Ministers will today take the first steps towards meeting a manifesto pledge to open 500 free schools over five years as potential sponsors are invited to put forward their plans.

Another round of applications is expected in the autumn. The Department for Education previously averaged three bidding rounds a year.

The New Schools Network, which offers advice on the process, said that the applications were likely to include one from a federation of primary schools in Gipsy Hill, south London, and from Kingsmead primary school in Enfield, north London — both of which want to open secondary schools.