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'Free schools' applications out

Parents in England can now begin applying to set up their own "free schools".

The Department for Education (DfE) is publishing a proposal form for groups to fill out, setting out their reasons, the aims and objectives of the school, an outline of a curriculum, evidence of demand from parents and possible locations.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said it was the next step in the Government's education reforms.

Plans for "free schools" were a key plank of the Conservative election manifesto, and they held on to them in the coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The move will see parents, teachers and charities given state funding to set up and operate schools, similar to the Swedish model, which would be taxpayer-funded and non-fee-paying but independent from state control.

The DfE said this would be "in response to parental demand".

The Tories argue the system will give parents more choice, narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor youngsters and drive up standards across the system because of the element of competition it will create.

Groups who make successful bids will have to complete a business plan setting out the school's financial viability at a later date, the DfE said.

They will also have to go through suitability and vetting tests, including criminal records checks.

The first "free schools" are expected to open in September next year.

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