'Free school' application rules

Children working Groups would have to demonstrate parental demand for a free school

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The process by which parents and other groups apply to set up so-called free schools is being tightened up.

Instead of submitting a broad-brush plan, groups would have to present more of an outline business case before they are eligible for grants of up to £200,000 to help with planning.

These plans will then be judged against other free school proposals and scored for strengths and weaknesses.

The government said the change was because of higher-than-expected demand.

So far, the Department for Education has received 323 proposals from groups to become free schools.

Of these, 41 have been approved to move to business case and plan stage or beyond. A number of these are due to open in September 2011.

'Virtually impossible'

The changes to the process have been criticised by free-school evangelist Toby Young who is setting up the West London Free School in Hammersmith.

He told the Times Educational Supplement that he doubted the proposals for his school would have made through the new process.

He said it would be "virtually impossible" for groups of parents to start their own schools

He added: "It looks as though it will now be less about encouraging groups of parents to set up schools, and much more about encouraging multi-academy sponsors setting up schools."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said the changes were because of higher than expected demand for the new schools set up by community groups but funded by the state.

She said: "We want to create a diversity of free schools set up by a range of different groups - not just schools led by established Academy sponsors.

"But it's absolutely right that all groups are able to demonstrate that they have the capacity and capability to run a school by submitting a full application themselves.

"This doesn't mean that inexperienced but passionate groups of parents that want to set up schools will be left alone to struggle, as the New Schools Network is on hand to provide support throughout a group's application."

New deadline

Under the new rules, groups would have to submit their proposals by a set deadline.

The proposals will "require detailed and robust responses" to questions about things like parental demand, the type of education the school will provide, its ethos and the capacity and capability of the groups themselves.

Groups that meet minimum requirements will then be judged against each other and scored on the strength of their proposals.

Then shortlisted applicants will be called for an interview to discuss aspects of their proposal.

Interview panels will be made up of Department for Education officials, financial experts, education advisers, headteachers and organisations with a track record of setting up and running schools.

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