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  • Gavin Macdonald

Useful Data Sources for your Free School Application

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

As we come to the end of the summer break, applicants will be gearing up to put pen to paper and begin writing their free school applications. This blog will help you find all the data you will need to present a compelling case for your school. Further support is always available from the Create: Schools team.

Data Sources to Support Your Mainstream Free School Application

It is important that your mainstream need case is supported by robust data, as well as a strong narrative that provides context and colour to this data. See our previous blog on Developing Your Need Case for further information on this important section.

The DfE has published comprehensive maps and supporting data, highlighting the additional need for primary and secondary places required within local authority (LA) planning areas. The maps and supporting data are based off the final year of projections from the school place planning estimates 2021 workbook, within the School Capacity Survey 2021 (SCAP21). This dataset can also be used to provide trends in pupil need from 2021/2022 until the final year of forecasted figures for your proposed free school. Note that the DfE’s maps take into account need for the whole primary or secondary phase; we recommend you use the SCAP tables break this down further to examine the need for Reception/Year 7, which will determine if there will be enough demand for your school to fill its first-year group.

These resources are very valuable tools for scoping basic need. However, as highlighted in the ‘Wave 15: Developing a Need Case’ blog post, to optimise the strength of the application it is very important to engage with the local authority(ies) to gauge if this data is up to date and accounts for all planned developments. Some LAs have different planning areas for primary places and secondary places, and they can advise where these geographically align with each other.

If the school will serve a housing development that has not been factored into SCAP21 data, proposers can strengthen their application by including detail on the annual build rate (number of dwellings built per year), the cumulative build (total dwellings built by that year) and the cumulative pupil yield by age (numbers of pupils of school age that will reside at the housing development by that year). This data can be found through the local authority and/or developers.

There is a different set of criteria for those proposing 16-19 provision. This covers a wider range of factors, meaning the importance of communicating with LAs is even greater. This is particularly relevant for demonstrating how your school will enhance the current local offer. You may wish to consult:

- Post-16 area reviews: while these were conducted some time ago, they may provide useful background context to post-16 provision in your area.

- Education Statistics - progression to Higher Education: this statistical release from the DfE provides information around rates of progression into Higher Education across various metrics.

- Attainment Statistics for 16-19 year olds: Annual data on outcomes for 16-19 year olds. This may be updated to include 2022 data before the submission deadline, so check back!

- Local Industrial Strategies: Regional industrial strategies which may help demonstrate that your 16-19 curriculum will support priorities in your region.

Data sources to help support your application for a Special Free School (for local authorities and proposer groups)

For special applications, local authorities should use internal data sources to provide accurate, specific and up-to-data information about the need for new special places. However, local authorities and proposers may wish to explore the following national level data to support their case.

The national pupil projections dataset is a very useful tool that allows you to identify trends in actual pupils numbers between 2008-2022 and the projected figures for years 2023-2032. The figures are broken down by school type and age, allowing for comparison. This data allows cross referencing between national and LA trends. Using this data along with population projections will help the proposer forecast their pupil numbers for years 2025 and 2029 as required in section C of the application.

The special educational needs in England dataset is a very useful tool for demonstrating trends within local authorities for percentage and number change of EHCPs by primary need and establishment types. However, this data doesn’t break down the number of students with EHCPs who travel out of county for their education or those who stay in borough. As this data is highlighted as essential criteria within section C1i of the application form, it is vital that LAs ensure their internal data is up to date and accurate. This also reiterates the point of engagement when the application window for trusts opens.

The Get Information About Schools dataset (GIAS) is a useful source that helps outline the existing special provision within the LA ,including in maintained schools with resourced provision or SEN units. However, some information such as the number of pupils on roll has often been inaccurate, outlining the importance of engaging with each school to fact check these figures to accurately report the number of remaining spaces at each establishment – as well as the primary needs that they cater for.

Data sources to help support your application for an alternative provision school

As schools are obligated to arrange Alternative Provision (AP) for children and young people who have a fixed period or permanent exclusion, it is important to assess exclusion and plus one suspension rates within each LA – in order to scope out areas that may have the greatest demand for this provision. However, it important when analysing this data to understand that this dataset is presented in Local Authority District (LAD) form, opposed to Unitary Local Authorities (LAs) – that most government datasets cover. This makes it more challenging to cross reference this with other datasets that help justify the need for a new AP school - highlighting the importance of researching the LADs that are within the LAs and regions you have considered to open an AP in.

It is likely that areas where there is high demand for AP, but no existing or no Good or Outstanding AP schools or pupil referral units (PRUs) will be prioritised. The Get Information About Schools dataset is very useful to understand the existing provision in each area. This data can be visualised by proposer groups in the form of a map which allows them to scope out areas that don’t have adequate AP. This map highlights the existing AP and PRUs across England, while breaking these down by their Ofsted ratings and the percentage of available capacity. However, it should be noted as this information represents a snapshot and is not automatically updated. Schools that are included in the layer ‘AP schools with no Ofsted rating’ may be inspected during the application window, so proposers should continue to check this status Ofsted’s website. Another weakness in the GIAS dataset is that some schools have no data on the number of pupils on roll and their capacity, meaning that a lot of schools on the map have no remaining capacity label. For those that do it is also worth noting that the amount of remaining capacity may be inaccurate – stressing the importance of engaging with LAs to check this.

Proposers and local authorities may also wish to investigate trends in SEN need, especially for pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs, as some pupils with this designation may thrive best in an AP setting. Consideration should also be given to general pupil population trends when planning the number of places your AP school will provide.


These data sources are not exhaustive, and for all waves, proposers should be working closely with the local authority. A strong need case for any school will provide a holistic picture of the current context, and use data to tell a compelling story about what a new school will do to ease local pressures.

Our advisors are on hand to help you make sense of data and provide guidance on how to present this to make your application stand out – get in touch here.


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