Education in North


The expert team at Burnetts acts for numerous schools, academies, colleges, universities and other education bodies. The firm is well placed to handle a wide range of work, including assisting with academy conversions, commercial contracts and governance issues. Practice head Natalie Ruane has particular experience advising on matters with a nexus to employment law.

Practice head(s):

Natalie Ruane

Muckle LLP

Muckle LLP's education offering stands out for its 'clear understanding of and passion for the sector'. Numerous FE and HE institutions, independent and maintained schools, single and multi-academy trusts have 'benefitted from the variety of experience the team offers'. The firm remains at the forefront of the academy conversion programme; to date, the group has advised on over 250 academy conversions and transfers in the North East alone. Along with practice head Tony McPhillips, the department also fields commercial expert Robin Adams, employment specialist Jill Donabie and 'consummate professionalJoanne Davison. In early 2020, Alison Walton joined from DAC Beachcroft LLP, bringing with her a wealth of experience in public procurement, state aid and contractual issues.

Practice head(s):

Tony McPhillips

Other key lawyers:

Joanne Davison; Robin Adams; Jill Donabie; Alison Walton


‘Really pro-active team with good response times and an excellent understanding of local context and issues.’

‘Jill Donabie’s knowledge of the education sector is invaluable.’

‘Individuals within the team are approachable, supportive and knowledgeable. They are able and willing to spend time explaining things to you and providing the hands on support that is often required. Over the months they have proven valuable advisors.’

‘Joanne Davison is the consummate professional. Joanne’s warmth of personality, tied to her passion to provide excellence, makes her a superb fit in the education sector.’

‘Muckle LLP are unique in their ability to communicate with clients. My company operates in the field of education and we have have an incredibly productive relationship with regard to developing processes and products which can bridge the gap between legal and educational practice.’

‘There is a clear understanding of and passion for the sector which allows legal decisions and advice based on the reality of the situation. The people make it, the human touch and the way they know our academy trust and how it works. They listen, understand and work together, with the right colleagues, to ensure we get the best possible advice. Having a range of experts who they draw from helps.’

‘They are keen to know about us. They want to know what makes us tick as individuals and as an organisation to get the right support to the right places. Tony McPhillips and Joanne Davison have been amazing with us and have tailored the communication and support to our best interests. ‘

‘Muckle LLP as a firm is very approachable. We gain confidence from the friendly and clear manner in which they provide advice and support.’

‘We have benefitted from the variety of experience the team offers.’

Key clients


Tyne Coast College

Bishop Auckland College

Newcastle University

University of Northumbria

Sunderland University

SMART Multi Academy Trust

Sedbergh School

Dame Allan’s Schools

Three Rivers Learning Trust

Emmanuel Schools Foundation

River Tees Multi Academy Trust

East Durham College

Park View School

Balmoral Learning Trust

Southmoor Multi Academy Trust

NEAT Academy Trust

Durham & Newcastle Diocesan Learning Trust

Tyne Coast Academy Trust

Trinity Academy Newcastle

Hadrian Learning Trust

Kenton Schools Academy Trust

Cramlington Learning Village

Pele Trust

Castle View Enterprise Academy

Teesside Learning Trust

Tyne Community Learning Trust

Advance Learning Partnership

Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust

Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust

Melrose Learning Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising on the implementation of the academisation plan of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.
  • Providing a full service legal retainer to the Three Rivers Learning Trust, a growing MAT, including advising on all legal day to day issues and providing a full clerking service.
  • Providing all legal day to day support to NCG, including advising on employment, student affairs, property issues, governance, commercial matters, data protection and dispute resolution.

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

At Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP, the 'level of up to date knowledge displayed by the education team is second to none'. The offering is 'exceptionally well led' by practice head Kevin Robertson, whose broad practice encompasses advising the Department for Education on a range of commercial matters; assisting the ESFA with its Free Schools and PSBP programmes; and handling projects including academy conversions on behalf of a large number of schools, Diocesan bodies and local authorities. Robertson is capably assisted by charities expert Emma Moody. Associates Peter Cantwell and Nicholas Moss are also much lauded by clients.

Practice head(s):

Kevin Robertson; Emma Moody

Other key lawyers:

Peter Cantwell; Nicholas Moss


‘The level of up to date knowledge displayed by the education team is second to none. Kevin Robertson heads a team of professionals whose responsive, pro-active approach ensures deadlines (often not their own) are met every single time.’

‘The team are energetic, flexible and above all knowledgeable. They instil confidence in clients and support all aspects of the contract. Every one of the team that we have worked with are capable. They are exceptionally well led by Kevin Robertson. The team are innovative with reference to meeting formats, technology and billing.’

‘The work WBD has delivered for us over the last 18 months has been first class in every respect but particularly with regard to their customer service. The team is superbly led by Kevin Robertson. He sets their incredibly high standards with the way he responds to and deals with us, his clients. This high quality level of inter-personal behaviour is mirrored by Nicholas Moss, who we work with on a daily basis. His work is not only thorough, accurate and high quality but he is also an absolute pleasure to work with.’

‘WBD work in a way that meshes with our organisation. The consistency in relation to contacts has always been strong and affords strong relationships and a nuanced understanding as regards our business. The collaboration is strong, as is the advice, and there is a confidence in relation to the decision making process which is born out of a long standing record of working well.’

‘Kevin Robertson has a unique insight into the pressures of the education sector, his vast experience gives confidence in actions taken. He is well supported by Peter Cantwell who again explains scenarios for non-legal specialists.’

‘Detailed, up to date knowledge of the sector and its influences. Advice is current and timely. Kevin Robertson and Nicholas Moss are simply second to none in terms of their detailed knowledge and their ability to advise around risk assessment and mitigation is always greatly appreciated.’

‘Kevin Robertson is an incredible partner. Having worked with a number of partners, I have the pleasure in stating Kevin is the most professional, engaging and personable partner, that leads his team with energy, efficiency and dedication to the client.’

‘Nicholas Moss and Peter Cantwell have demonstrated their complete professionalism, legal knowledge and high level leadership on the conversion projects. I have been thoroughly impressed by their dedication to my team, the high quality and timely communication and swift ability to address issues in order that they were resolved promptly to ensure deadlines were fully met.’

Key clients

Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

Department for Education (DfE)


St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Academy Trust

Eden Learning Trust

St Lawrence Education Trust (which operates Ampleforth College and St Martin’s Ampleforth (prep school))

Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust

Waterton Academy Trust, Wakefield

Newcastle City Council

Castle Trust, Medway

Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School

Pocklington School

Vision Academy Learning Trust

Liverpool City Council

The Constellation Trust

Northumberland County Council

Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust

Skills for Life Trust, Kent

Sewell Education York Limited

Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust

Work highlights

  • Providing ongoing advice to the ESFA and DfE on the flagship Free Schools programme which includes UTCs and Studio Schools.
  • Advising multiple governing bodies and academy trusts from the South of England to the North East on their conversion to Academy status.
  • Advised the Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust on its significant trust expansion, as well as the restructuring of the Catholic Trust.

Ward Hadaway LLP

The education team at Ward Hadaway remains extremely active, and currently counts over 30 academy trusts and over 300 schools as clients. Aside from its strong reputation for assisting with the full range of issues associated with academy conversions, the firm is noted for the wide range of services that it provides, both contentious and advisory; areas of particular expertise include those at the intersection with employment, data protection and property issues. Graham Vials and Tim Care are the key names to note.

Practice head(s):

Graham Vials 

Other key lawyers:

Tim Care

Key clients

Durham School

North East Learning Trust

Delta Academies Trust

Co-operative Academies Trust

WISE Academies

The Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Learning Trust

Gosforth Schools Federation

Impact Education MAT

De Ferrers Academy Trust

Northern Education Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising Durham School on its historic merger with the Durham Chorister School.
  • Advising the Co-operative Academies Trust on its programme of expansion.
  • Appointed as sole HR and employment law advisers to the Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Learning Trust.


A strong focus on higher education differentiates the offering at Weightmans, with the team now acting for approximately one fifth of the country's universities, providing advice across the full spectrum of their requirements and assisting with projects of strategic importance. The practice benefits from its close co-operation with a network of offices located across the North; national practice head Martin Vincent oversees much of the work from Manchester, and there are also key practitioners located in Leeds and Liverpool. In the Newcastle office, Paul Wigham is the name to note.

Practice head(s):

Martin Vincent

Other key lawyers:

Paul Wigham

Key clients

The Open University

Lancaster University

University of Cumbria

Newcastle University

University of Greenwich

University of Sunderland

Solent University

University of Leicester

Queen Mary University of London

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

Kings School Chester

Stonyhurst College

Mount St Mary’s College

Nunthorpe Multi Academy Trust Limited

Kirkham Grammar School

The Queen’s School

Leigh Academies Trust

Merchant Taylor’s School

Liverpool Media Academy Limited

The Grange School

Work highlights

  • Provided the Open University with key strategic advice on its tech partner agreements and a number of other IT agreements.
  • Assisted the University of Leicester with its procurement of the £80m Space Park, a cluster for innovative research, enterprise and education.
  • Instructed by Lancaster University to lead a project responding to circa. 250 student complaints.