Education in North


At Burnetts, practice head Natalie Ruane receives support from Caroline Redhead, who uses her specialism within the not-for-profit sector to advise HE and FE clients on issues including commercial contracts, data protection, intellectual property, state aid, charity law, and general governance. On the contentious side, the firm represents clients in cases including gross misconduct and sexual harassment. Also recommended is associate Sophie Allinson, who is frequently involved in academy conversions and large-scale restructurings.  

Practice head(s):

Natalie Ruane

Other key lawyers:

Caroline Redhead; Sophie Allinson


The team we work with are very authentic and well informed.

They have been able to offer a broad range of knowledge and experience that has helped build confidence in their capacity to support us.

Personable approach –  quickly establish a trusted relationship.

Honest and open with the advice offered and able to maintain an appropriate balance of support and challenge.

Key clients

Cumbria Education Trust

Furness Education Trust

Furness College

Bury College

Lakes College

West Lakes Academy


Riverside College

Cockermouth School

St Bernard’s Catholic High School

Settlebeck School

North Cumbria Pupil Referral Unit

Castle Park School

The Queen Katherine Multi Academy Trust

Energy Coast UTC

Caldew School

Newman Catholic School

Ullswater Community College

Black Combe Primary School

Morland Area C of E School

Work highlights

  • Advised Cumbria Education Trust on the conversion of Caldew Lea Primary School from Cumbria County Council to the Trust.
  • Assisting with the re-brokerage of the Inspired Learning Trust, containing three academies, into the Furness Education Trust.
  • Advising Newman Catholic School on a serious gross misconduct case regarding inappropriate contact between a teacher and a pupil.

Muckle LLP

With Tony McPhillips at the helm, the growing team at Muckle LLP advises numerous HE and FE institutions, including special, free, and studio schools. The practice was strengthened by the promotion of Robin Adams, whose clients include Sunderland University and Teesside University, and Jill Donabie, who leads on HR and student matters, to partner. The firm has particular experience in assisting with the development of multi-academy trusts, and a special focus on work for the Roman Catholic and Church of England Trusts. Joanne Davison is a key name to note in this area, and frequently advises on academy conversion projects and college mergers.

Practice head(s):

Tony McPhillips

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

Valour Multi Academy Trust

Southmoor Multi Academy Trust

Newcastle East Multi Academy Trust

Durham Diocesan MAT

Tyne Coast Academy Trust

Trinity Academy Newcastle

Hadrian Learning Trust

Kenton Schools Academy Trust

Cramlington Learning Village

Pele Trust

The 1590 Trust

St Bede’s Catholic Comprehensive School and Sixth Form College Lanchester

Durham Martyrs Multi Academy Trust

Romero Catholic Academy Trust

Holy Family Education Trust

Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Education Trust

Sacred Heart Partnership of Schools

Work highlights

  • Advised Tynedale Community Learning Trust on a nine-school academy conversion project.
  • Retained by multi-academy trust Three Rivers Learning to assist with all legal matters.
  • Providing legal support with employment, student affairs, property, governance, commercial and data protection, and dispute resolution to NCG after winning a competitive tender.

Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP

The education team at Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP receives instructions from the full breadth of clients, from the Department of Education, to local government, to MATs, to independent fee-paying schools. The practice offers a complete range of services, including assisting with academy conversions and transfers, leases and shared occupation, and admissions and exclusions.  Both advisory and contentious work is handled by the firm. For commercial agreements, practice head Kevin Robertson is the key name to note. The team also fields private education specialist Emma Moody, and associate Peter Cantwell, who focuses on property work.

Practice head(s):

Kevin Robertson

Other key lawyers:

Emma Moody; Peter Cantwell


The knowledge of the Womble Bond Dickinson team across our Education sector and specific knowledge of our Catholic sector is second to none.

The team have great capacity and work rate.

They truly have a first-class instinct of how school leadership teams and Governors wish to work with them and produce the highest standard of service on every single interaction.

Highly knowledgeable and reliable team, respond quickly to ad hoc requests as well as meeting deadlines on agreed matters.

Kevin Robertson leads his team with fantastic professionalism, dynamism and zest for each project undertaken.

Kevin Robertson is excellent.

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))

Carmel Education Trust, Darlington

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

The Trinity Catholic Multi Academy Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising the Education & Skills Funding Agency on the flagship Free Schools programme which includes UTCs and Studio Schools.
  • Assisting multiple governing bodies and academy trusts, from the South of England to the North East, with their conversion to Academy status.
  • Assisted with the establishment of the St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Academy Trust, which involved the conversion of 17 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Ward Hadaway

The majority of MATs in the North of England instruct the education team at Ward Hadaway. The firm provides a range of legal services for such clients, handling the full spectrum of contentious and advisory work. As well as advising on the requirements for school to academy conversions, the practice also assists with employment and transactional matters. Joint practice heads Graham Vials and Tim Care focus on academy conversions and employment related matters respectively. On the contentious side, the team represents clients in discrimination and unfair dismissal cases.  

Practice head(s):

Tim Care; Graham Vials

Key clients

Advance Learning Partnership

Delta Academies Trust

Co-operative Academies Trust

WISE Academies

The Durham Diocesan Multi Academy Trust

Leeds City Council

Horsforth School

Impact Education MAT

De Ferrers Academy Trust

Northern Education Trust

Work highlights

  • Advising Delta Academies Trust on property transactions, employment and HR issues, and GDPR and freedom of information queries.  
  • Assisting The Co-operative Academies Trust with its programme of expansion.
  • Assisting the Northern Education Trust with issues including exclusions and admissions, as well as successfully defending the client in a number of tribunal claims.


Institutions looking to convert to academy status make up a large proportion of the clients instructing the education team at Weightmans,  which gained a Newcastle presence through its merger with legacy Watson Burton LLP , along with existing and newly formed academies. The team regularly advises on all issues related to conversions, and has particular experience in assisting with academy conversions with a PFI element. Other work undertaken includes advising FE and HE institutions on corporate issues. The practice is headed by Paul Wigham, with support from associates Richard Phillips and Kerry Waters. For contentious matters, Anthony Rance is the key name to note.

Practice head(s):

Paul Wigham


Paul and the team at Weightmans have been excellent for us and expertly, and successfully, assisted the Group through some complicated legal negotiations.

Paul Wigham is responsive, accessible, approachable and facilitates understanding of technicalities – something which, as a client who then often has to re-explain to others within the organisation, is crucial.

Key clients

Northumberland College

Biddick Academy Trust

Gosforth Federated Academies Limited

Swift Academies

Redcar and Cleveland College

Meadowdale Academy

Nunthorpe Multi Academy Trust

Iris Learning Trust

University of Leicester

University of Northumbria

University of Sunderland

Wellspring Academy Trust

Stockton Riverside College

Oak Learning Trust

Pax Christi Catholic Partnership

Academies Enterprise Trust

Work highlights

  • Assisted with the merger between Northumberland College and Sunderland College.
  • Advised Gosforth Federated Academies on the sponsored academy conversion of Heaton Manor School.
  • Advised the University of Sunderland on the renegotiation of its banking facilities, including agreeing a new revolving credit facility.