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Types of Free School: A Deep Dive

With such an exciting year for free schools behind us, today’s blog encourages a moment of reflection on the individual avenues to establishing a free school. Although each pathway has the same end result of a free school meeting the presented need, it is important to understand how each differs from one another.


Central Wave

The central waves for mainstream, SEND, and Alternative Provision (AP) free schools ran throughout 2022 and 2023 in separation to one another with a view to to dedicating extra attention to AP and SEND where necessary, differing from previous waves in which the two shared one application timeline.

The central free school wave runs through structured phases, with each type of school requiring applicants to submit directly to central DfE assessors. The central route to setting up a free school is dependent on the DfE and cannot be set up with such convenience through any other pathway.

Safety Valve

Alternatively, safety valve runs independently of the central route. The safety valve programme was designed to prevent financial deficits through the creation of new free schools in areas of the country where overspending is critical. The safety valve programme provides the Local Authority (LA) with support and guidance to reduce deficits in high needs budgets, whilst maintaining an excellent quality of education for local children.

The process of safety valve free schools requires collaboration between the selected LA and the DfE to reduce financial strain in the sector. The application itself mirrors the central wave closely yet runs distinctly from its route.

Local Authority Presumption

Once again, although the application content will appear similar to that of the central waves, LA presumption free schools completely differ from a procedural perspective. The responsibility for presumption projects lies with the LA, therefore they are expected to lead and fund the project – as opposed to central routes where successful proposers would be expected to work more closely with the DfE.

Where does Create: Schools come in?

Create: Schools is available to support free school proposers throughout the application process, through bid reviews, and mock interviews at the second stage of assessment. Furthermore, our team of advisors are available to respond to any queries regarding the free schools programme. Please get in touch with our team if you would like to learn more about our support offer.

Further Support

As described, the LA presumption route is entirely separate of the DfE’s central and safety valve projects, this can therefore be a daunting task for LAs who are looking to establish new free schools. Whilst this falls outside the scope of the free support available through Create: Schools, the same expertise and support is available to applicants. Our parent company Premier Advisory Group are available for commercial services to support throughout the process – if you are interested in this support please get in touch!


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