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North law firm helps major academy conversions come to fruition

21 Jun 17
Commercial law firm and specialist education advisor Watson Burton has further strengthened its presence in the education sector, having recently advised on the creation of two new multi-academy trusts in the North East.

Commercial law firm and specialist education advisor Watson Burton has further strengthened its presence in the education sector, having recently advised on the creation of two new multi-academy trusts in the North East.

The Newcastle-headquartered firm acted for Nunthorpe Academy in Middlesbrough on its transition from single academy status to a multi-academy trust – the Nunthorpe Multi-Academy Trust – which included the sponsorship of Rye Hills School in Redcar. Watson Burton had originally worked with Nunthorpe Academy on its conversion to academy status in 2012.

Watson Burton also advised George Washington Primary School in Washington, in partnership with the nearby John F Kennedy Primary School, on the formation of a multi-academy trust, Oak Learning Trust.

Watson Burton, which also has offices in Leeds and London, was one of the first law firms in the country to advise on an academy conversion and has acted for clients in more than 50 academy conversions across the north of England to date.

The law firm supported Nunthorpe Academy on the transfer of the Rye Hills school land from a separate trust controlled by a third party to the new multi-academy trust. The conversion from a single-academy trust to a multi-academy trust also included preparation of a commercial transfer agreement, securing Secretary of State approval and local authority consent to the transfer and advising on a funding agreement between the Department for Education and the academy trust.

Watson Burton delivered a wide range of legal services to Oak Learning Trust during its formation. The firm negotiated leases of the school properties with Sunderland City Council, supported the schools on the formation of the new trust – including advising on amending model articles and memorandum of association – and advised on commercial transfer agreements, corporate governance, shared use agreements and shared access arrangements.

In addition, Watson Burton advised on funding agreements with the Department for Education and as there were a number of historic restrictions registered against the schools’ land, the law firm supported George Washington Primary School on insurance issues and risk management.

A multi-disciplinary team from Watson Burton – including specialists in property, employment, corporate and commercial matters – acted for the clients in both instances. 

Hazel Royle, education specialist and associate at Watson Burton, said: “We are delighted to have helped Nunthorpe Academy and Oak Learning Trust in reaching their goals and to have had the opportunity to support them throughout the process.
“Both conversions were complex cases, which required specialist legal advice and close client support. We were able to draw on our extensive expertise in working on academy conversions – as well as our experience in the employment, property, corporate and commercial fields – to ensure that these multi-academy trusts were successfully established within an agreed timeframe enabling the schools to move forward under new governance.”

Nigel Goodall, director of Finance & Operations at Nunthorpe Academy, said: “Sponsoring our first academy, and converting to MAT status, was always going to be a complex and time pressured process.

“It was therefore very reassuring to know that whenever needed, we had a professional legal team in place that could advise us on the various legal considerations that arose, from any land transfer issues, TUPE and staffing matters through to governance structures and advice. Watson Burton were always available to offer practical solutions and help smooth out the transition.”

Dr Ailsa Taylor, headteacher at George Washington Primary School, commented: “Throughout the conversion process Watson Burton were with us all the way. The offered a very high level of support and accessibility to staff in school who were managing the conversion process and helped us achieve our desired conversion date. Their friendly and pragmatic approach made the whole process less daunting.”



Paul Wigham | Partner | Watson Burton LLP