Education secretary Nicky Morgan has called free schools the 'modern engines of social justice' as she affirmed the government's pledge to expand their provision.
The latest application window for teachers, parents and education experts hoping to open a new school opened last week.
During this parliament, the government intends to open 500 new free schools, creating 270,000 more places for pupils.
So far, 254 new schools have been opened, providing places for 125,000 youngsters. These have mainly been established in areas that are experiencing a shortage of places, or where the parents are not happy with the current provision.
Half of the existing quota of free schools are located in the most deprived communities in the country and are more likely to be rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted than other institutions.
As a result, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are having their prospects improved, the government says, with 17 per cent of all free schools dedicated to special needs or alternative provision.
In addition, evidence suggests that the presence of free schools can help to raise standards in education in other institutions.
More than two-thirds of free school heads say they are having a positive impact on schools in their local area. This is supported by research from the Policy Exchange thinktank, which showed that the opening of a free school is associated with improvements in local poorly-performing schools.
Ms Morgan said: "Free schools are at the heart of the government's commitment to deliver real social justice by ensuring all pupils have access to a world-class education. This is at the core of our commitment to govern as one nation - creating a country where everyone, regardless of their background, can achieve their high aspirations."
Posted by Alan Douglas