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This Standard Note provides background information on free schools, one of the Government’s flagship education reforms. Free schools are usually new state-funded schools set up in areas where there is a local demand; however, applications from fee-paying independent schools wanting to enter the state sector are also considered. Existing maintained schools cannot become free schools but they may convert to academies.

Free schools will have the same legal requirements as academies. Each application for a free school will be judged on its merits, as viewed by the Secretary of State, taking into account matters relevant to that proposal. All mainstream free schools have freedom over their curriculum, provided it is broad and balanced. As with academies, free schools are able to set their own pay and conditions for their staff. Free schools must comply with the statutory School Admissions Code, and no fees are charged for admission.

The first 24 free schools opened in September 2011. A further 65 have been approved and about 50 of these are due to open in September 2012. On 13 July 2012, the Government announced details of a further 102 applications that had been approved; the majority of these expected to open in September 2013.

The main purpose of this note, which relates to England only, is to outline the Government’s policy on various aspects of the free schools programme, and to indicate where more information may be found. It is not intended to contribute to a wider debate about the merits or otherwise of free schools. However, Library Research Paper 10/48, which was written for the House of Commons’ second reading debate on the Academies Bill, reviewed the main debates surrounding academies and free schools, and the background section of this Standard Note includes some additional material.

The Government is also committed to supporting University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools. These schools also operate as academies, and further information about them is provided on the DFE website.

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