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  1. Education: schools
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Bates Wells Braithwaite’s ‘leading’ team utilises its ‘excellent sector and policy knowledge’ to provide ‘clear and insightful support on legal points within the broader context’. The group assists schools, multi-academy trusts, academy sponsors and public bodies with a wide range of matters such as governance, structuring and charitable law. ‘Extremely knowledgeable, technically astute and pragmatic’ practice head Mary Groom provides ‘authoritative and clear advice in an effective manner’. Groom is leading a team, which also includes senior associate Caraline Johnson, advising Mulberry School for Girls on setting up a multi-academy trust, and is assisting Olive Academies with its development and expansion, including recently managing the transfer of two pupil referral units into the trust. The team provides ongoing legal advice to Greenwich Free School and is handling governance and regulatory matters for Langley Park Academies. It is also advising Catch22 Multi Academies Trust on issues ranging from governance to employment and post-conversion matters. Beech Lodge School was among new client wins. Paul Jennings is another name to note.

Browne Jacobson LLP’s group assists schools and academies with a wide range of contentious and non-contentious matters, including academic appeals, investigations, governance and safeguarding issues. Dai Durbridge and Richard Freeth have a solid track record acting for schools in admission appeals and procedures; the duo designed and implemented amendments to admission arrangements for Brooke Weston Trust, defended the King’s School against a judicial review claim arising from a refusal to admit a pupil and handled a review of a bursary scheme for the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe. Freeth and practice head Mark Blois advised Sharnbrook School on allegations of fraud filed against the head teacher of two middle schools, assisted with investigations of several parental complaints for Falinge Park High School and responded to a threat of judicial review and a complaint pertaining to a fixed-term exclusion for Arden Multi-Academy Trust. Other highlights included handling disability discrimination claims, and designing strategic governance advice, as well as advising on property and employment-related work. Adrian Shardlow and Nick Mackenzie handled multiple academy conversions, reorganisations and sponsorship projects, including advising New College Pontefract on academisation and assisting Priestley Academy Trust with the conversion of six primary schools in Bradford.

Farrer & Co’s ‘market-leading’ department is ‘not only extremely professional but also easy to work with’, ‘seeing all angles’ and providing ‘well-considered and meticulously presented advice honed to the clients’ needs’. It is renowned for its work with independent schools and advises on complex projects, frequently with an international angle. The group’s safeguarding team is ‘always ahead of the game and responsive to the regulatory changes’. Practice head Sam Macdonald, who is ‘a go-to person for independent education legal advice’ combines ‘widespread knowledge with a depth of experience’ to provide ‘always helpful and to the point’ advice. Macdonald assisted Highgate School with its joint sponsorship with Tottenham Hotspur FC of a new sixth form academy in Tottenham and, alongside commercial specialist Paul Jones, Jonathan Eley and David Smellie, advised several independent schools on updating parent contracts following relevant changes in consumer law. Jones is leading a team assisting Alpha Plus Group with parental complaints, subject data requests, employment matters and IT projects. Other highlights included acting for the Methodist Independent Schools Trust on a reorganisation involving incorporating nine charitable schools into a single charitable company, and advising Manchester Grammar School on safeguarding, child protection, pupil discipline and employment matters.

Stone King LLP’s team advises some of the largest multi-academy trusts, as well as numerous state and independent schools nationwide on matters ranging from governance to academy conversions and property-related work. High-profile judicial reviews are another area of specialism. Lee Coley was part of a team that assisted Learn Academies Trust and the Diocese of Leicester with a multi-academy trust conversion, which involved the simultaneous academy transfer and conversion of five single academies and two schools maintained by the Church of England. Practice head Roger Inman and Laura Berman defended Avonbourne International Business and Enterprise Academy Trust against a claim for judicial review pertaining to the school’s decision to prevent a prospective pupil from entering the sixth form in light of safeguarding considerations. Graham Shaw and Ciara Campfield advised Richard Taunton Sixth Form College and St Vincent College on the merger into a multi-academy trust, and Stephen Ravenscroft handled the transfer of existing academies and a City Technology College into the original sponsor organisation and subsequent conversion into a multi-academy trust for Emmanuel Schools Foundation. Graham Burns is also recommended. Helen Tucker joined from Ashfords LLP.

VWV (Veale Wasbrough Vizards)’s team has ‘a comprehensive knowledge of employment and trust matters in an educational context’ and provides full-service assistance to independent and state-funded schools, sector organisations and charities. Head of independent schools Simon Bevan, who is ‘a reliable and practical adviser on complex employment matters’, represented the Harpur Trust in employment tribunal proceedings pertaining to the calculation of holiday pay for term-time only staff, which concerned allegations of less favourable treatment of part-time employees. Emma-Jane Dalley led a team advising Ashdell Schools Trust on its merger with the Girls’ Day School Trust. Other work for the group included assisting Rugby School with launching a new school in Thailand and advising a school on the reorganisation of its facilities. Matthew Burgess advised the Independent Schools Council on the government consultation on education reform, with a particular focus on the proposals affecting the independent sector. Barney Northover, ‘who has an excellent overall view of the charity and education sectors as well as a sound understanding of governance and trust law’, and academies and maintained schools expert Yvonne Spencer jointly head the practice. John Deakin is ‘a knowledgeable and reassuring lawyer with great experience in education and parent contracts’. Naseem Nabi specialises in the employment aspects of corporate transactions and restructurings. Tabitha Cave and Chloe Brunton are also recommended.

Barlow Robbins LLP’s ‘truly expert’ team has ‘a wide range of skills, good deal of experience and a very open attitude’ and ‘really looks after its clients’ interests’, and is a key name in the independent education sector. Practice head Joanna Lada-Walicki has ‘exceptional understanding of the sector and its challenges’ and ‘ensures that any legal action protects the client’s reputation and best interests’. The ‘outstanding’ Ben Collingwood, who is ‘attentive, trustworthy and prompt’, has ‘a second-to-none knowledge of the sector and the challenges faced by schools; his advice is well-balanced, well-researched and practical’. The ‘first-classGordon Reidprovides tailored support and sees all angles’. The group is defending Staines Preparatory School against discrimination, harassment and victimisation claims brought by a former employee, who was dismissed by reasons of misconduct, and defended Radius Special Education Trust against various claims, including allegations of wrongful dismissal. Rydes Hill Preparatory School, Gordon’s School and Claremont Fan Court School are also clients.

Harrison Clark Rickerbys’s practice assists independent schools, academies and sector associations with matters ranging from academy conversions and the formation of multi-academy trusts to contentious work arising from safeguarding issues, parental complaints and employment disputes. Practice head Kristine Scott is leading ongoing advice to Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, which includes drafting model employment agreements for school staff and management and designing a staff handbook. The group also acted for a school following allegations of gross misconduct made against a senior staff member, advised on property portfolio management issues and handled contentious matters concerning employment, reasonable adjustment and disability discrimination. Other clients include the Warriner Multi Academy Trust and Mercian Education Trust.

Winckworth Sherwood LLP’s team acts for schools, sector associations and academies on contentious and non-contentious matters, including investigations, performance reviews and governance advice. Practice head Andrea Squires and James Lynas are representing Green Spring Education Trust in an investigation into exam malpractice, and subsequent disciplinary investigations. The group is assisting the Archdiocese of Birmingham with the conversion of its remaining maintained schools and the merger and expansion of the existing catholic academy trust. It is also handling matters including radicalisation, governance, admissions and funding for the Association of Muslim Schools UK, and is advising the Archdiocese of Liverpool on corporate governance, policy and charity law.

Bircham Dyson Bell’s ‘knowledgeable, professional and commercially competitive’ group advises schools on charitable law matters and governance issues as well as handling reputation management work. It also advises on commercial, corporate, employment and property work largely arising from restructuring projects. Practice head Penny Chapman is advising the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association on the model governance policies for schools and assisted The Mount School, York with a constitutional review and the establishment of a new charity for funding purposes. Other highlights included acting for Pyrgo Priory Primary School in response to the local authority’s proposals for the extension of the Harold Hill Learning Village; advised Lady Eleanor Holles School, which is currently the sole trustee of the Cripplegate Foundation, on permanent endowment issues; and advising Eltham College on debt management matters. ‘Pragmatic’ employment specialist Nick Le Riche combines ‘impressive technical knowledge’ with ‘a very commercial approach’.

Bond Dickinson LLP’s team acts for independent schools, multi-academy trusts, local authorities, governing bodies and academy sponsors. The group handles matters ranging from academy conversions to project implementation, procurement and restructuring. Kevin Robertson is advising the Education Funding Agency on the free schools programme, including assistance with procurement, construction and tax matters, and handling the Agency’s capital projects as part of the priority schools building programme. The group is also assisting several governing bodies, such as the Castle Trust, Waterton Academy Trust and Carmel Education Trust, with academy conversions and recently advised Grindon Hall Christian School and Academy 360 on changing their respective sponsors. Emma Moody led a team advising Navigate Academies Trust on the discontinuance of the trust and transfer of schools to two newly established and one existing multi-academy trust. Moody also assisted Polam Hall School with its conversion into a free school and the subsequent closure of Polam Hall Darlington.

Charles Russell Speechlys LLP’s team ‘provides a gold standard of service’ and has core strengths in property transactions, land obligations under charity law and pensions liabilities, and is also noted for its expertise in commercial transactions and mergers. Lynn Povey is advising Eton College on the management of its property portfolio and is assisting the Merchant Taylors’ School following its merger with Northwood Preparatory School. The group advised the Primary First Trust with the transfer of the Wayfield Primary School into the multi-academy trust following the latter’s Ofsted inspection. Other clients include Charterhouse School and Allied Schools Agency. Mike Scott heads the practice. Senior associate Claire Timmings has ‘a very clear understanding of the property issues in the academy conversion process’ and provides ‘clear, practical and solution-oriented advice’.

Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP’s team counts academies, free schools, studio schools, multi-academy trusts, independent schools and local authorities among its clients. It is adept at handling matters including academy conversions, closures, reorganisations and mergers, as well as providing projects and employment advice. Governance and regulatory support is another core strength; the group advises on relationships between local government and education providers and represents clients in judicial review proceedings. Other contentious work includes acting for institutions in disputes with management boards and complex discrimination claims. Ben Wood is assisting Judicium Consulting with academy conversions, including advising on incorporations, funding agreements and property-related matters. Alison Oldfield is defending the Hunsley Trust in a judicial review challenge to its decision to close a swimming pool and use the space for academic purposes. Other highlights included assisting schools with reputation management issues, and risk management, data protection and safeguarding matters. Nicola Bennison and principal associate Helen Cairns are other names to note.

RPC’s team has key specialisms advising on fundraising issues, international joint venture agreements, disciplinary action and governance matters. The group also assists clients with safeguarding, conversions, mergers and corporate transactions. It recently advised various schools on employment issues, including conducting contractual reviews, and assisted with property-related work, including land disposals and academic housing projects. Its client base includes Mill Hill School Foundation, Alpha Plus Group and St Helen’s School. Practice head Geraldine Elliott and Anthony Shatz are the key contacts.

Sharpe Pritchard’s specialist public sector group is renowned for assisting local authorities and school governing bodies with construction projects, procurement issues, the establishment of academies and free schools, governance matters and related commercial contracts. Annie Moy is leading a team assisting London Borough of Brent with an expansion programme for primary schools, including guiding the council through a procurement process, drafting development agreements and managing professional appointments. Moy is also advising Bracknell Forest Council on the establishment of a £39m four-school learning village. Paul O’Sullivan and recently promoted partner Catherine Newman are assisting four private finance initiative schools in the Midlands with proposed amendments to governing body agreements, and are advising the governing bodies of six maintained community schools on the conversion to foundation school status. Timothy Farr is another name to note.

Blake Morgan LLP’s team is ‘always responsive and available to provide advice in a rapidly evolving situation’. It handles matters arising from academy conversions, as well as challenges to Ofsted reviews, real estate projects and commercial advice. The group also assists with safeguarding issues and complaints, disability discrimination claims, strategic construction work and funding arrangements. Penny Rinta-Suksi assisted Northern House School Academy Trust with the conversion of Kingston Pupil Referral Unit in Wolverhampton, which included negotiating and drafting the commercial documents as well as handling a review of property arrangements and employment-related matters. Magdalen College School, Stockley Academy, Bourne Academy, St Marylebone Church of England Academy and Portsmouth Grammar School are also clients. Real estate expert Ruth Leadbitter is another name to note. Elizabeth Davis retired.

Michelmores LLP’s team ‘works very hard to understand the sector and the context in which clients operate’. Practice head Antony Power is representing Aspirations Academies Trust and its 12 academies in a challenge to the decision of an adjudicating body, and is advising on immigration matters pertaining to sponsorship certificates for three migrant workers. Power is also assisting Aspire Schools with its conversion to an academy and application to become an alternative provision school, and is advising Tring Academy on its conversion to a multi-academy trust and is assisting the same client with a major construction project. Power led a team, which included senior associate Charlotte Antoniou, advising the three primary schools that now form the Brightwells Academy Trust on the transition process into a multi-academy trust. The group also advised the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust on its application to open several nature schools through the governmental free school programme. Other clients include Genesis Academy Trust, Aylesbury Grammar School and Discovery Schools Academies Trust. Barrister Russell Holland is another name to note.

At Mills & Reeve LLP, the group advises schools, academies and multi-academy trusts on matters ranging from employment to conversion and financing. Recent highlights include assisting Waldegrave School and Teddington School with the conversion to a multi-academy trust and the subsequent transfer of Twickenham Academy and Hampton Academy from the Learning Schools Trust into the trust, which operates as Richmond West Schools Trust. Stuart Pemble, who heads the academies team, handles employment law, data requests, commercial agreements and property-related work for Academies Enterprise Trust; is advising Strathmore School and Clarendon School on the property and commercial aspects of their academy conversion under Auriga Academy Trust; and assisted with the conversion of Manchester Communication Academy into a multi-academy trust.

Trowers & Hamlins LLP’s team ‘always keeps the client’s interests and aspirations at the core of its work’ and ‘possesses superior knowledge of the industry, allowing it to offer truly innovative approaches’. The group is renowned for providing ‘outstanding’ support to local authorities, including the London Borough of Barnet and the London Borough of Newham, as well as acting for schools and sector professionals on matters ranging from construction, procurement and property-related work to investigations, audit, governance and employment issues. Assad Maqbool and property specialist Sangita Unadkat are assisting the Secretary of State for Education with the commercial, property, construction and planning aspects of development projects for free and studio schools. Amardeep Gill led a team advising the London Borough of Southwark on the academy conversion of three primary schools and is assisting the City of Wolverhampton Council on the refinancing of its PFI grouped schools project. Helen Randall is providing multifaceted advice to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the development of a multi-agency integrated early years and family support service.

BLM’s ‘professional and approachable’ team provides ‘a high standard of expertise and excellent client service’. Its ‘extremely knowledgeable’ lawyers ‘have a way of providing the most complex legal advice in layman terms’. Practice head Elliot Pound is representing an independent school in a claim for unpaid fees against the parents of two former pupils and is defending the client against subsequent counterclaims of unsuitable facilities and failure to detect dyslexia. Richard Wilkins defended Michael House School against a disability discrimination claim filed by a pupil with learning difficulties. Other highlights included acting for a school in pursuing a civil action to remove the presence of certain excluded students from its grounds, who demonstrated various levels of anti-social behaviour on the school’s premises, and representing a school in a damages claim for defective construction work.

Bevan Brittan LLP’s practice focuses on handling school and academy construction and refurbishment projects, and PFI developments for local authorities. Andrew Tobin led a team advising Barnsley Local Education on the commercial, corporate, financial, employment and property matters pertaining to its school estate. Other work includes assisting Herefordshire Council with a school expansion project and advising Bristol City Council on the building schools for the future programme. The group also advises local councils on the impact of academy conversions.

Bird & Bird LLP’s group specialises in education technology matters and consultancy services and also has considerable experience advising British schools on overseas expansion projects, it has a strong track record managing school ventures into the Middle East and Far East. Practice head Mark Abell led a team assisting Mount Kelly with the establishment of a school in Hong Kong, which included handling due diligence issues and document drafting, and resolving regulatory issues. The group is also advising an education client on restructuring its school in South Korea, as well as assisting with the launch of schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore, and is advising EduReach on various overseas schools projects for UK independent schools. Other work includes handling the commercial and regulatory aspects of the establishment of a school in Malaysia for Christ College Brecon.

Recent work for the team at Irwin Mitchell includes conducting strategic governance reviews for schools, defending disciplinary claims, and handling investigations into misconduct and abuse. It recently defended an academy against a historic race discrimination claim filed against five staff members, including the head teacher and the chair of the trust board. The group is also advising a trust on the re-brokering of an academy and previously assisted a member of a multi-academy trust with the re-brokering of its two academies to another trust. Practice head Surinder Dhillon handled an investigation and inquiry into historic sexual abuse following a whistleblowing disclosure. Jenny Arrowsmith and Laurence Gavin are other names to note.

Withers LLP’s practice handles projects and transactions with a cross-border element, academy conversions and reorganisations, and also advises on wider employment and charity-related matters. Alana Petraske is leading a team advising an Australian independent school on tax-efficient fundraising in the UK, and Chris Priestley is handling a merger of multiple schools, academies and early years providers into a multi-academy trust. Meriel Schindler advised a UK-based school on the exit of its head teacher, following a decline in the school’s academic performance and safeguarding concerns, which also included assisting with reputational risks and local authority governance issues. Other recent highlights include advising the Girls’ Day School Trust on the appointment of a chief executive officer and handling the sale of a school to an independent provider.

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    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.
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