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Stone King LLP’s Bath-based education specialists form an integral part of the firm’s ‘first class’ education practice. John Clarke leads the independent schools team, which handles a broad range issues, including safeguarding and related reputational damages. On the transactional front, it continues to be involved in several school mergers and acquisitions, also assisting UK schools with their overseas expansions to places such as China, the Middle East and Europe. Highlights included advising a number of independent schools on reviewing their corporate structures, representing a preparatory school in historical abuse matters, and acting for another preparatory school in an employment tribunal claim brought by a former employee for unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of disability. Specialist Helen Tucker joined from Ashfords LLP in 2016. The ‘approachableMichael Brotherton focuses on state funded matters and he recently acted for the Dean Trust, a multi-academy trust, in negotiating additional funding from the local authority. Senior associate Ciara Campfield assisted with the merger of Richard Taunton Six Form College and St Vincent College into a multi-academy trust. Recently promoted partner Jean Boyle is praised for her ‘responsiveness and clear in-depth knowledge of employment and pension law’.

An established name in the education sector, VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards) is singled out for its ‘good response times’, ‘extremely good level of business acumen and knowledge’, and ‘pragmatic, commercial as well as targeted advice’. As part of its very broad portfolio of clients, it has ‘a huge and very well respected higher and further education practice’ while its niche specialisms include procurement and state aid, charity law and governance, safeguarding and immigration. Barney Northover heads the independent schools group, Yvonne Spencer acts for academies and maintained schools while Bettina Rigg is the key contact for higher education institutions. Education employment specialist Simon Bevan is ‘a relaxed and very commercial presence’ who is particularly well respected for his safeguarding work. Tabitha Cave handles risk and incident management issues, disputes and regulatory matters, with notable experience in advising independent schools on historical abuse issues. Michelle Bendall, Naseem Nabi, Ben Holt and Alice Reeve are all ‘well respected practitioners’. A cross-disciplinary team, led by Emma-Jane Dalley and Con Alexander, assisted St Christopher’s School in selling its business and property assets to commercial operator The Aurora Group; this included assisting with the application to the Charity Commission for the disposal of the property. Other highlights included advising the Cathedral Schools Trust on the constitutional and governance aspects of its conversion to a multi academy trust and acting for Bath Spa University on its acquisition of a multimillion-pound student accommodation project.

Browne Jacobson LLP’s team is led by Exeter-based Julia Green who has ‘clear understanding of the education sector and a passion to deliver an outstanding service’. Her expertise in the academy conversion field spans standalone conversions and conversions using the creation of new academy groups through multi-academy trust or alternative structures. In one of many multi-academy trust conversion mandates, the practice successfully assisted Wessex learning Trust with the conversion from single academy to a multi-academy trust. It also acts for a variety of schools in governance and health and safety-related issues. Other names to note include Victoria Hatton, who advises on academy and trust school conversions and also handles issues linked to admissions, pupil discipline, parent complaints and discrimination claims; Daniella Glynn, who advises schools and academies on HR management issues; and employment law specialist Rachel Billen. Clients include Southerly Point Co-operative Trust, Plymouth CAST, Ambitions Academies Trust and Lighthouse Schools Partnership.

Harrison Clark Rickerbys has ‘extensive knowledge of the education sector’, including expertise in property-related matters, academy conversions, safeguarding issues and employment work. Kristine Scott and recently promoted partner Emilie Darwin have ‘significant personal knowledge of the sector, both in terms of sector wide issues and also role specific issues’. In 2016, the group advised an educational association on the termination of a senior employer and represented a school in a parental complaint relating to peer-on-peer abuse. It is also representing a school in a mediation between it, a local authority and parents related to a pupil’s education, health and care (EHC) plan and is assisting a college on the sizeable purchase of listed buildings. Commercial practitioner Philip Heath and construction specialist Lucinda Baker advised University of Gloucestershire on a £35m multi-phase redevelopment project. Senior associate Esther Maxwell has particular experience in advising on academy conversions and employment matters. Associate Kate Hickey joined from Willans LLP in September 2016.

Irwin Mitchell advises pupils, parents, schools and colleges on a range of education law issues including special educational needs, disability discrimination, governance, funding and judicial reviews. Recently promoted partner Polly Sweeney heads the national education team, and has ‘huge experience in cases involving the rights of children and young people with disabilities’; she successfully represented an independent school in a disability discrimination claim brought by the parent of a disabled child following his exclusion, and acted on behalf of a maintained school in a successful appeal to Ofsted against a local authority’s decision to issue a warning notice in relation to use of capital surplus. Other recent highlights include acting for a young person in a proposed judicial review against the local authority and the Department of Education in relation to the lawfulness of the school transport policy and associated statutory guidance.

Michelmores LLP combines a level of service that is ‘never less than excellent’ with ‘superb’ knowledge, giving it the capacity to ‘meet education sector client’s legal needs across the range of work’. Within the team, which includes ‘specialists in human resources and property matters’, practice head Antony Power and Laura Partridge are ‘willing to listen to clients’ needs and ensure that they have get good value for money as well as the best advice possible’; barrister Russell Holland provides ‘excellent advice, swiftly and succinctly enabling some tricky situations to be handled well’; and Charlotte Antoniou is singled out for her ‘outstanding client service, work ethic and commitment to the sector and its needs’. It advises a large number of multi-academy trusts and schools on establishing company and related governance structures, property and commercial transfer agreements, funding issues, restructurings and establishing new schools. It also acts for higher and further education institutions on student residence transactions and IP commercialisation. Recent highlights include assisting Link Academy Trust with establishing its multi-academy trust status, advising Truro and Penwith College on the development of a new campus and representing a multi-academy trust in an ongoing Education Funding Agency (EFA) investigation in relation to governance, procurement, conflict of interest and employment issues. Plymouth University, St James School, Woodland Academy Trust and Aberystwyth University are also clients.

Bevan Brittan LLP leverages its strong local government practice to act for local authorities on matters relating to their school PFI projects and advise them on the impact of schools converting to academy status. The practice also continues to handle major capital funded projects for schools, academies and university technical colleges. Team head Andrew Tobin is assisting the EFA on the delivery of over 120 new schools, academies and free schools under the priority school building programme, and also recently acted for Bristol City Council on the delivery of its primary schools building, expansion and refurbishment programme.

Burges Salmon LLP displays ‘consummate knowledge and pragmatism’, delivering ‘clear value for money advice in a timely manner’. Matthew Ramus heads the team, which includes Roger Bull and senior associate Huw Cooke, both of whom are ‘clear and effective communicators’ who give ‘effective, practical and pragmatic employment advice that is solutions-focused’. Bull recently advised a higher education institute on its response to a complex grievance appeal relating to allegations of discrimination. The team also handled a number of student accommodation projects, PPPs, joint ventures and academic restructuring programmes. It has particular experience in advising higher education institutions on their PPP redevelopment projects.

Foot Anstey regularly advises on collaborations between further education colleges and private business, the financing of student accommodation, and international investment by offshore funds. Leveraging his ‘outstanding’ breadth of knowledge, property specialist and education group head Duncan Tringham is ‘an outstanding source of guidance and advice’. He assisted City College Plymouth with its £12.8m development of a new purpose-built educational facility and acted for Cornwall College on a joint venture with the Eden Project which is funded by education charity Edge Innovation and Development Fund. Exeter College, Heart of the Southwest LEP, University of West of England and Unite Students are also clients. Employment specialist Karen Bates advised on the employment and pensions aspects of a large scale college merger, which included handling TUPE matters and consultations with trade unions. James Evans left for Tozers Solicitors LLP in January 2017 and senior associate Anna Roderick also departed.

Porter Dodson LLP advises schools in relation to academy conversions, employment law, challenging unfair Ofsted reports, corporate governance matters and recovering school fees. Taunton-based Lesley Gaskell heads the team and focuses on advising on the property aspects of academy conversions.

At Steele Raymond LLP, John Andrews advises on all aspects of education in the maintained and independent sectors, with particular expertise in handling disputes relating to a wide range of issues including special educational needs and student discipline. The team recently represented the parents of a child in an expulsion related matter and advised a number of schools on property-related mandates.

Wilsons advises head teachers, governors, bursars and HR professionals on a wide range of issues, acting across the independent and maintained education sectors. As well as advising on education law, the practice also advises on charity, employment and property law. Employment specialist Stephen Oxley heads the team.

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Legal Developments in South West for Education

  • TRANSFER OF UNDERTAKINGS (PROTECTION OF EMPLOYMENT) AND AGE DISCRIMINATION

    I have been asked to cover the topic of Employment law within my half an hour speaking slot today. I have narrowed my subject down to Transfer of Undertakings and Discrimination, with the focus on providing an update on the recent spate of cases on service provision change and on the important developments in the law of age discrimination. Needless to say, in my presentation I shall not be able to cover the level of detail which is contained in my written paper, which I will leave you to read.
    - 11KBW

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