New Free Schools Application Process

12th March 2011

Full details are not yet available but here are some initial notes:
Previously, “founders” submitted an initial proposal which released funds for development of a full business case. Under the new process these two stages are brought together and funds are only released following a competitive selection process including interviews and a review of proposed budgets. Applications for opening in Sept. 2012 will close on the 1st of June.
The new form will include :
– Educational vision including how leadership will deliver the vision in the long term (recruitment/assessment of Principle designate and SLT, clear delineation of governors’ responsibilities)
– Educational plan
– Pupil development and achievement
– Behaviour and attendance (behaviour policies etc)
– Community engagement (not the same as community cohesion)
– Demand and marketing plan (list of parents, their children and why they would chose your school and a plan for marketing the school in the future)
The educational plan will be quite detailed. It will include :
– Admissions (policy on oversubscription)
– Curriculum organisation and organisation of learning (including how pupils will be ready to move into mainstream and how the English Baccalaureate will be made available)
– Organisation of pupils (including year groups and tutor groups)
Criteria for selection will be available (soon) and applications will be assessed according to:
– The minimum criteria
– Comparative criteria
– Affordability: value for money and overall. Applications will need to include spreadsheets based on the DfEs ready reckoner showing income and expenditure and contingency planning in case of rolls not being filled
– Additional criteria for converting independent schools (based on OFSTED or equivalent and financial viability)
(Image from the DfE Website)
The announcement caused quite a stir with many potential founders asking how they would find the capacity to complete the new process. They felt that they would have little choice but to work with operating companies such as ARK (who delivered the next presentation). One argued that “this was supposed to be about innovation, creativity and people with independence, parents etc coming along and doing something different” another  that “We’re all here because we feel there’s an issue with what is available but we’re being pushed towards using existing providers.”
On the other hand, others argued that if a group didn’t have the capacity to complete this process then they didn’t have the expertise to run a school and that the new process would “sort the wheat from the chaff”. It will also avoid hundreds of thousands of pounds being given to groups who have yet to prove their worth. It seems that many groups have got through the initial stage and then bought in the support they need to get their business case through and that this second stage application was therefore not representative of the group’s real capacities.
L.K.M Consulting offers ‘critical but constructive’ support to organisations developing plans  for Free Schools that have the potential to provide outstanding services to young people.