Provision of new Free Schools

Based upon current Local Plan sites, there is the potential for up to 7 new free schools opening in Cheshire East across the Borough. These options have been identified where there is a sizable local development infrastructure (e.g. Handforth Garden Village) which would benefit from new provision to meet the local demands.

Where a local authority has clear evidence that a new school needs to be established,
statutory guidance places the local authority under a duty to seek proposals to establish an academy (free school).

Further information about free schools is available from the New Schools Network.

Sponsoring a free school.

The successful Academy Trust which is appointed to lead/manage the new Free School must firstly be eligible to undertake this function – this is known as having ‘Academy Sponsor Status.’

Only the Academy Trust can apply for "Academy Sponsor Status", meaning that an individual school as part of a trust cannot apply to sponsor a Free School. Only Academies can apply to become an Academy sponsor and Academies need to get their Academy Trust to pass a resolution to show that they agree to become a sponsor; additionally schools of a religious character also need authorisation from the relevant religious body.

It can take up to 2 months from the point of application for a body to become an approved sponsor.  It is possible for a Free school applicant to apply to become an approved sponsor at the same time as applying to sponsor a school; however applicants are advised to become a sponsor in plenty of time as this is usually only used ‘in extremis’. 

Decisions on approved academy sponsors are made by the Regional Schools Commissioner

Information for proposers

Where the Local Authority identifies a need for a new school, they must trigger a competition, as defined under Section 6A of the Education Act (2011). A competition is usually open 6-8 weeks sometimes less and all applicants must be approved academy sponsors.

The DfE provide model criteria but the local authority can alter these if they wish.

Cheshire East Schools briefing

The School Organisation and Capital Strategy team  undertook a briefing to interested schools to  emphasise the importance of increasing the number of local schools who have achieved sponsor status.  Information was also provided on the current proposed Free Schools options in Cheshire East.

The New Schools Network attended this briefing session to provide their support to Cheshire East schools in all aspects of the Free School process.

The Sponsor application process presentation (PDF, 2MB) is available for schools to use to brief other school leaders, governors or trustees.

Further briefings will follow as and when specific specifications are drawn up for Local Authority Free School options. It is likely that Kingsley Fields in Nantwich will be the first of these.

Cheshire East undertook a Special Education Needs and /or Disabilities Free School option in Crewe. The successful sponsor was The East Cheshire Youth Achievement Free School Trust.

Page last reviewed: 01 September 2021