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Free Schools: Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

What is a free school?

Free schools are state schools that receive funding directly from the Department for Education, and are not managed by the local authority as other maintained schools are. They are free to set their own pay and conditions for staff, and they have control over things like the length of the school day and term times.

Where did the idea behind free schools come from?

The free school initiative was the flagship education policy in the Conservative manifesto ahead of the 2010 election, and is based on similar models such as Charter Schools in the United States.

What’s the difference between a free school and an academy?

Free schools are classed as academies. Other types of academies include high-performing state schools that have opted out of local authority control, and underperforming maintained schools that have been taken over by an academy sponsor.

How many free schools are there?

The first 24 free schools opened in September 2011. Ten years on, there are over 600 free schools across England, with more than 200 additional free schools approved to open in the coming years.

What types of free school are there?

Free schools can be primary, secondary, all-through, 16-19, special, or alternative provision schools.

Do free schools have to follow the National Curriculum?

Free schools must offer broad and balanced teaching and learning, but not the National Curriculum specifically. This means that free schools can choose to focus on particular subject areas, such as maths or the creative arts, or take a project-based approach to learning.

Are free schools free from Ofsted?

Free schools are inspected by Ofsted just as other state schools are, and are more likely to be rated Outstanding than other types of school.

Are free schools selective?

Unlike grammar schools, free schools are not able to select pupils based on academic ability.

Who can set up a free school?

Community groups, businesses, universities, faith organisations, charities, and parents and teachers can all set up free schools if there is need in the community.

How can Create: Schools help?

Create: Schools is here to support free school groups at every stage of their opening journey, from initial application to mock interviews, through our Create: Schools programme to networking and development events for headteachers in the school’s first year. Create: Schools has experience with over 150 free schools, and can help with aspects of project management such as site, recruitment, marketing, governance, and procurement.

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