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  • Writer's pictureHannah Jackson

Free Schools: A Guide to the New Waves

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

The Department for Education has launched 3 separate waves for mainstream, special, and alternative provision (AP) schools. A brief summary of the process for each wave is given below:

Proposers, including academy trusts, schools, and other organisations, can now submit an expression of interest (EOI) form to open a new free school and have until 16 September to do so. At this stage, the expression of interest form only asks for the proposed size, phase/age, and proposed postcode for the school. The information provided here will not form part of the final assessment.

Proposers are asked to identify a location which could benefit from a free school, based on published guidance. The DfE have created maps of need to support the identification of areas that are likely to need a new school. All proposers are expected to have confirmed that there is a need for a new school with the relevant local authority before submitting the EOI form.

Proposers are also expected to identify a preferred site.

The actual application forms will be sent to proposers in July and proposers will have until 31 October 2022 to submit an application.

At this stage, local authorities (LAs) are invited to apply to establish special free schools in their areas. Applications must be submitted by Friday 21 October, with successful authorities announced late 2022-early 2023. Joint applications may be made where multiple LAs will be commissioning places at the school. Local authorities must pre-register by 11th July if they are considering submitting a bid.

If approved by the DfE, LAs will invite proposer groups/trusts to apply to open the school in early 2023.  Local authorities will then assess the bids with support from the DfE. 

The DfE is also inviting proposers to open a special school in Bury. The application window closes on 21 October 2022 and the expected year of opening for the school is 2025. Please note this process is separate from the special wave and has its own guidance.

This AP free school wave will be a one-stage process, in which partnerships are invited to apply for a new free school. The partnership must include one lead applicant (existing school/trust/new proposer) and at least one local authority. Charities, businesses, grassroots organisations etc. are also able to support applications as members of the partnership, and there is no limit to the number of members that can be involved.  Formal arrangements, including the specific roles and responsibilities of each member, will be agreed by the partners themselves.

The lead applicant is to submit the application and will have legal responsibility for the new school. The lead applicant will complete the pre-application form, with input from the LA and other partners, between 12 September and 17 October 2022 and submit the completed application form by 17 February 2023.  


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