Clarification from the Dept of Education:
OK, so I get that: they're the same thing except 'free schools' are new and Academies are the option available to existing state schools. but, ah-ha, wait, there's more:
Free Schools will have the same legal requirements as academies. Free Schools are normally brand-new schools set up by charities, universities, business, community or faith groups, teachers and groups of parents where there is parental demand. Academies are usually a change to an existing maintained school.
Legally the structure is the same, and they are expected to meet the same requirements as other academies. Free Schools will also benefit from the same freedoms and flexibilities as academies....
Can an existing independent school become a Free School?
Yes. Independent schools can apply to become a Free School and become state-funded independent schools. These schools will need to meet the entry criteria – including an agreement that their admissions policy is in line with the Admissions Code, demonstrate they have a good record of success as an education provider and financial viability. Independent schools applying to become Free Schools will not be able to retain any existing academic selection admission arrangements.
OK, I get that as well: it's a way of channeling tax payers money into the private sector. But you might object that few independent schools would take this option as they wouldn't be allowed to charge top-up fees. Well, not necessarily. The cornerstone of the policy is quite simple:
How will applicants be expected to demonstrate that they are suitable education providers?Hey-ho: here's the rub. Basically parents don't get to set up schools, they get to choose 'third party groups with educational experience' to do so on their behalf. But not councils - who might otherwise be thought to be precisely the most obvious 'third party groups' with such experience. No, the point is to debar them and promote other providers. Which can only mean either the private sector - sometimes thinly disguised as 'charitable trusts' a la Eton, Harrow and so on - or ultimately Church backed front organisations.
... Proposers will not have to be groups who already provide education services; they can be new providers but we will expect them to be able to demonstrate a capability to deliver their plans. This might mean partnering new providers with a third-party group with education experience or having plans in place to subcontract parts of the running and management of the school to other suitable organisations. ( my emphasis)