In what we expect to be a busy few days for the Free Schools programme, DfE today launched the process for new 16-19 Maths Free Schools.
In a change from the standard process for free schools and that which was followed for the previous Maths Schools, proposers are being asked to complete an initial expression of interest, following which they will engage with the Department before deciding whether to produce a business case. This will be done with support from the Department. A decision on the business case by the Secretary of State and from the currently available documentation, this appears to be a decision that will be kept centrally as opposed to being devolved to the Regional Schools Commissioner. It is expected that the iterative business cases process will take up to six months with decisions expected in 2018.
The quality bar for participating universities is set at a UCAS tariff of at least 350 points based on the requirement for full-time first degree entrants to mathematical science subjects. This immediately limits the field. Add to this the two open maths schools, quality criteria for school/college partners and a likely desire for regional representation, this is set to remain a pretty exclusive club.
Approved schools will receive an additional £350,000 p.a. funding and the scheme does its bit for the academy programme by requiring any maintained schools wishing to apply to form a MAT.
Those who have been involved with free schools for a while will recognise some similarities in the process with the first wave of the free school programme. In Wave 1 an initial EOI was followed by the requirement to submit a business case. Back in 2010/11 DfE kindly provided funding for the business case. This does not appear to be the case in this round. Section I due diligence forms may be requested as part of the process.
Project Development funding is available but not quantified with the ESFA picking up the tab for capital costs.
After the recent announcement of the specific AP and SEN free schools round for the Summer and the continuing release of Local Authority Competitions, it promises to be a busy time for those involved in new schools. My money is on a Thursday announcement for Wave 13.