How to apply to set up a special free school (for local authorities)

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How to apply to set up a special free school (for local authorities)
How to apply to set up a special free school (for local authorities)


This guidance sets out the process for local authorities to apply to set up a new special free school in their area.

New schools approved through this process are part of the central free schools programme and will be delivered and funded as such. Free schools are legally academies, which are state-funded educational institutions operated by academy trusts.

This process does not replace the free school presumption process and does not replace a local authority’s duty to secure sufficient appropriate education for children and young people. If there is a significant need in an area, the local authority should decide whether a free school presumption competition is needed. If there is a need, they must ask for proposals to establish a free school through the presumption process.


Every child in this country, whatever their background, should have the opportunity to get a world-class education. As set out in the special educational needs and disabilties (SEND) and alternative provision (AP) green paper, our ambition for children with SEND is the same as it is for all children – that they are able to do their best in school, reach their potential and afterwards find employment and lead happy and fulfilled lives.

Whilst the SEND and AP green paper sets out plans so that more children and young people can be effectively supported in mainstream settings, there are still a number of children whose needs can best be met in special schools.

To meet these needs, the government will build up to 60 new centrally-delivered special and AP free schools as part of the £2.6 billion capital investment in high needs provision across the Spending Review Period.

This investment in new special free schools aims to provide children and young people with good quality provision in their local area, which in turn will reduce the time and money spent on transport. Investing in new special free schools will reduce the use of more expensive provision, with a view to delivering a local system which both meets local authority needs and is financially sustainable.

We will prioritise new special free schools in areas where new local special provision will help local authorities reduce their dedicated schools grant (DSG) deficits. The assessment criteria we will use to assess applications is available later in this guidance.

It is vital that any new specialist provision is a good strategic fit within the local offer of services and provision for SEN. Local authorities are key to the success of new special free schools, given their expertise and knowledge of local needs and their statutory responsibility for the sufficiency of SEN places. For this application wave, we are asking local authorities not only to apply for a new special free school, but also to lead on the assessment of proposer group applications to run those schools.

Who can apply

At this stage of the application and assessment process, we are inviting local authorities to apply for new special free school projects in their area. Proposer groups will be invited to apply to open special free schools in successful local authority areas early in 2023.

We want to open new special free schools in areas where good new schools are most needed. We will prioritise applications which:

  • are in areas where a new school fits with the local authority’s wider SEN and high needs strategy
  • make a strong strategic case for why a new special free school is needed, and will better meet the needs and achieve better outcomes for children and young people in the area
  • demonstrate that a new special free school will help local authorities reduce their dedicated schools grant (DSG) deficit
  • demonstrate that a new school will be financially sustainable and that local authorities will commit to commissioning, funding and supporting places
  • will contribute to the wider aims of the SEND green paper
  • include details of a viable site which is likely to secure value for money, in a timely manner, and with an acceptable level of risk

The assessment criteria we will use to assess applications is available later in this guidance.

Application process

  1. Read this document carefully, and consider whether your local authority can produce an application which meets the aims of the published criteria.

  2. Complete a pre-registration form before 5pm on Monday 11 July.

  3. Complete the application and specification forms which will be sent via email once you complete the pre-registration form.

  4. Submit your local authority’s completed application and specification forms via email to by midday on Friday 21 October.

  5. We will review applications against the published assessment criteria. We may ask for additional information during this period.

  6. Successful local authorities will be announced late 2022 to early 2023 competitions will then launch in the successful areas through the publication of local authority specifications and proposer guidance.

  7. Proposer groups will submit their applications in February 2023. Local authorities will assess all proposer group applications, with input from DfE.

  8. Groups with the strongest applications will be invited to interview, where they will be interviewed by a panel of local authority and DfE representatives.

  9. Local authorities will make recommendations to DfE, who will make a final decision on which application to approve.

  10. Successful applications will be announced and the project will enter the pre-opening stage.

Key dates

Stage 1

10 June 2022Mandatory pre-application registration opens.

Application and specification forms will emailed to you once you complete the pre-registration form.

27 June 2022Application window opens.

Begin work on your application. The assessment criteria sets out the information that you will need to provide.

11 July 2022Mandatory pre-application registration closes.
21 October 2022Application window closes.

Submit your completed application and specification forms via email to by midday on Friday 21 October.

Autumn 2022Applications will be assessed against the published criteria. We may ask for additional information during this period.
Late 2022 to early 2023Successful local authorities will be announced.

Competitions will then launch in the successful areas through the publication of local authority specifications and proposer guidance.

Stage 2

February 2023Proposer groups will submit their applications.

Local authorities will assess all proposer group applications.

May 2023Interviews start for groups with the strongest applications. Groups will be interviewed by a panel of local authority and DfE representatives.
May to June 2023Local authorities will make recommendations to DfE, who will make a final decision on which application to approve.
Summer 2023Successful applications will be announced and the project will enter the pre-opening stage.

Preparing your application

To help prepare your application to open a new special free school, we recommend that you consider speaking to:

  • neighbouring local authorities to check whether they will commit to commissioning places at the new school at the specified top-up rate (particularly if you are a small local authority) – see section A1 for more information
  • parents, carers and young people – you should provide evidence of this in your application or detail any plans you have in place to consult parents and young people as you develop your application
  • Create: Schools who can put you in contact with other academy trusts who may be interested in join the partnership along with other groups that have been successful in previous waves
  • the Free Schools Capital Property and Planning Team ( who will be able to give advice on finding a site, as well as the process and requirements for planning permission and associated approvals

Completing your application

We will assess your application against the assessment criteria.

You must use the application form provided, which will be sent to you once you complete the mandatory online pre-registration form. Your application will not be considered if you do not use the provided application form.

If you are submitting applications for multiple special free schools, a separate application must be developed and submitted for each school that you are applying for.

All local authorities applying for a new special free school in this wave will also need to complete and submit a specification template. The specification is a document that outlines the key characteristics of the proposed school and is made available to proposer groups to develop their applications. We may ask you make changes to your specification if we believe it requires improvement, for example, on the proposed number of places or the level of detail you provide in your specification. During the pre-opening stage, your specification will regularly be reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose.

Submitting your application

Title your application electronic files and emails as ‘Special free school application – [insert name of local authority (or lead local authority if joint application)]’.
Your application forms must not be sent as pdf files, they must be sent as Excel files.

Your email should not exceed 9 megabytes in size; anything larger will not be delivered. If the bid is larger than 9 megabytes, split the documents and send 2 (or more) emails clearly indicating that the emails are connected (for example, email 1 of 3).

We will publish links to completed specifications of successful local authorities online at GOV.UK late 2022. If your application is successful we will publish your full application on GOV.UK.

Assessment of your application

Decisions on applications are taken by the Secretary of State. The decisions are final and there is no appeals process. Scoring of applications will not be shared with applicants or externally. You will receive feedback if your application is not successful.

Approval of your application does not mean approval of every detail, which may be subject to change, and is conditional on the proposed site being deliverable and representing good value for money. The Secretary of State may also decide to reprioritise funding for the benefit of the free schools programme as a whole, which may result in your project being cancelled.

If your application is approved

Once the Secretary of State has decided which local authority applications should be approved, the guidance for proposer groups and local authorities’ specifications will be published on the relevant local authorities’ websites.

Proposer groups will then be invited to apply to open schools in the approved local authority areas.

Following the launch of the competition to appoint a proposer group, the local authority should ensure that the widest possible range of prospective proposers are aware of the opportunity and have enough time to develop proposals. Create:Schools can help generate interest by posting on the Create: Schools website, encouraging key stakeholders to do the same and by sign-posting to potential proposers who may hace a particular interest in operating in that region.

We also encourage applications from proposer groups which have open mainstream or AP free schools who are keen to expand into the special education sector .

Local authorities must give an equal chance to all proposer groups, and cannot give information to one group that they do not make available to all interested parties.

We expect the local authority to continue to work with the successful provider as it works to open the school. It is essential to the viability of special free schools that local authorities have strong working relationships with providers.

To ensure new special free schools are opened as soon as possible, we will be running this wave to a strict timeline based on opening the new provision within a period of 3­ to 4 years.

Local authorities are expected to regularly engage with DfE following their approval. Representatives from the local authority must attend and participate in key meetings, and agree on significant milestones, such as the proposed opening date. Local authorities must provide representatives from DfE with access to the proposed site, and engage in agreeing heads of terms.

Local authority assessment of proposer bids

The local authority will assess proposer group applications.

If the local authority believes there may be a conflict of interest which will affect their ability to assess applications, email so that alternative arrangements for assessment can be made.

Applications from proposer groups will be assessed by the local authority against the published criteria for proposers and the relevant local authority specification. Local authority assessors will be provided with standardised assessment guidance, scoring matrices and scoring templates to complete their assessments.

During the assessment of trust applications, we will provide input and information, such as on trust capacity and capability. We will also conduct due diligence checks on proposer groups on behalf of the local authority.

The local authority will then provide the results of the assessments, with recommendations on which proposer groups they wish to interview. The final list of proposer groups to interview must be agreed with DfE. Interviews will be chaired by the local authority, with a representative from DfE sitting on the panel.

Local authorities are expected to work to an agreed timetable and provide assessments to us on time. We will provide local authorities with guidance and training on how we expect the assessments to be presented.

Following the interviews, local authorities will provide a list of the strongest proposer groups, with a lead recommendation. In some cases, we may choose to recommend a proposer group which is not the lead recommendation of the local authority. Final decisions on the successful proposer group applications are taken by the Secretary of State. The decisions are final and there is no appeals process.

In the event that there is no suitably strong proposer group following the competition, the Secretary of State maintains the option of agreeing with the local authority to re-run the competition.

List of sources we will use in our assessment of need

As part of our assessment of your application, we will consider evidence you provide in your application, as well as data we hold and publicly available information. This includes:

  • data from the school census
  • maps
  • regional director information
  • SEN2
  • school exclusion reviews
  • information on Get Information about Schools
  • Ofsted reports
  • school performance tables
  • the number of children in different education settings
  • local area SEND reports and local area SEND inspection outcome letters
  • ONS (population projections)
  • DSG nanagement plans
  • the current high needs budget
  • checking if the high needs budget is in credit or deficit (years to deficit)
  • 2020 to 2021 spend on high needs
  • 2020 to 2021 outturn spend on high needs
  • 2020 to 2021 budget spend on SEN transport
  • 2021 to 2022 numbers of children with statement or EHC plans educated in NMSS or independent schools versus the national average

Assessment criteria

This assessment criteria is for local authorities seeking to establish new special free schools.

Confirmation section

In addition to meeting these requirements, your application must be agreed and signed off by the director of children’s services (DCS).

As part of the confirmation section on the application form, we ask for confirmation that each relevant DCS is:

  • committed to commissioning the number of places as specified in the application
  • committed to paying the indicated top-up funding
  • aware of the financial consequences of their commissioning on their high needs budgets
  • committed to the proposed site

Section A – local authority putting forward this application and evidence of commissions

Section A1 – local authority putting forward this application

In this section we ask for basic information about the local authority putting forward the application. If it is an application from more than one local authority, we ask for details of each local authority involved and ask you to state the lead local authority. This would be the local authority in which the school would be located.

You must check whether your neighbouring local authorities also want to commmission places for pupils at the school, even if your local authority is large. Where it is feasible for the school to serve more than one local authority, joint applications are encouraged. Where it is not feasible or other local authorities do not wish to commission places, you can put in a solo application and explain the reason why.

We welcome applications from experienced and new providers, including from independent schools partnering with the state sector. We are not currently accepting applications from independent schools that wish to become state-funded.

Section A2 – evidence that places in your new school will be fully commissioned

You must:

  • demonstrate that the places in each of the school’s first 2 years of operation will be commissioned and confirm the rate at which top-up funding will be paid
  • confirm that all places will be commissioned beyond the first 2 years
  • complete the commissioner table and demand table in the application form showing how many places you (and any other commissioning local authorities) would use at the school for the first 2 years of the school’s operation
  • complete table A2(b) showing expected place demand for the first 5 years of operation
  • ensure that the DCSs in all relevant local authorities commissioning places sign the confirmation section in the application form

You must complete the commissioner table and demand table in the application form showing how many places you (and any other commissioners) would use at the school for the first 2 years of the school’s operation.

Section B – outline of the school

There is no assessment criteria for section B. In this section, we ask you to provide key information about the school you would like to commission, including:

  • category of provision (the types of SEND provided for, for example autism or speech, language and communication needs (SLCN))
  • age range
  • expected top-up funding rate
  • whether the school will be co-educational or not
  • total number of proposed full time equivalent places per year group
  • type of placements offered (for example, full time, short term, part time)
  • number of full time and part-time nursery places, if applicable
  • whether you want the provider of the new school to support mainstream schools through outreach and training (if so, details of funding that will be made available to support the school to undertake this)
  • the expected pupil build up (how the school would fill year-on-year once it opens)

The type of school should be a special school. We understand that there can be similarities between the special schools and AP schools (and their cohorts), but we would not expect to receive applications for ‘hybrid’ schools. By law, special schools may only admit children and young people with or being assessed for EHC plans, while AP is for children of compulsory school age who do not attend mainstream or special schools or who would not otherwise receive suitable education for any reason.

Special free schools cannot be designated as having a religious character. Placements in special schools are determined through the application of the criteria in s39(4) of the Children and Families Act 2014. This states that the school must be suitable for the the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs of the child or young person. Religion is not a statutory critera and therefore placements cannot be restricted in the way.

You should include a brief explanation (if applicable) of any specialism, particular ethos, distinctive pedagogy or educational philosophy.

We will only approve residential schools where there is a very strong case for residential provision with evidence from the local authority about the need for residential educational facilities and possible wider use such as for short breaks and respite care. If you want to apply for a residential school, you must provide:

  • evidence that there is a need for residential provision
  • details of how residential provision will benefit your intended cohort
  • details of how you plan to finance and staff the residential element of your school

We reserve the right to approve a school without agreeing to the residential element where it is not essential to the school or cohort.

Section C – rationale for a new school

Section C1 – the current context and strategy for SEND provision in your area

The purpose of section C1 is to help us understand the current SEND position in your area so that we can assess the benefit of, and need for, a new school. We will judge applications to be strong where the local authority is able to:

  • make a sound strategic case for new provision that will better meet the needs of children and young people in the area
  • explain how they will afford to fund this in the future and demonstrate that the new school will not add financial pressures
  • use data to show that there would not be an over-supply of places in the area if a new special free school were created

In this section, you must summarise:

  • your SEN strategy and either provide a link to it (if it is published online) or a copy when you submit your application
  • your plans to develop a SEN strategy if you do not have one
  • the desired outcomes of your strategy in terms of key performance indicators (KPIs), for example:
    • improving education and destination outcomes
    • reducing the use of one-to-one tuition, elective home education and travel-distance for children or the use of residential provision where it is appropriate for them to be educated closer to home
  • how you have developed your strategy in consultation with:
    • the local community
    • local (and neighbouring local authorities)
    • parent and schools forums
    • other schools with an interest, including other local special providers whose intake may be affected
  • the relevant existing provision including its type, quality, how it is currently used, and why the educational needs of the specific cohort you want a new school for are not currently being adequately met – this should include appropriate information on:
    • residential costs
    • managed moves
    • exclusions
    • home tuition numbers
    • elective home education numbers
    • the rationale for and use (if any) of unregistered provision
    • delays in placing children
  • how many new places are needed, future numbers and growth, and the rationale for this
  • how the places in the school would be filled (where the children would come from and where they would be educated if a new school is not approved)
  • any future changes to capacity that you are already expecting, for example, planned expansions, re-configuration or closures of existing schools
  • how you are managing your high needs budget
  • how the new school would help you to improve the range of provision available or its financial sustainability (delivering wider value for money) – include details of your DSG management plan if you have one
  • whether you would like your school to include residential provision

Your response to this section should be no more than 2000 words, excluding annexes and your entries in the relevant table of high needs costs.

The assessment of this section will consider evidence provided in your application, as well as data we hold and publicly available information. See the list of sources we will use in our assessment of need for more information.

You should also use this section to provide a commentary around the information sources that you will use and tell us if you have any new information to support your application. For example, if there have been any recent changes or if there is an anomaly that can be explained in more detail.

Section C2 – rationale for the new special free school and how it fits with your strategy and the local education offer

You should use this section to explain the rationale for a new special free school in your area.

In this section you must summarise:

  • the rationale for the new special school – what needs of children and young people it would meet and how, and the types and purposes of placements you expect to fund
  • how a new special school and the commissioning of places fits into your strategic plan for SEN provision in the area, and how it would help to achieve your strategy
  • how a new special school is accounted for in your high needs budget, for example, assuming that the costs of placing pupils in the school will be affordable within the level of overall high needs funding that the local authority expects to receive in future years, given demographic and other trends
  • how the new school will fit with your DSG management plan
  • how the new special school will fit into and complement the broader provision in the local area and region (including neighbouring local authorities, if appropriate)
  • your understanding of the likely impact that a new special school might have on existing providers in the area (both mainstream and specialist)
  • evidence of engagement, including a summary of conversations with, for example, neighbouring local authorities and commissioning bodies, schools forums and parent and carer forums

Your response to this section should be no more than 750 words, excluding your entries in the table about how you have engaged with others.

Section C3 – expected outcomes for the new special free school

Applications must demonstrate how the new school will support the development and effectiveness of a local inclusive education system. This should include how the school will make available its expertise to mainstream schools. The application should also demonstrate how the new school will help to achieve better outcomes for children and young people (compared with existing provision).

In this section you must describe the expected outcomes you want the new special school to achieve for pupils that will attend the school. This should include outcomes related to areas such as:

  • how the school will deliver your local SEN strategy and move towards a financially sustainable system
  • how the school will prepare pupils for adult life, for example, preparation for employment and independent living
  • attendance
  • the development of literacy and numeracy skills
  • speech, language and communication
  • self-help and independence skills
  • travel training

You should also use this section to tell us what you think the risks of opening a new special school are (in terms of unintended outcomes, for example, an increase in the proportion of children educated in special settings, which might not be in the best interests of the children concerned) and how you plan to mitigate those if your application is successful. This should include how you will mitigate any potential adverse impact on inclusion in mainstream schools, including (where applicable) types of expert support you would expect the school to provide to mainstream schools in the area and how funding would be made available to the school to support it with this.

Your response to this section should be no longer than 500 words, excluding risks and mititations.

Section D – the proposed location and site

Finding a suitable site is an essential part of opening a free school. As part of preparing your application, you should investigate potential sites for the school and tell us about them. We will undertake a desktop site assessment during the initial assessment process.

You do not need to have a site to submit an application, however, we will give preference to those projects where our site assessment shows that we are likely to secure a value for money site in a timely manner with an acceptable level of risk. This will reduce the risk that your project will be delayed or cancelled during the pre-opening phase.

We will assess the viability of the site using the information requested in this section.

We have a team with specific property and planning expertise that acquires sites for free schools. They also oversee construction, redevelopment, and necessary works. They will undertake a desktop site assessment and consider the value for money, timescale and delivery risks in securing a site for the proposed school in the proposed area.

If your application does not include a site, but your application is strong in all other areas, we may consider conducting a commercial site search on your behalf.

If you have identified a site, provide details including:

  • site location
  • address
  • ownership
  • any supplementary information

You can add more than one site but should list them in order of preference. A full list of the information we ask for is available in annex c.

The form also asks you to provide information around the overall site area and gross internal floor area. Use the tables in annex c to calculate these figures. The correct formula to use depends upon the type of provision. These sizes are guidelines, not requirements or entitlements.

For schools that move into the pre-opening phase, there will be a series of engagement meetings to look at the range of needs the new provision will cater for.

Local authorities should not include sites that will be prohibitively expensive to develop or have significant delivery challenges. For example, sites that are designated as green belt in an existing local plan are very unlikely to be suitable for development. We will expect the applying authority to meet agreed abnormal development costs as part of the formal approval. Further information and examples of which are provided in annex c.

We will make an overall cost and value for money assessment of your preferred site. You should aim for the lowest possible capital costs and be as flexible as possible in your site requirements. If appropriate, we may also ask you to share sites with other approved free schools and when open, you may be required to share surplus space in your permanent building with new free schools requiring a temporary home.

This process is not designed for co-located special schools where there is only one feasible proposer (such as on the site of an existing mainstream school with access issues that would preclude other proposers from operating it).

A model lease is available by emailing

Annex A: privacy notice

The Department for Education is the data controller for personal information processed as part of this special free schools wave.

We are responsible for ensuring that this information is processed in accordance with the requirements of data protection legislation. Any third parties processing personal information on behalf of the Department for Education will be acting as its data processors.

How we will use your information

We receive your personal data from the free school application form and are processing it in order to consider the case for a new special free school in the area.

The nature of your personal data we will be using

The categories of your personal data that we will be using for this project are:

  • names
  • positions and job titles
  • companies and organisations
  • contact details (work postal address, email address and phone number)

Why our use of your personal data is lawful

For the purpose of this project, the relevant conditions we are meeting are:

  • Article 6 (1)(e) of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
  • Article 9 (2)(g) GDPR

The processing is necessary for the department to carry out this work and use the information for the purpose of approving applications in accordance with the Academies Act 2010 and and Education Act 2011.


If your application is successful, we may publish the full application on GOV.UK. The following information will be redacted from the application and will not be visible to the public:

  • private addresses
  • private email addresses
  • private telephone numbers
  • commercially sensitive information
  • specific site locations

All other information, including the names of individuals and organisations mentioned in the application, may be published.

Who we will make your personal data available to

We sometimes need to make personal data available to other organisations. These might include partners contracted to process your personal data on our behalf or other organisations (with whom we need to share your personal data for specific purposes).

Where we need to share your personal data with others, we ensure that this data sharing complies with data protection legislation. For the purpose of this project we will share your personal data with education advisers and independent panel members as part of the decision-making process.

How long we will keep your personal data

We will only keep your personal data for as long as we need it for the purpose of this piece of work, after which point it will be securely destroyed. We estimate that we will keep your personal data for no longer than 10 years.

Under data protection legislation, and in compliance with the relevant data processing conditions, we can lawfully keep personal data processed purely for research and statistical purposes indefinitely.

Your data protection rights

Under certain circumstances, you have the right to:

  • ask us for access to information about you that we hold
  • have your personal data rectified, if it is inaccurate or incomplete
  • request the deletion or removal of personal data where there is no compelling reason for its continued processing
  • restrict our processing of your personal data (such as permitting its storage but no further processing)
  • object to direct marketing (including profiling) and processing for the purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics
  • not be subject to decisions based purely on automated processing where it produces a legal or similarly significant effect on you

You have the right to raise any concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) via their website at


If you have any questions about how your personal information will be used, contact us and enter ‘special free schools’ as the reference. For the Data Protection Officer (DPO), mark it for the attention of the ‘DPO’.

Annex B: funding arrangements

Any new schools need to be sustainable within the local authority’s or authorities’ high needs funding block of the dedicated schools grant.

High needs funding is provided to local authorities through the dedicated schools grant (DSG). Local authorities must spend that funding in line with the associated conditions of grant, and School and Early Years Finance (England) Regulations. High needs funding is also provided directly to some institutions by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

The high needs funding system supports provision for children and young people with SEND from their early years to age 25, enabling both local authorities and providers to meet their statutory duties under the Children and Families Act 2014.

Local authorities should use their high needs budget to provide the most appropriate support package and setting for an individual with SEND, taking account of parental and student choice. The Children and Families Act 2014 extended local authorities’ statutory duties relating to SEND across the 0 to 25 age range.

Before planning to open a special free school, it is important that local authorities understand the high needs funding arrangements, and that the majority of the free school’s ongoing revenue funding will come from the allocation of high needs funding to local authorities. These allocations include elements to reflect the changing population, and characteristics of that population, in each area.

Local authorities are responsible for making decisions about the supply of special and mainstream school places for pupils with high needs, taking account of demand from parents and schools as well as changing diagnosis of particular conditions and other factors. It is important that local authorities only submit a application for a new special free school if it fits in with their overall strategy for SEND provision, and is affordable within future high needs funding allocations.

We will provide a small revenue grant to cover the school’s start-up costs, as for central free school projects. Before opening, special free schools receive a project development grant of up to £220,000 (via the academy trust running the school). Where a trust is opening multiple schools in one year, a reduced project development grant rate is provided. Further information is available in the free school pre-opening guidance.

Once open, special free schools receive post opening grant for the first few years as they grow and build up to capacity. Further information is available in the latest revenue funding guidance for special free schools.

Revenue funding for special free schools

Once the special school is open, its funding comprises of:

  • per-place funding of £10,000 for all places for pre-16 and 16 to 19 pupils with EHC plans
  • top-up funding for each pupil placed in the free school, based on the pupil’s assessed needs and the cost of meeting those needs in the school

The top-up funding comes from the local authority commissioning the place, and is determined by the local authority in negotiation with the free school and is paid for as long as the pupil attends the school.

The number of funded places will be determined mainly by data collected from the local authority in whose area the school is to be located. Place funding will be calculated and paid to the school by ESFA, and this is deducted from that local authority’s high needs allocation. We ensure that the relevant local authorities are allocated funding to reflect the costs of the place funding in new and growing schools. More detail on this is provided in the high needs operational guide.

Top-up funding will be paid by the local authorities commissioning places at the free school. Local authorities have different ways of determining top-up funding levels. Many have developed local banding systems for their existing special schools, and might expect free schools to fit in with those.

Special free schools may also receive funding from local authorities and other schools or academies for commissioned services – for example to provide specialist teaching support for pupils in local mainstream schools.

More information on special free school revenue funding is available.

Annex c: site information

In section D we ask you to set out where the school would be located and whether a site has been identified or made available. We ask for:

  • the full address and full postcode, for example, DL1 5QE, not DL1
  • details of how you found the site
  • the tenure and ownership plus purchase and lease cost if known
  • if appropriate, confirmation that the relevant contact within the local authority supports the use of the site, including terms (for example, 125 year peppercorn lease)
  • confirmation of availability and accessibility
  • an outline of its current use (and adjacent uses if, for example, surrounded by industrial use)
  • your reasons for choosing it and its suitability
  • where appropriate, any size requirements that are necessary to deliver the provision
  • size of site (and if applicable building) and description of any constraints on usable areas such as excessive gradients, protected features or other natural constraints
  • comments on the condition of the building
  • details of any local authority contribution towards the capital costs of the project (for example, the provision of a site, developer contributions)
  • whether the site is part of a housing development, including key dates for the development
  • written confirmation that the relevant Lead Member for Corporate Property has seen the application and understands that the local authority will be required to meet all site abnormals costs and accept the retention of historical ground condition liability

Send any surveys, site plans, Ordinance Survey extracts showing contours and existing features, photos, location maps, any other technical work previously carried out on the site or other associated technical information as annexes along with your application to

Site size formulas

The ambulant formulae apply to any special school where there is little or no need for specialist physiotherapy, medical or personal care facilities (although there may be a small number of pupils using mobility aids). The non-ambulant formulae apply to a special school with a range of such facilities to meet the needs of pupils with physical disabilities or profound multiple learning difficulties.

For these calculations:

  • the pupil number for a predominately ambulant special school should be rounded up to a multiple of 8
  • the pupil number for a predominately non-ambulant special school should be rounded up to a multiple of 10

For special schools with only key stage 1 (KS1) pupils, use the formula for special schools without team games.

If the special school includes a mix of KS1 and other age groups, and less than 70% of the total pupils are non-ambulant (including KS1 pupils), use the special school with team games formula.

If the special school includes a mix of KS1 and other age groups, and more than 70% of the total pupils are non-ambulant (including KS1 pupils), use the special school without team games formula.

Type and age range of provisionMinimum recommended site area (m2)
Special school with team games11500 m2 + 42m2 per pupil place
Special school without team games8000m2 + 36m2 per pupil place

Building size formulas

For existing buildings only, 15% should be added to the building areas from the formulae.

Type and age range of provisionMinimum recommended building area (m2)
Primary special school for predominantly ambulant pupils700m2 + 14.5m2 per pupil place
Secondary or all age special school for predominantly ambulant pupils1050m2 + 14.5m2 per pupil place
Type and age range of provisionMinimum recommended building area (m2)
Primary special school for predominantly non-ambulant pupils(900m2 + 18.5m2 per pupil) + (((1050m2 + 20.5m2 per pupil) – (900m2 + 18.5m2 per pupil)) / 2)
Secondary or all-age special school for predominantly non-ambulant pupils(1250m2 + 18.5m2 per pupil) + (((1500m2 + 20.5m2 per pupil) – (1250m2 + 18.5m per pupil))/2)

Further information on recommended building and site areas and the application of these gross area formulae to different types of special school (including distinctions between ambulant and non-ambulant special schools) are given in Building Bulletin 104 area guidelines for SEND and alternative provision.

Possible site abnormals

As part of the requirement to achieve value for money, there is a requirement for applicant authorities to meet abnormal site development costs, including:

  • geochemical exceedances relative to guidelines for school use
  • geophysical conditions
  • flooding and alleviation measures
  • s278 costs
  • new road provision from the adopted highway to the site boundary
  • s106 costs
  • retaining structures required as a function of topography
  • ecological provision – reserves, species protection and relocation
  • listed building and heritage community costs
  • title consolidation and registration
  • utility provision
  • environmental conditions that may require specific mitigations such as acoustics or air pollution
  • mitigation measures for constrained sites (such as roof top playgrounds)
  • other site-specific issues


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