New Schools Network loses DfE free schools support contract

Premier Advisory Group will take over DfE-funded free school application support from the NSN after 12 years

Premier Advisory Group will take over DfE-funded free school application support from the NSN after 12 years

29 Mar 2022, 12:00

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The New Schools Network has lost its role as the government’s flagship support provider for new free schools, after holding the contract for 12 years.

The charity, founded by Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to ex-education secretary Michael Gove, has been closely linked with the Conservative government and its free school initiative for more than a decade.

The NSN had repeatedly won the main DfE free schools support contract since 2010, and the loss of the deal raises questions about its future. Its website says it will continue to focus on its vision of giving children “an equal chance to succeed”.

Premier Advisory Group, an education consultancy firm, confirmed today it will become “sole supplier of free school application support” from April 1.

The deal is worth £1.485 million over up to three years, according to government documents, with PAG stating it would receive around £500,000 a year. It is a two-year deal with provisions for another year’s extension.

The DfE said the role involves drumming up interest in new mainstream, AP and special free schools, and supporting groups with applications. It also includes running events on behalf of the department.

Charlotte Pearce Cornish

Charlotte Pearce Cornish, director at PAG, said she felt like she had “come full circle” as she started her career with New Schools Network in the early 2010s.

She has also worked on many free school projects in her current role, including supporting them through the pre-opening phase.

Pearce Cornish said there was still “a lot of unfinished business” on free schools, with alternative provision a “particular passion” for her.

The SEND review published today reiterated a past commitment to deliver more alternative provision and special free schools beyond the 60 in the pipeline currently.

PAG managing director Tom Legge said they were “delighted” to win the contract, and praised NSN’s “excellent work”.

The contract had formed much of the work of the NSN, and provided a significant revenue stream.

But it also runs the academy ambassadors programme, funded by the DfE, which helps match academy trusts with business people to become board members.

The NSN said in a statement the DfE had “prioritised support for new free school generation and support for applicants”, and would no longer be funding support for open and approved free schools.

Such aid for existing free schools is not referenced in contract documents, whereas previously NSN had provided this under the deal.

David Ross, chair of the New Schools Network, said free schools were “proving time and again their popularity with parents”.

“The board of trustees would like to thank everyone who has supported NSN’s drive for more free schools, including NSN’s staff body, and wish all free schools the very best for the future.”

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