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  • Charlotte Reece

Preparing for Free School Pre-opening

Updated: May 26, 2023

With the Wave 15 deadline already feeling like a distant memory, the team at Create: Schools are starting to think about the next key stage of the process: your free school's pre-opening.

Whether you are eagerly anticipating the outcome of your mainstream application, in the midst of drafting a bid for an AP school or preparing to present your special school vision to successful local authorities, it is never too early to start thinking about how you will actually bring your free school to fruition.

If you are tasked with managing the pre-opening phase of a new school, there is comprehensive pre-opening guidance provided by the Department for Education (DfE) and available here. Create: Schools has summarised the key considerations below.

Define the scope of the project

Clearly outline the goals and objectives of the project, including what the new school will offer and which pupils it will serve. This will help you set realistic timelines and budgets, ensuring the project stays on track. In particular, ensure that your planning is focused around the DfE’s milestones.

For example, for the signing of a Funding Agreement you will need to provide the DfE with:

• An education brief

• A governance plan

• A Section 10 consultation report

• A post-opening financial plan

• Admissions plans and policies

• Other policies, depending on the type of school

Identify the project stakeholders

Determine who will be impacted by the project and who will be involved in its execution. This could include the DfE project lead, local authority contacts, school staff, and the community.

Engaging these stakeholders early on will help you gain support for the project and ensure that all necessary parties are on board. It is also worth putting together a project directory to ensure that all parties have the contacts they need in one place.

Determine the budget and resources

Establish how much money and what resources (e.g., personnel, equipment) will be needed to complete the project. This will help you plan for any potential issues and ensure that the project stays within budget. DfE will provide you with a project development grant (PDG) and a PDG template to keep track of expenditure. More information on pre-opening funding can be found here.

Secure your PDG

The PDG will be key to ensuring that the pre-opening is sustainable. You will need to have determined the project budget and resources to access this PDG, but there’s also an element of discussion with DfE here to make your case for why the PDG is required on your timescales.

Create a project plan

Develop a comprehensive plan that outlines the steps needed to complete the project, including milestones and deadlines. This is essential for managing resource, as well as allowing continual updates to DfE regarding project progress.

Assess potential risks

Consider what could potentially delay or go wrong during the project and plan accordingly. This could include identifying risk mitigation strategies or creating a contingency plan. You may want to consider all workstreams separately (site, procurement, governance etc.) and the most likely factors to affect them.

Secure external resource

Whether it is for the tasks above, or specialist items such as running admissions marketing or supporting you through the capital process, many trusts use external consultants to manage the pre-opening process for them. There are tasks through the pre-opening that are unique to the pre-opening process, and experienced consultants can remove workload from your trust team while ensuring that the project runs smoothly. This is standard practice, and DfE is used to working with external consultants as well as with trusts.

If you’d like to find out more about the free school pre-opening process, Create: Schools is running the following webinars in January to discuss aspects of pre-opening:

The Next Steps of the Free School Programme with PAG - Tuesday 17th January at 10:00 am
Project Management with PAG - Monday 23rd January at 10:00 am
Introduction to SEND with Kinetic Marketing- Tuesday 31st January at 10:00am

You can sign up for free here, or get in touch with one of our expert advisors for more information.


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