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  • Writer's pictureHannah Jackson

Wave 15 - What's New?

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

This week saw the launch of the Department for Education’s (DfE) How to Apply Guide for proposers looking to set up a new mainstream free school. With the last mainstream wave running in 2019, the release of this guidance marks the next phase of the free school policy. In this blog, we take a look at what’s new in this wave.

The DfE’s full guidance can be found here.


The DfE has stated that they will only be looking to approve around 15 new schools in Wave 15. This is compared to 22 approvals in the last two waves, and differs substantially from previous waves in which hundreds of schools were approved. As in the most recent waves, the DfE is looking to approve new schools in areas where there is a demographic need for new school places, and where a case can be made that the new school will improve educational standards.

In practice, this means applications have to demonstrate sufficient need to fill over half the new places that the school will create. It also means that applications will be prioritised in the 55 Education Investment Areas, particularly in the 24 Priority Investment Areas.

The How to Apply Guide confirms that the section outlining the need case for the school will be assessed first, meaning the rest of the application will only be considered if the need criteria is met. Keep an eye out for our next blog on building your need case to find out more about this essential part of the application.

The DfE’s maps of need can be consulted here.

Expressions of interest

The DfE usually requests that proposers register their interest before applying. In this wave, proposers must complete an Expression of Interest form prior to submitting an application. The deadline for this is 16th September.

This form asks for key details of the proposal, including:

- Name of the organisation and point of contact

- The phase (primary, secondary, all-through etc.) or if the school will be a specialist 16-19 school

- Proposed location and site for the new school, if identified at this stage

As part of this process, proposers are also asked to confirm with the local authority that there is sufficient demographic need for a new school. Speaking with the local authority is therefore the next step, once you have consulted the maps of need and spoken to a Create: Schools advisor.

16-19 free schools

In the most recent waves, the DfE’s policy was to approve post-16 elements of applications by exception only. The Government’s recent Levelling Up White Paper has now opened the door for a new round of specialist 16-19 free schools in Education Investment Areas to be established in this wave. These schools, aimed at getting disadvantaged pupils into leading universities, can have a smaller than usual intake and offer a more specialist curriculum. Where standalone 16-19 schools are usually required to have a minimum of 1000 pupils, there is no minimum size for these specialist schools (as long as the school can be shown to be financially viable).

Community engagement

Proposers that have applied for a free school in the past may notice something missing from the How to Apply Guide in this wave. The section on Community Engagement has been removed as a standalone section; however, this does not mean that engaging with the community is no longer important. The criteria for Section C (Vision) requires applicants to provide “evidence of demand from potential parents for your school and how your vision responds to the needs of the local community”. Proposers should consider their engagement activity early; if you are not sure how to approach this, Create: Schools can help.

Criteria for different proposers

For this wave, the DfE has provided word limits on each section, as opposed to suggested page limits. Proposers should take note that word limits might vary depending on the type of school they want to establish. For example, Section D1 should be no longer than 3000 words for most schools, while for 16-19 schools up to 4500 words are allowed. As in previous waves, different types of applicants will also have to provide different information, particularly in sections D1 and E1.

Educational outcomes in the context of Covid 19

Existing providers applying for a free school will be partly assessed on the track record of their existing schools. The DfE’s assessment will be based largely on published data, which is only available up until 2019. Existing providers should not worry about this, as the DfE has stated they will take into account the impact of the pandemic on school outcomes. Proposers should use section E1 to provide any internal data or other information to help contextualise the last two years for assessors.

Proposers making a need case around the standards of existing schools in an area should also be mindful of the limitations of public data. While applicants are unlikely to be able to obtain up-to-date data from schools, any pre-pandemic information should be caveated as such.

If you have any questions about wave 15, or about the free school process more generally, please get in touch with Create: Schools here to chat to one of our advisors.

We will be publishing more blogs over the following weeks and months providing tips and guidance on each section of the application, so stay tuned!


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