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Noted for its ‘excellent service’, Burnetts’ ‘very knowledgeable, responsive and professional’ team is well versed in assisting education sector clients with employment, corporate governance, property and commercial matters. In the commercial property sphere, Robbie Mather and Helen Hayward are routinely called upon to advise on site acquisitions for the development of educational institutions and project finance issues, while team head Natalie Ruane is best known for her employment law and HR expertise; she advised King George V Sixth Form College on various employment and property-related matters arising from its Plan B merger with Southport College. In other work, and in co-operation with the dispute resolution team led by James Johnston, who was promoted to the partnership in January 2018, she advised Queen Katherine School on matters pertaining to an Ofsted judgment placing the school in special measures. Consultant John Noctor acted for Building Futures Education Academy Trust in the transfer of Yanwath and Tebay primary schools from one multi-academy trust to another, namely the Cumbria Education Trust (CET). Consultant Kuba Strycharczyk and Vaughan Jones are also recommended. Joanne Stronach moved to Cartmell Shepherd in January 2018.

Muckle LLP has carved out a strong practice acting for higher and further education institutions in academy conversions, college mergers and the development of multi-academy trusts alongside HR, corporate and commercial matters. Anthony Evans continues to assist Newcastle University with the development of the Science Central project, which includes advice on the acquisition, design and construction of its £43.5m Urban Sciences Building alongside acquisition, development and infrastructure works agreements and pre-construction services agreements for two further projects at the site. Together with Joanne Davison and senior associate Jill Donabie, he also advised Newcastle College Group (NCG) on various matters arising from two mergers. The team also acted for the Diocese of Durham and Newcastle on the formation of a multi-academy trust, and for South Tyneside College (STC) on its proposed merger with Tyne Metropolitan College. Tony McPhillips heads the practice, which includes Alan Grisedale and Lucilla Waugh.

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP provides a ‘very good service’ to a broad education sector client base including schools, school governing bodies, academy trusts and local authorities. Its offering is equally wide-ranging and spans contentious and non-contentious governance, health and safety and academy conversion matters alongside employment, construction and procurement issues. Team head Kevin Robertson is ‘first class’; he continues to advise the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Department for Education on its free school programme which includes university technical colleges and studio schools. He also advised multiple governing bodies on their conversion to academy status, and assisted 12 schools with handover arrangements and other matters pertaining to the North East PF2 programme. Together with Iain Greenshields, he assisted Academy 360 with its change of sponsor. In another highlight, Greenshields advised Durham University on all aspects of the delivery of two new colleges at Mount Oswald via a long-term public private partnership. Other key individuals include the ‘outstanding’ Emma Moody, who is ‘always prepared to go the extra mile for the client’, Simon Rowland and Ian Atkinson. Associate Peter Cantwell is also recommended and rated for his ‘practical and timely advice’.

Consisting of ‘good communicators and strong characters’, clients recommend Ward Hadaway’s schools and academies sector team ‘without hesitation’, which is partly due to its ‘substantial knowledge in the education sector, which gives clients assurance, comfort and peace of mind’. Much of its work for schools, academies and multi-academy trusts pertains to transactions and academy conversions as well as employment, property and compliance matters. As significant work in the transactional space, team head Tim Care acted for Co-operative Academies Trust in a number of school acquisitions, which included various property, contractual and employment issues, while he assisted North East Learning Trust with academy conversion issues. The latter client also received advice on the academy conversion of a PF2 school. In other work, Graham Vials provides regular advice to the Diocese of Durham Multi Academy Trust on general employment law and HR issues. Paul Scope and public sector estates practice head Karen Andrews are other names to note.

Watson Burton LLP’s multi-disciplinary practice handles academy conversions, governance and constitutional matters, mergers and acquisitions as well as investment and funding issues for higher and further education clients. Team head Paul Wigham advised Gosforth Federated Academies on the sponsored academy conversion of Seaton Burn College, which involved the transfer of the freehold of the school site from the existing trust and negotiating the commercial transfer agreement with the local authority. In other significant work, the practice advised on the establishment of the Oak Learning Trust and the conversions of George Washington and John F Kennedy primary schools to academy status within the trust. Nunthorpe Multi Academy Trust and Wellspring Academy Trust are also clients.

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