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What is a free school? Everything you need to know

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All children in England between the ages of 5 and 16 are entitled to a free place at a state school.

All state schools receive funding through their local authority or directly from the government.

But there are different types of state school – these include free schools, which account for a significant number of the new schools being built and opened around the country.

Here we answer your questions on free schools.

What is a free school?

Free schools are a type of academy - schools that are run by charities rather than the local authority (council) and cannot be run for financial profit.

More information on academies is available here: What is an academy and what are the benefits? - The Education Hub ( They are funded by central government and have a range of freedoms including the freedom to teach in an innovative way, whether that is focusing on STEM subjects or taking a different approach to learning.

Over 600 free schools are open across England. They include primary, secondary, all-through, and standalone sixth forms, as well as schools specifically for children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) or pupils who, because of illness of otherwise, would not receive a suitable education in mainstream settings (alternative provision).

The free school programme has delivered hundreds of new schools and provided thousands of good school places across the country.

86% of all free schools with inspection reports published by the end of April 2022 are rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’.

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

Legally, free schools are academies. They are independent from local authorities (councils) and funded directly by the department. As with academies, free schools enjoy a range of freedoms including setting their own pay and conditions;  greater control over their budget; freedom from following the national curriculum; and the freedom to change the length of school days.

The main difference is that free schools are newly set up schools whereas many academies as converters that were previously council run schools.

For more information on the launch of the new special, AP and mainstream free schools application rounds, you can visit: Thousands more school and sixth form places to be created - GOV.UK (

Who can attend a free school?

Anyone can attend a free school. Free schools are free to attend and must have admission arrangements that are clear and fair.

How can a free school be established?

Anybody can apply to set up a free school if they have the necessary capacity and capability.

Applications go through a rigorous assessment and must demonstrate how the proposal will meet key criteria, such as a clear need for the places the school will create, and how the school will be financially viable whilst offering a broad and balanced curriculum.

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