The short answer is that they should provide proper information about what they are proposing and why, give people a proper chance to respond to that, and then give open-minded consideration to the responses in deciding whether to go ahead.
As part of that process, section 10 of the Academies Act 2010 requires that: “Before entering into Academy arrangements with the Secretary of State in relation to [a free school], a person [i.e. the promoter] must consult such persons as the person thinks appropriate.”
Also: “The consultation must be on the question of whether the arrangements should be entered into.”
As set out in another post, the law lays down some important requirements whenever a public body consults (i.e. they do not just apply to academy/free school consultations).
As for what they might mean in the context of consultation about a proposed free school:
- it is hard to see how promoters could lawfully not consult in the affected local area with proper publicity; including with potentially affected schools (and their parents/pupils) in the area
- those consultees need to be given enough information about what is being proposed to understand why it is being proposed – why do the promoters want to set up a free school?
- they need to be honest about their reasons; and provide proper explanations for them
- those explanations need to withstand scrutiny – they cannot be nonsense
- the information needs to be in a form which people can understand – not technical gibberish
- people need to be given enough time to digest it; and the opportunity to ask questions and for more information
- if something changes in the course of the consultation, then the consultation may need to be extended for the fresh information to be provided to everyone
- the promoters need to be open minded on the question of whether to go ahead when they consider consultation responses.