Educational systems around the world are experimenting with new forms of schooling. One example is the emergence of independent state-funded schools (ISFSs). In the USA these have taken the form of Charter Schools. In Sweden chains of Free Schools have been established and in England Academies and most recently Free Schools have been placed at the centre of government reforms. This article offers clarity of definition relating to ISFSs and chains of ISFSs and charts some of the features of these recent developments, highlighting a shift in emphasis of improvement efforts from individual schools to collaborative chains and federations. In conclusion this article argues that ISFSs are supporting a shift from Individualised school improvement to a collaborative form of Federal improvement, but within the current arrangements they are unlikely to be able to support broader systemic improvement efforts unless attention is paid to both structural and cultural change. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.