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Browne Jacobson LLP provides ‘a responsive and knowledgeable service with a large enough team to cover all key issues’. Led by the ‘thorough and supportive’ Nick MacKenzie, who acts for education clients in corporate and governance matters, the team has particular experience in academy conversions; it was recently appointed by New College Pontefract and Gipsy Hill Federation to oversee their conversions, and acted for Compass Group on the creation of a multi-academy trust. Richard Freeth, who leads the team’s pastoral advisory practice and handles issues arising from expulsions, admissions, SEND and disability claims, recently acted for a multi-academy trust in a threatened judicial review and complaint on the grounds of a fixed-term exclusion. Other highlights included acting for schools in national collaboration projects and providing admissions support for clients such as Carterton Community College and Lawrence Sheriff School. Associate Lydia Michaelson-Yeates and solicitor Hayley O’Sullivan are also recommended.

Mills & Reeve LLP’s education team is headed by Nick Abbott, who ensures clients ‘feel entirely supported by the firm’. He is assisted by Richard Sykes, who splits his time between Birmingham and Manchester offices and is ‘always available, responds promptly and delivers his service in a cost-effective way’; and real estate specialists Christian Bull and senior associate Robbie Turner, who attract praise for their ‘proactive yet pragmatic approach’ and ‘commercially sound advice’. The firm’s client roster consists of higher education institutions such as Birmingham City University, who engaged the group to oversee the relocation of the Birmingham Conservatoire to a new facility and the negotiation of a financial compensation agreement with the city council with regards to the development of Paradise Circus and its impact on the Conservatoire’s current location. Sykes provided urgent services to the Welsh exam board in connection with a threatened injunction by a visually impaired candidate alleging the client failed to make the required adjustments to their examination papers. Other notable clients include Coventry University, Aston University and the Warwickshire College Group, which is a new win for the team.

Nicola Hart leads Pinsent Masons LLP’s universities and higher education department and advises the University of London on governance and constitutional issues. Clients are ‘have highly impressed by the members of the team’, singling out Gayle Ditchburn, for her ‘clarity when drafting contracts and knowledge of the higher education sector’; and university charity law expert Janet Hoskin. Transactional highlights included Ed Sunderland’s advice to UCL on its £280m loan with the EIB to develop its Bloomsbury and UCL East campuses; on the immigration side, legal director Helen Corden assisted Keele University, Royal Holloway and Nottingham Trent University with regards to the potential impact of Brexit alongside associate Shuabe Shabudin. On the contentious front, Ditchburn is defending the University of Lincoln in a multimillion-pound claim brought by a government department in connection with the contested use of assets on one of its campuses. The team also acted for a higher education authority on a proposed restructuring, including the spin-out of certain commercial activities into a trading subsidiary. Senior associate Chris Thomas and Amy Flavell are also key contacts.

Shakespeare Martineau LLP’s education practice consists of ‘standout legal practitioner’ and team head Smita Jamdar, legal director Geraldine Swanton (who is a ‘go-to for thorny data protection, freedom of information and student discrimination matters’), and ‘technically strong, very responsive, pragmatic and personable’ legal director Joanna Forbes. Jamdar is advising two higher education bodies on lobbying for changes to the Higher Education and Research Bill, and is guiding a number of institutions through the options available as part of the area reviews carried out by the Further Education Commissioner. Legal director and litigation specialist Catherine Yule successfully defended Loughborough University with regards to a claim filed by a former student alleging a breach of privacy when the university relayed the claimant’s personal information to the police during investigations of sexual assault on campus. She also led the work for the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in connection with its application for injunctive relief and damages in the Competition Appeal Tribunal, related to the client’s refusal to accredit a postgraduate degree developed by a private provider. Senior associate Uddalak Datta and legal director Tom Long are also recommended.

Bevan Brittan LLP advises on capital-funded projects for education-sector clients including schools, academies, and university technical colleges, and assists local authorities with the impact of academy conversions and the various processes of turning education services into a trading service in order to generate revenue. Andrew Tobin heads the education team and acted for the Education Funding Agency on the delivery of over 120 schools, academies and free schools under the government’s Priority School Building programme. In other highlights, the team continues to assist Barnsley Local Education Partnership with all commercial, corporate, TUPE, employment and property aspects of on its school estate in Barnsley, and was instructed to oversee all legal aspects of several school expansion projects, including for Bristol City Council as part of the delivery of its Building Schools for the Future programme. David Hutton specialises in project finance, academy conversions and education-led rejuvenation projects. Other notable clients include Wates Construction, the London boroughs of Hackney and Hounslow, and the Newham Local Education Partnership.

Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP has a national and international education practice, which includes Birmingham-based principal associates Mark Taylor and Morag Roddick. They assisted the Nottingham-based Nicola Bennison on her work for New College Stamford with regards to its entry into a tripartite joint venture. In another key mandate Taylor provided strategic advice to Sandwell College regarding area-based reviews. Other notable clients include Aberystwyth University, Loughborough University, University College Birmingham and De Montfort University.

VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards) has a strong specialism in the education sector nationally, with key contacts in the Birmingham office including employment partner Jane Byford, Kathy Halliday, and consultant Frances Anderson, who has significant experience advising on research contracts for universities and industrial clients, including the management of intellectual property. On the real estate side, commercial property partner Clive Read acted for a university on the sale of a redundant site to a developer, and assisted a college with regards to a property sale complicated by issues of potential historic contamination. On the employment front, Byford handled the departure of a university’s HR director on the grounds of poor performance, and defended another university in a tribunal claim brought by its former in-house counsel for unfair dismissal, sex and age discrimination. Halliday was instructed to oversee a safeguarding matter involving allegations of sexual assault and a police investigation, and the establishment of an academy trust. Other key contacts include debt recovery expert Dee Kundi, who recently joined the firm, senior associate and development and commercial property specialist Julie Newell, and associates Jaime Parkes and Lorna Scully.

Irwin Mitchell is ‘excellent for education matters that raise complex issues of public law’. Associate Surinder Dhillon is the key figure in the Birmingham office, and handles contentious and non-contentious, including the recent representation of a head teacher and newly-appointed trust board of an academy with regards to an investigation launched after the arrest of the former head teacher following allegations of historic sexual abuse. In other highlights, the team successfully defended a racial discrimination claim filed against five individuals affiliated with an academy, including the head teacher and the chair of the trust board, by an ex-employee. Other clients include Shrewsbury College, Perry Beeches Academy Trust and Hamstead Hall Academy Trust.

Lanyon Bowdler provides ‘excellent value for money’ and handles a range of education issues, including day-to-day employment, real estate, planning and dispute resolution advice, as well as acting on academy conversions and governance issues. The ‘extremely helpful, knowledgeable and friendly’ William Morse, who is based in the Hereford office, leads the practice with Shrewsbury-based planning and asset management expert David Brammer. Consultant Emma Swann recently joined the team. Highlights included advising three schools on the formation of a multi-academy trust, advising schools on a range of employment issues – in which paralegal Kayleigh Hunter played a key supportive role – and acting for a new client with regards to data protection issues. Associate Ruth James left to join Müller Dairies, and associate Fabienne McAllister joined from Emms Gilmore Liberson, adding expertise in employment law. Notable clients include The Priory School, Radbrook Primary School and Derwen College.

Shoosmiths LLP is ‘excellent for complex educational needs cases’ and provides a ‘prompt, professional service with good knowledge of law pertaining to home education and special educational needs’. Richard Follis leads the team, which attracts praise for its ‘ability to challenge assertively but politely’ and which includes senior associate Gurvinder Kaur, who is ‘excellent with clients in difficult circumstances’; Kaur has strong experience in representing children with acquired brain injuries and cerebral palsy. The team also acted for a child whose school place had been revoked by her local authority on the basis that the family was deemed to have obtained the place fraudulently.

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