‘Free schools’ are a creation of the Coalition Government with the first being created in September 2011.
As for the non-legal descriptions of what they are:
- Click here for what the Department says.
- And here for the BBC’s description.
- And here for what wikipedia says.
However, the underlying legal position is actually much simpler (at least in overall terms): free schools are, in law, academies.
What seems to happen (but it is not a legal requirement) is that:
- where an academy is being created from cold, the academy is now sometimes (but not always) called a ‘free school’ (or it is set up as a UTC or studio school, both just types of academy)
- the original label ‘academy’ is now (mostly) being reserved for the academies created by conversion from a maintained school
- but, pre May 2010 (i.e. under the previous, New Labour, Government) they were all called academies, whether they were brand new or followed the discontinuance of an existing maintained school
So the term ‘free school’ has no legal meaning.
It is simply a non-legal label being used to describe some of the academies being set up from cold. (I have heared of situations where parents at a maintained school asked to set it up as a ‘free school’ but were told that, because it would be the conversion of an existing maintained school, it would have to be called an ‘academy’ not a ‘school’.)
When it comes to the detail:
- slightly different rules apply when setting up an academy from scratch (what is known as an ‘additional school‘) and so that is what happens when a free school is set up
- the model funding agreement which is used when a free school is set up is slightly different to to that used for other academies