved for Wave 7.[33]

Wave 8: In January 2014,the Department for Education confirmed that there would be an eighth free school wave, with applications being accepted in the Autumn of 2014.[34]

Wave 9: In July 2014, a further funding round was announced for the period immediately following the General Election, with proposals being invited for submission from 8 May 2015.[35]

Similar models in other countries

The Free School concept is based on similar schools found in Sweden,[36] Chile,[37] New Zealand (an overlap between designated special character schools and partnership schools),[38] Canada,[39] and the United States.[40] In both the US and Canada they are known as charter schools.

Qualification of teachers

Unlike other state sector schools in England but like independent schools, free schools are not required to ensure that teachers have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). The government claims that not requiring free schools hire only qualified teachers enables then to pursue "innovation, diversity and flexibility"[41] and "the dynamism that characterises the best independent schools".[42] The Labour Party have expressed their opposition this and said that they would require teachers in academies and free schools be properly qualified.[43]


When the Free School policy was first announced, some commentators offered advice to potential proposers,[44] while others expressed scepticism that the concept could be made to work at all.[45] Supporters of Free Schools, such as the Conservative Party, claimed that they would "create more local competition and drive-up standards".[46] They also felt they would allow parents to have more choice in the type of education their child receives, much like parents who send their children to independent schools do.[47] However, critics argued that the policy would benefit only middle-class parents with the time to set up Free Schools and that they would divert money away from existing schools.[11] Supporters of free schools said that they would benefit children from all backgrounds.[48] Some people were concerned that Free Schools are not obliged to cap their headteachers' pay.[49]

A review of available research on the Swedish model that partially inspired the policy was published in a paper by Rebecca Allen.[50] It concluded, "The econometric evidence on the impact of the reforms suggests that, so far, Swedish pupils do not appear to be harmed by the competition from private schools, but the new schools have not yet transformed educational attainment in Sweden."[51] Peter Wilby, writing in The Guardian, predicted that Free Schools would be run by private companies rather than parents, teachers or voluntary groups.[52] The New Schools Network was subsequently set up to help groups develop the skills needed to set up Free Schools.[53][54] Paul Carter, a Conservative councillor, pointed out that that under the funding arrangements in place at the time, "the more academies and Free Schools you operate, under the current academy funding arrangements, the less [money] maintained schools would get."[55] Subsequently the Department for Education changed the funding arrangements for all maintained schools so that "schools in similar circumstances and with similar intakes receive similar levels of funding", whatever type of school they are.[56]

A warning by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) that the policy would "fuel social segregation and undermine local democracy was reported in "The Daily Telegraph.[46] The NUT also said that Free Schools were neither wanted nor needed, based on a survey of a thousand parents.[57] The Education Secretary accused Free School opponents of subjecting supporters to personal attacks and even death threats.[58] The Department for Education said that Free Schools were popular with parents. Figures released in 2013 showed that 90% of Free Schools were over-subscribed with an average of three pupils competing for each place.[59] Critics pointed out that more than half of Free Schools opening in 2012 opened with 60% or less of the student numbers predicted by the impact assessment documents of each institution, leaving more than 10% spare places.[60] As many of the 2012 free schools opened in temporary accommodation, it is not yet clear whether these opening subscription figures are indicative of the longer term popularity of the schools.[61]

Analysis by the British Humanist Association in 2013 demonstrated that the majority of Free School applications were from religious groups.[62] The Catholic Education Service has said that it will not open Free Schools because their admissions rules would only let them reserve 50% of places for children from Catholic families, unlike Voluntary Aided schools which can select up to 100% of places using faith criteria.[63] Education Secretary Michael Gove said he had ruled out religious fundamentalist groups being able to set up Free Schools.[64]

In April 2014, following publication of a leaked document 'Future Academy System: Lord Nash Session', critics claimed that failing Free Schools were being given special fast-track attention by the government to limit potential embarrassment to the Education Secretary at the time Michael Gove. The leaked document stated that the "political ramifications of any more free schools being judged inadequate are very high and speedy intervention is essential."[65]

See also


  1. ^ Harrison, Angela (2010-05-26). "What will make a school 'free'?". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  2. ^ "School admissions code". UK Government. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  3. ^ Increasing the number of academies and free schools to create a better and more diverse school system, Detail.
  4. ^ "Charities and charity trustees - an introduction for school governors". Charity Commission Website. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  5. ^ "Information for Free Schools opening in 2013 and beyond: Free School model funding agreement". Department for Education Website. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "Free Schools model funding agreement". Department for Education Website. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "Governance Models and Challenges for Free School Chains". New Schools Network Website. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Setting up a Free School". GOV.UK Quick Answer. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  9. ^ "Free Schools FAQs - funding". Department for Education Website. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Gillie, Christine. "Free schools". House of Commons Standard Note. Social Policy Section. Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Q&A: Academies and free schools, BBC News, 22 July 2010
  12. ^ "Education Terms: Free Schools". DfE Website. Department for Education. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  13. ^ Free schools: successful applications and open schools - 2014
  14. ^ Free schools: the numbers do not add up
  15. ^ Increasing the number of academies and free schools to create a better and more diverse school system Policy.
  16. ^ "Establishing a new school advice for LAs and proposers". Department for Education Website. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "Schedule 11: Establishment of new schools". Education Act 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  18. ^ "Free schools: successful applications and open schools - 2014". Department for Education. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  19. ^ "Name, Local Authority, Previous school name, and Faith designation of applications to open a Free School - waves 1 and 2". Department for Education website. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Harrison, Angela (28 August 2011). "Free schools: 24 set to open in September". BBC News. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  22. ^ "The free schools set to open in 2011". BBC News website. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "First 16 'free schools' details set out".  
  24. ^ "Free schools: 55 to open this month". Department for Education Press Release. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  25. ^ "Wave 3 Free School applications - Free Schools proposing to open in 2013 and beyond". DfE Website. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  26. ^ "100 more free schools approved for England". BBC News Website. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  27. ^ "Free Schools: opening in 2013 and beyond". DfE Website. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  28. ^ "Free Schools in 2014: How to apply". DfE Website. Department for Education. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  29. ^ "More than 100 free schools applications approved". Department for Education. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  30. ^ "Applications for Free Schools opening in 2015 and beyond". DfE Website. Department for Education. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  31. ^ "Successful free school proposals announced". Department for Education. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  32. ^ "New schools bring total number of free school places to 175,000". Department for Education. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  33. ^ "35 new free schools providing more than 22,000 places announced". Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  34. ^ "Opening a free school". Department for Education. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  35. ^ Ross, Tim (6 Jul 2014). "Michael Gove pledges more free schools if Conservatives win election". Telegraph. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  36. ^ "Free Schools in Sweden". New Schools Network Website. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  37. ^ "Schools should be run in the public interest". Govtoday Website. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  38. ^ "Partnership Schools Working Group". New Zealand Government Website. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  39. ^ "Charter Schools". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  40. ^ "National Charter School Resource Center". National Charter School Resource Centre website. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  41. ^ Hansard: 15 Nov 2010 — Column 623
  42. ^ Hansard: 9 Sep 2013 — Column 663
  43. ^ Garner, Richard (15 January 2014). "Labour pledge to stop state schools employing unqualified teachers". The Independent. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  44. ^ Tuck, Vicky (2010-04-26). "Want to open a Tory 'free school'? Take a leaf out of the Victorians' book". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  45. ^ Tory free schools: who’s going to pay for them?, The First Post, 26 May 2010
  46. ^ a b Paton, Graeme (2010-03-23). "Teachers attack Tory 'free school' plans". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  47. ^ Thorpe-Apps, Andrew. "Why Free Schools are the Future". The Backbencher website. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  48. ^ Young, Toby (15 June 2011). "Left unleashes furious assault on free schools in attempt to force another U-turn". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 April 2013. 
  49. ^ Anger as Michael Gove refuses to set a cap on pay for academy headteachers, Daily Mail, 27 May 2010
  50. ^ "Doubts cast over Swedish-style free schools".  
  51. ^ Allen, Rebecca (Summer 2010). "Replicating Swedish ‘free school’ reforms in England". Research in Public Policy. 
  52. ^ Peter Wilby (2010-05-25). "'"Private companies will run 'free schools. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  53. ^ "Set up a School". New Schools Network website. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  54. ^ Harrison, Angela (18 June 2010). "Teachers are half of free school inquiries". BBC News. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  55. ^ Francis Gilbert (2010-04-27). "Tory free schools will spread inequality".  
  56. ^ "School funding reform: Arrangements for 2013 - 14". Department for Education website. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  57. ^ Harrison, Angela (3 January 2011). "Free schools 'not wanted' say teachers".  
  58. ^ Paton, Graeme (19 February 2013). "'"Michael Gove: free school applicants 'subjected to death threats. The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  59. ^ Paton, Graeme. "'"Nine-in-10 of the Coalition's free schools 'oversubscribed. The Telegraph. 
  60. ^ Mansell, Warwick. "More than half of new free schools opened with spare places, figures show". The Guardian. 
  61. ^ Davis, Anna (29 August 2012). "Free schools still homeless only weeks before opening by shortage of buildings". Evening Standard. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  62. ^ "Majority of identifiable Free School proposals from 2011-13 were religious". British Humanist Association website. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  63. ^ Sutcliffe, Jeremy (26 Oct 2013). "Free but fettered". The Tablet. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  64. ^ Marley, David (27 May 2011). "Gove banishes creationist groups from free schools". Times Educational Supplement. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  65. ^ Daniel Boffey; Warwick Mansell (5 April 2014). "Michael Gove's bid to limit fallout from failing free schools – revealed". The Observer. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 

External links

  • Free Schools at the website of the Department for Education
  • Swedish model of 'free schools', BBC News, 20 November 2007
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