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  • Charlotte Reece

DfE Free School Interviews – Guidance for applicants

Updated: May 26, 2023

As invitations for selected mainstream applicants are scheduled to be sent out in March this year, now is a good time for mainstream proposers to prepare for interviews. Although each one will be specific to the application, similar elements can be expected in every interview. Through this blog, we will outline the vital guidance and typical considerations for the interview stage of the free school process.


Key Points to Remember

1. Work as a team

When undergoing the interview as a group, it can be difficult to find the right balance. Be sure nobody repeats what has already been said and avoid interruptions and miscommunication. A successful team dynamic is displayed through high levels of communication and support for each other. In order to manage this, we suggest nominating one individual to act as a Chair. This person will then be able to ensure that questions are answered by the individual with relevant expertise. It is evident in answers when groups are not adequately prepared – so even if you’ve gone through this process before, now is a good time to reevaluate your approach.

2. Stay focussed on vision

At the interview stage, your discussions must remain consistent and cohesive with your vision for the school and its cohort. This will involve the whole team using language consistent with your application. In order to present a central aim of the group, you should keep your overall vision running as a thread throughout your answers. Allowing adequate time to prepare and providing evidence to support your responses will help achieve this.

3. Be attentive to questions asked

Although it may be tempting to provide as much information as possible, it is important that you pay close attention to the question being asked. When answering questions with two parts, ensure that all details asked of you are provided.

This is an opportunity to emphasise your trust’s strengths, however, ensure that you are focused on the plans for the school and how it will fit within the current operation of the trust. Questions are more likely to focus on perceived weaknesses in the application, so ensure everyone in your team is confident in responding. However, do not shy away from acknowledging the risks ahead. Strong proposers are transparent in showing the challenges faced with opening a school and are confident in the delivery of their application.

4. Pay attention to invitation details

Once you receive your invitation to interview, make sure to note whether the interview will be held in person or online. Your invitation may include reference to certain aspects of your application that the DfE are particularly interested in asking about – you should use this as a guideline for preparing answers. Don’t miss out by overlooking an important detail here.

5. Know your bid

It is important to ensure that every member of your team is familiar with the bid. You must be aware of any demographic or other data you have utilised to support your application and be able to succinctly summarise it. You must also be familiar with the specifics of your finances, particularly the benchmarking and underlying assumptions. For example, teams frequently lack clarity over what exactly is covered by their central services grant (or top slice) and what is covered by schools. Ensure that your response to this question is precise and consistent with your financial goals.

Further Support for Free School Interviews

At Create: Schools, we offer mock interview support free of charge and tailored to the contents of your application. We have high-level experience within the team to support applicants through the interview stage and are familiar with the DfE question structure to assist preparation.

If you are interested in contacting us regarding setting up a mock interview following an invitation from the DfE, please get in touch with one of our advisors and we'd be happy to help.

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