Education in North

Muckle LLP

Praised for its ‘superb knowledge of the education sector’ the Newcastle-based team at Muckle LLP acts for a wide range of clients from multi-academy and single-academy trusts, maintained and independent schools to further education institutions and a growing number of higher education providers. Tony McPhillips is a trusted advisor for many of the team’s major clients, and leads the practice together with Jill Donabie, who focuses on employment issues and Joanne Davison, a governance expert with a focus multi-academy trusts and further education institutions. The team gained senior associate Chris Hook from Northumbria University in October 2021.

Practice head(s):

Tony McPhillips; Joanne Davison; Jill Donabie

Other key lawyers:

Robin Adams; Alison Walton; Chris Hook; Richard Nixon


‘The team at Muckle in Newcastle have been exceptional during our dealings with them over the last 10 months. Not only have they demonstrated excellent knowledge and support but they have demonstrated value for money every time. As a growing multi-academy trust it is vital that we have efficient and reliable service with solid advice and this is exactly what Muckle delivers.’

‘I would like to give a particular mention to Joanne Davison and Richard Nixon who have been exceptional in all of our dealings.’

‘Their unique selling point is the personal touch they provide. We have a dedicated client manager who is extremely knowledgeable about education-related queries, including SEND and dealing with the Department for Education. The practice attends numerous education events across the year, and representatives are open, welcoming and approachable.’

‘Jill Donabie is very supportive and takes time to fully understand queries / issues. Her friendly manner encourages trust in the advice given.’

‘Very personable and supportive. Very prompt response to queries.’

‘Jill Donabie – very personable and considerate of ways of working. Able to communicate effectively without all the ‘legal’ jargon and understand the needs of the business.’

‘Proactive and very responsive as well as being clearly experienced and understanding the local context. Always happy to take a problem solving approach and give clear advice rather than sitting on the fence.’

‘The Education Team is dynamic and agile meeting the various needs of our Trust and the Diocese. Joanne Davison ably leads a team of professionals who are able to come up with innovative solutions when required and ensures the work allocated progresses quickly.’

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

Tyne Community Learning Trust

Advance Learning Partnership

Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust

Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust

Melrose Learning Trust

Gateshead College

Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust (RC Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle) on the implementation of the academisation plan of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. This has involved advising 2 Multi-Academy Trusts on the conversion into/transfer of all Catholic schools within its defined area.
  • Continuing to provide Three Rivers Learning Trust a full-service legal retainer to a growing Multi Academy Trust. Advise on all legal day to day issues.
  • Advising NCG on employment, student affairs, property, governance, commercial, procurement, data protection and dispute resolution.

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP’s leading northern education team is noted for its ‘clarity, professionalism and integrity’ as it supports clients with a range of governance commercial and property matters. The Newcastle-based practice is particularly notable for its activity in the academy conversion market and its continued advisory work for the Department of Education. Kevin Robertson  leads the practice, he has a broad client list that includes local and central government bodies, universities, academy trusts and Diocesian bodies. Charities expert Emma Moody  is also active in the education space. Associate Peter Cantwell has expertise on the property side of public sector projects.

Practice head(s):

Kevin Robertson

Other key lawyers:

Emma Moody; Peter Cantwell


‘The team inspire confidence, listen to our needs and respond with clarity, professionalism and integrity.’

‘The team lead by Kevin Robertson are exceptional in every way.’

‘High quality service and attention to detail. The work of WBD is always first class.’

‘The team are very hands on and always respond in a timely manner. They are able to cover all areas of the law and able to provide expertise both in the UK and abroad.’

‘The Team at WBD is extremely knowledgeable regarding education and the needs of a Trust when converting or sponsoring additional schools. Process is well supported and timely advise received. WBD is extremely responsive to the needs of their clients.’

‘The whole team at WBD is personable and approachable. They are able to support and guide clients to ensure risks are highlighted and mitigated.’

Key clients

Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)

Department for Education (DfE)


Oak Learning Trust

Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust

Bishop Bewick Catholic Academy Trust

Catcote Academy

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

Sewell Education York Limited

Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust

Newcastle upon Tyne Royal Grammar School

Pocklington School

Vision Academy Learning Trust

Skills for Life Trust, Kent

The Constellation Trust

Horizons Specialist Academy Trust

Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust

East Durham College

Gateshead College

Durham University


Ward Hadaway LLP

The practice at Ward Hadaway LLP offers expertise that ranges from employment matters over education issues such as admissions or exclusions of pupils to academy conversions and commercial law matters. The Newcastle-based team acts for numerous multi academy trusts across the North. Graham Vials heads up the practice, praised as ‘incredibly personable, skilled and sensible’. Public sector expert Tim Care ’s practice includes advising on academy conversions and significant school mergers.

Practice head(s):

Graham Vials

Other key lawyers:

Tim Care; Saji Bratch


‘The people are approachable, responsive and offer sound balanced advice and guidance. Strong knowledge regarding the Education Sector and understanding of the complex terms and conditions.’

‘Graham Vials – depth of knowledge and experience is great, always available to us when we need him to be and responds swiftly.’

‘Very pro-active and problem solving, brilliant insurance backed advice which gives real reassurance and support.’

‘High calibre partners with detailed knowledge of the public sector, particularly higher education and health care. Their strength is being able to navigate the pitfalls of working with other public sector bodies as they have an understanding of their drivers and limitations.’

‘Working with Ward Hadaway is more of a collaborative experience, which sets them apart from their competitors. They are always willing to take ownership of issues and offer solutions, rather than pass the issue over to ‘discuss internally’. In Saji Bratch we have a Partner hugely experienced, readily accessible who provides clear and concise advice.’

Key clients

Newcastle University

Rise Park Academy

Durham School

Co-operative Academies Trust

Wise Academies Trust

Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust

Impact Education Multi Academy Trust

Northern Education Trust

Northern Lights Learning Trust

De Ferrers Academy Trust