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Five official reasons you can give if you want to set up a free school

Groups can now open free schools on the basis they will solve social issues, provide choice or deliver educational innovation

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Groups can now open free schools on the basis they will solve social issues, provide choice or deliver educational innovation

Parents' groups, charities and academy chains will find it easier to open free schools after the government expanded the number of acceptable reasons that can be given for allowing new schools to open.

The changes to the application criteria will apply to any group putting forward a free school bid from September.

The policy was introduced in 2010 by the then education secretary Michael Gove (pictured). Ministers are increasingly pushing to make it easier to establish a free school as the government aims to open 500 more of the schools by 2020.

Here are the five key criteria for opening a free school – the top four are new:

1. Social need

Applicants will be able to open a new school if they are able to demonstrate that there is a “social need” for a free school. The school will need to address a particular social issue related to that area, such as bringing together pupils from “different ethnic or faith groups”.

2. Innovative need

Free school bidders will be able to set up a new school if they can show that there is a need for innovation in their local area that will lead to better outcomes. The school could offer different approaches to teaching and learning or changes to the school day or year that will benefit pupils and appeal to parents.

3. Strong demand

The government last year dropped its requirement on free school applicants to prove there is support from parents by attracting a certain number of signatures backing a new school. Instead, applicants only need to show there is “strong evidence” of “significant demand” among parents for a new school.

4. Need for choice

A parents' group or charity will be given the green light to open a new school if they can show that there is insufficient “choice” of schools in an area. Applicants will have to show they want to offer something different to schools locally in terms of their “intake, ethos, size, curriculum, or pedagogical focus”.

5. Places and standards

Within the new criteria is the original guidance that a free school can open if there is a lack of school places in the local area. Also, applicants can be successful if they show that standards in their local schools are low, and pupils are underperforming.

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