New Schools Network

New Schools Network (NSN) is a United Kingdom-registered charity which aims to support groups setting up free schools within the English state education sector.[1]

New Schools Network
FounderRachel Wolf
TypeEducation Charity
Unity Howard


New Schools Network founder Wolf in 2012

The group was set up in 2009 by Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, then Shadow Secretary of State at the Department for Education.[2] Wolf started the group after visiting New York City whilst working for Gove and observing the city's charter schools as well as groups such as the Knowledge Is Power Program and the New York City Charter School Center, who advise new schools in the city.[3]

By February 2010 around three hundred free school applicant groups had registered an interest with the network.[1] In June 2010 the free school programme became part of government policy and in September 2011 the first 24 free schools opened to pupils.[4] The network worked with 22 of these schools,[1] including the journalist Toby Young in his project to set up the new West London Free School in Hammersmith.[5] Another 79 groups have outline permission to open schools in September 2012,[6] the network working with 61 of these.[7]

The charity supports free school applicants through its Development Programme and helps groups by running training events providing advice and through its publications. It employs a number of advisers and education specialists. In May 2010, the Department for Education awarded the group £500,000 to advise on behalf of the department groups setting up new schools.[8]

In November 2011, following a competitive bidding process, the Department for Education approved grant funding of a maximum of £400,000 for 2011–2012 and £650,000 in 2012-2013[9] along with proposals to spend an extra £600m on building 100 new free schools in England over the next three years.[10]

In 2013, then-current Chief Operating Officer Natalie Evans assumed the role of Director of NSN on the departure of Rachel Wolf. She was succeeded by Nick Timothy in July 2015, who was subsequently replaced by Toby Young in January 2017.[11][12][13] Young resigned in March 2018,[14] following criticism in the media over his appointment to the board of Office for Students and controversial comments he had made in the past.


In September 2010, MP Lisa Nandy lodged a formal complaint with the Charity Commission over concerns about the impartiality of the New Schools Network.[15] Rachel Wolf responded that the complaints were politically motivated; saying "the Charity Commission was asked to look into us by activists who are ideologically opposed to free schools and who dislike what we do”.[16] Schools Minister Nick Gibb responded to questions over the tendering of the contract saying "The formal grant agreement between the Department and NSN has not yet been finalised but it will include appropriate clauses on conflicts of interest and clear reporting requirements. There was no contract let for advice to potential free school providers and therefore there were no tenders from other companies".[17] The Charity Commission ruled in November 2010 that the charity had not acted inappropriately and consequently closed the investigation, although it did write to its trustees reminding them of their responsibility to remain politically impartial.[18]

Free Schools Open in 2011

In September 2011 a total of 24 free schools opened in England.[19]

See also


  1. "New Schools Network: About Us". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  2. Wilce, Hilary (12 November 2009). "Time for change: How a young woman plans to shake up the school system". The Independent. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  3. Wilby, Peter (16 March 2010). "Free radical". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
  4. "Press Release: NSN welcomes Free School announcements (10 October 2011)". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  5. Griffiths, Sian. "Me and my 350 schools (21st Feb 2010)". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  6. "Press Release: 79 new schools now approved to open from 2012 onwards (10 October 2012)". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  7. "New Schools Network: Our History". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  8. ""First group of 24 free schools prepares to open". EducationInvestor (30 August 2011)". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  9. "New Schools Network awarded grant to support Free Schools". The Department For Education. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  10. "Free schools in England set for extra £600m". BBC News.
  11. "Former Home Office Adviser to be Director of New Schools Network". NSN. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  12. McInerney, Laura (22 March 2016). "Nick Timothy, director, New Schools Network". Schools Week. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  13. Adams, Richard (29 October 2016). "Toby Young to take over as head of New Schools Network". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  14. Khan, Shehab (23 March 2018). "Toby Young quits as head of New Schools Network charity after sexism controversy". The Independent. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  15. Higgs, Lauren (28 September 2010). "Free schools charity faces probe over impartiality". Children & Young People Now. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  16. Vaughan, R (5 May 2011). "Watchdog Warning: Promote free schools but remain independent". TES Connect.
  17. "Hansard". November 1, 2010.
  18. R. Vaughan, "Watchdog warning: promote free schools but remain independent", TESConnect (26 November 2010) (Accessed 15 May 2011)
  19. "Free Schools that opened in 2011".