We offer a comprehensive and holistic approach to all legal issues that schools, academies, multi-academy trusts (MATs), nurseries, further education colleges and universities may face.
Academies and MATs can have problems with inheriting a public sector culture, bound by national terms and conditions, cumbersome procedures, and an often negative reaction to change. From that MATs must create workable and effective business models delivering excellent services to pupils, their parents and the community, with quality staff, positive results and sound governance structures. A key factor in achieving this is robust, effective, and focused legal advice, tailored to the educational world.
By drawing on the expertise of each specialist team from across our full-service firm we provide plain-speaking, straightforward and practical legal advice from approachable lawyers who understand your world.
Our specialist education lawyers will act as an extension of your internal senior leadership team. Rather than simply dealing with educational sector legal problems when they arise, we like to adopt a proactive and advisory approach at a strategic level, to ensure excellent legal practice permeates everything you do.
Your advisers need to understand the education sector as a whole. Whilst law applies equally to all types of commercial, private, and public sector organisations, there are numerous factors – political, reputational, regulatory and educational – impacting on the way schools and academies handle their legal issues.
Our experienced team has come across every type of legal problem that might arise within an educational setting – whether complex property arrangements, commercial disputes with contractors, parental complaints around SEN/exclusions, every possible employment issue, funding disputes with DfE, they are able to draw upon their knowledge to protect and provide ongoing support to your establishment from the pitfalls of the education sector.
Whether you are a maintained school, independent school, faith school, diocese school, a single academy trust (SAT) or MAT looking to take on a school, merge with another MAT or convert to an academy, we can assist.
We understand that the decision to convert to an academy, become part of a trust or expand your current trust is a big decision. We can help and support you through the entire process from initial decision making, project planning with your senior team, carrying out due diligence and ensuring all the key documentation is completed in accordance with DfE timescales.
We always aim to make the process as straightforward as possible but as with all transactions, issues may arise. Our education team’s breadth of experience means that we can provide you with practical support to deal with any complexities head on and ensure that risks are mitigated.
Beyond the drafting of legal documents, we can help you to engage with key stakeholders, provide advice to, drafting communications for and attending meetings with governors, staff or parents as required to ensure a smooth and harmonious transition.
We were instrumental in co-ordinating some of the very first conversions in the UK and have gone on to work with both maintained schools and expanding MATs to deliver swift and trouble-free conversions time and time again. Our experience ensures we can identify potential issues at the earliest opportunity to avoid delays later in the process and meet tight deadlines.
Our multi-disciplinary conversion team, with a lead partner to manage and coordinate the process, covers all steps from the application to convert, assessing and dealing with due diligence enquiries, to the drafting of key agreements and negotiation with the DfE and local authorities.
Similarly, we can assist you with any large-scale change to your SAT or MAT from acquiring additional academies or mergers of MATs to drafting significant change applications.
We can guide you through every element of a transfer from the memorandum of understanding, to assessing and dealing with due diligence enquiries and the drafting and negotiation of key agreements.
Our educational experience combined with our commercial analysis can assist you with decision making and the balancing of risk against benefit to mitigate the risk to your existing MAT from new acquisitions.
You need to be confident that your governance and funding arrangements are robust and are adapted to reflect your changing circumstances. With our support you can be confident that your articles of association and scheme of delegation are fit for purpose and we can also assist with governance issues such as conflicts of interests and decision making at member/trustee level and board level.
We are very familiar with the drafting, amending or transferring of supplemental and master funding agreements as part of an academy conversion, academy transfer or significant change application and our excellent working relationships with project leads at the DfE make for swift negotiations and sensible outcomes. We work closely with accountants who specialise in education finance to ensure a complete service to MAT clients.
Effective contract management is increasingly important and our team can deal with tender exercises and the review and negotiation of supply contacts to ensure compliance and best value.
The re-brokerage of three primary academies from an underperforming Lincolnshire MAT to our MAT client, which involved a complex employment restructuring exercise and the transfer of land subject to complex third-party rights and restrictions.
The conversion of two secondary schools from local authority control to our MAT client which involved a large employment restructuring process and detailed negotiations with the local authority.
Advising on the transfer of two existing academies from one MAT to another in the centre of Lincoln.
Advising on the transfer of three primary academies from one MAT to our MAT client in South Yorkshire which was part of a Department of Education intervention.
Advising on the conversion of a secondary school for our MAT client in South Yorkshire which involved complex land negotiations with the local authority.
Advising in respect of various commercial contractual arrangements between academies and 3rd party suppliers.
Advising and negotiating in respect of high-level commercial supplier contracts for a college client.
Drafting and completion of a scheme of delegation for use across all local governing bodies.
Advising on complex governance issues at academy trust and local governing body level.
Advising academies on co-location arrangements with respect of shared use of facilities with other bodies.
Advising on the sale and transfer of a charitable private school.
The key to any successful organisation is a stable and happy workforce. This is even more important for the education sector to ensure that pupils receive the best education possible through consistent and effective teaching staff.
Inevitably issues with staff will arise and early intervention is paramount to avoid issues developing into more complex and costly problems for your setting.
We have extensive experience in all aspects of TUPE, with a particular focus on the education and wider public sector and have dealt with substantial TUPE and redundancy issues not only on the joining of new schools, but the taking over of smaller, failing trusts.
When integrating smaller trusts into an existing MAT, there are numerous employment challenges from the removal of existing senior leadership teams, to the restructuring of admin support teams. There may be a need for redundancy exercises or a reallocation of duties to align with the existing MAT.
However, we recognise that a legally compliant and efficient TUPE process is only part of the story. It is essential to gain the support of staff at an early stage when bringing a new school into a MAT.
Beyond the standard legal package, we regularly:
Attend staff meetings to explain the process
Meet with trade unions to offer reassurance
Provide FAQs to deal with key issues
Train senior management in handling a TUPE process
Prepare briefings for staff, governors and parents
Teaching staff and educational professionals, as highlighted in a Health and Safety Executive briefing, are reported to have the highest rates of work-related stress in Britain. For this reason, it is vital, that employees’ wellbeing is prioritised, coupled with effective and supportive processes to manage and improve performance.
Health issues and absence management, grievances and bullying allegations, personality conflicts and disciplinary issues all need careful handling to minimise disruption, mitigate risk, ensure difficult conversations take place, staff are supported and exit strategies managed carefully where appropriate.
Adapt HR for Education is our bespoke employment and HR advice line which provides cost effective legal advice 24/7 for a fixed annual fee.
Issues involving relatives are often wide and complex, a direct reflection of the diverse society in which we live.
Ranging from parents taking issue with pupil discipline and exclusions, to dealing with the aftermath of family breakdowns and new parent relationships.
Ensuring you have the correct procedures and policies in place from the outset, and access to responsive advice when situations escalate, will give you the confidence to manage such issues and protect your pupils and staff.
Harmonising and modernising contractual terms and conditions. This has involved, where necessary, advising on consultation processes including collective consultation, advising on TUPE issues, liaising with the trade unions, dealing with dismissal and re-engagement, preparing new contractual documentation.
A major restructure, including redundancies and consultations with trade unions on the acquisition of a failing trust of four schools joining an existing MAT.
Acquisition of 3 schools in a small trust into a larger MAT including restructure of senior teams, negotiating several departures and reallocation of finance and administrative staff across the wider MAT.
Successfully defending sixth form college at a 3-day tribunal hearing in relation to the dismissal of a teacher for incorrect exam grading during the pandemic.
Salary related issues, such as movement within the national pay scales (both for teachers and support staff), performance related pay issues, and the award and removal of UPS points and TLR allocations.
Serious misconduct dismissals of teaching staff at a senior school (involving whistleblowing, financial and potential safeguarding issues). Liaising with LADO, TRA and where necessary the police, plus advice throughout several related disciplinary procedures.
Advising an independent school in relation to tribunal claim for equal pay and sex discrimination claim involving alleged disparity of treatment between male and female sports coaches.
Comprehensive TUPE advice for a MAT taking on two new secondary schools; subsequent restructure of staff into middle and upper schools and increasing flexibility across the MAT.
DBS checks and compliance with vetting and other safeguarding issues, including Single Central Register. We work closely with our regulatory team to keep fully up to date with new government regulations.
Assisting a head teacher with ongoing performance issues involving a senior teacher including: reviewing appraisals and the academy’s capability procedure, assisting with the review meetings, setting up a formal capability process, dealing with grievances without derailing the process and ensuring a swift resolution via a settlement agreement.
Tackling long term sickness absence in a MAT involving advising on monitoring procedures, reviewing and tightening up absence management procedures and progressing formal capability procedures. Significant reduction in sickness absence figures and as such, improved learning outcomes and major cost savings.
Reputation will make or break an organisation and the challenge here is significant, especially during periods of extensive change or disruption. You may be dealing with parental complaints, safeguarding, exclusions, admissions, special needs, GDPR, health and safety or financial compliance.
When a safeguarding issue is raised, your senior management team must act knowledgably and swiftly.
The nature of the complaint or alleged incident will determine the action, but it may involve official investigation, evidence gathering (with children interviewed), suspensions, internal and external communication, the involvement of stakeholders such as the police and the Local Authority Designated Officer and the successful implementation of recommendations.
This will ensure the confidence of parents, the public, DfE and the Regional School Commissioners is maintained.
Since May 2018, we have all had to overhaul our processes and procedures to ensure we are fully compliant with UK GDPR. Schools hold a significant volume of sensitive data relating to staff and young people and the consequences of non-compliance could be devastating, from a safeguarding, financial and reputational perspective.
The safety of pupils and staff remains a priority for all educational organisations. There can be no compromise when it comes to ensuring health and safety requirements are met.
As MATs form and grow, there will be need for a thorough health check, with buildings being brought under new control.
Advising a maintained primary school in relation to a fixed-term exclusion and Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) concerning a pupil with special educational needs.
Advising a further education college on its admissions process in relation to a prospective pupil with special educational and medical needs and a draft EHCP.
Advising a MAT in relation to a complex appeal against exclusion involving a pupil with gender identity issues and parents who disagreed about the school’s approach.
Advising in relation to procedural issues surrounding a university’s decision not to award a PhD to a student.
Advising a maintained special school unable to make provision for a pupil with severe behaviour issues but where the local authority had named the school in the EHCP.
Handling difficult parental complaint making unfounded allegations of abuse against a class teacher with damaging social media issues.
On-site in-person survey, assessment and recommendations on location and written justification for CCTV scheme.
Drafting policies in relation to use of toilets and changing rooms for transgender pupils.
Assisting an academy with a complex subject access request involving the potential disclosure of sensitive personal data carrying a risk of causing the data subject distress, and misuse of data by a parent in family proceedings involving abuse allegations.
We have dealt with complex land and property aspects for numerous academy conversions, including unravelling archaic trusts, releasing diocesan land, and resolving all manner of property, construction and planning issues.
During the conversion from a maintained school to academy status, a plethora of complex property issues can arise.
From identifying the land for the new academy and liaising with the relevant local authorities, to first registration of school land with the land registry office or securing the continued use of land the school currently resides on.
Each requires extensive and detailed background searches into previous land ownerships and advice as to how to regularise ownerships and boundary issues.
Where your school has use of facilities or allows other parties to use facilities on its land (for example a sports centre or nursery) and you wish to transfer said facility to an academy, there are numerous issues that need addressing. This can include dealing with leasing back to the local authority, or other landowner, of the land which the facility is located, preparing shared use agreements or letters of comfort, and dealing with the academy sub-leasing the land to the community.
Due to the complexity of property related issues within educational organisations, it is essential to seek expert legal advice before tackling any land or construction problems you may have.
Advising a MAT taking on a new convertor primary which had significant flood risks, and negotiating substantial remedial works and bespoke warranties with the local authority.
Drafting and negotiating leases and variations for both academies and nursery providers within academy locations.
Advising on the property elements of numerous academy conversions.
Negotiating with local authority to adopt a footpath running close to academy land.
Purchase of land for a new school hall subject to an overage agreement.
Advising on planning restrictions regarding change of use of school property.
Negotiating and advising on collateral warranties for a new build school premises.
Negotiating a licence to occupy land.
Dealing with a sale of surplus land and land exchange.
Negotiating options to purchase.