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A truly excellent firm on all counts’, Bond Dickinson LLP is ‘a primary choice in the region’. The firm acts for a broad client base spanning academy trusts, governing bodies, higher education establishments and schools. Key practitioners include education group head Kevin Robertson, who is recommended for local authority and school issues, particularly in academy trust matters; and the ‘professional, enthusiastic and engagedEmma Moody, who leads the firm’s charity team and regularly handles governance matters and school mergers. Highlights included advising the Education Funding Agency (EFA) on its Free Schools programme, which involved advice on site acquisitions, procurement and planning issues. The firm also acted for various school governing bodies on academy conversions. The Department for Education, Pocklington School and Carmel Education Trust are all clients. Other key figures include Iain Greenshields and Simon Rowland, who focus on procurement projects and construction transaction respectively.

Burnetts’s ‘exceptional’ team provides ‘prompt, full and helpful advice’, with clients citing it as ‘the perfect partner for any school’. Key figures in the ‘brilliant’ group include Natalie Ruane, who regularly advises head teachers and school governing bodies and who recently advised Furness College on a further education merger with Barrow Sixth Form College; and John Noctor, who is noted for his transactional expertise and recently acted for Carlisle College on the delivery of a new skills support programme funded by the European Social Fund. Noctor also assisted Askham Bryan College with its partnership with Leeds City Council. Kuba Strycharczyk is highly regarded in the field and Joanne Stronach, who is cited as ‘a professional of the highest order’, is recommended for employment work, with particular emphasis on grievances and disciplinary matters relating to discrimination or bullying. Vaughan Jones, Helen Hayward and Robbie Mather round out the team.

Muckle LLP has ‘an outstanding reputation in the academy conversion space’ (academy trust clients include Discovery Alliance, Castle View Enterprise Academy, Cramlington Learning Village and St Peter’s Catholic College), and also acts for higher and further education institutions such as Newcastle College, the University of East London and South Tyneside College. In a recent highlight, Anthony Evans led advice to Newcastle University on the development of its Science Central building. Other work included assisting East Durham College with a site refurbishment and the provision of new agricultural facilities; handling the academy conversion of six schools for Smart Academy Trust; and acting for Three Rivers Trust on strategic planning and disciplinary issues. Tony McPhillips is highly regarded in the region and leads the department, which includes commercial partner Alan Grisedale and real estate specialist Lucilla Waugh.

Academy and procurement specialist Tim Care leads the department at Ward Hadaway, which advises a broad client base ranging from schools and trusts to colleges and universities such as Northern Education Trust, Newcastle University, Delta Academies Trust and Newcastle School for Boys. Care regularly acts for Co-operative Group and Co-operative Academies Trust on all the legal issues surrounding its seven academies. He also handled the academy conversion of six foundation schools for the Brigshaw Learning Partnership and assisted North East Learning Trust with its acquisition of two academies and a maintained school. Also recommended are Karen Andrews, who handles regeneration projects; Paul Scope, who is recommended for staffing problems; Alex Shiel, who counts Newcastle University and Teesside University as clients; and Leeds-based Frank Suttie, who joined in mid-2016 from DAC Beachcroft LLP.

Watson Burton LLP’s team is singled out for its academy conversion expertise. Practice head Paul Wigham (who made partner in 2016) and David Jenkins both have extensive track records in academy conversions; Wigham recently advised ForSkills on its sale to NCFE, while Jenkins defended Academies Enterprise Trust in an employment tribunal claim brought by a senior teaching staff member who was dismissed following inappropriate social media posts and is claiming unfair dismissal and whistleblowing. Also recommended are newly promoted Leeds-based partner Anthony Rance, who focuses on education disputes, and litigator Gavin Winter, who represented the University of Leicester in several disputes relating to its student admissions and disciplinary procedures. The University of Sunderland, Barnsley College, Gosforth Federated Academies and Wellspring Academy Trust are also clients.

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