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schools and academies

Although the notional deadline by which all schools had to convert to academy status has long since passed, conversion is still the Government’s preferred option. 

Watson Burton led the way by advising on the first academy conversions in the North East and has worked on more than 50 similar projects since then.  Our knowledge of what the legal process, together with good working relationships with officials in the Department for Education and Local Authorities, is of considerable benefit to our clients.

Outside of other academy conversion work, we understand the challenging issues faced by clients in this sector. Whether this involves changes to the curriculum, budget cutbacks or OFSTED monitoring, schools have to rise to a number of challenges. At Watson Burton our aim is to work with you, understanding your objectives, ensuring your legal needs are met effectively and efficiently, allowing you the time to concentrate on teaching and learning.

As a commercial law firm, we have the resources to help schools and academies realise their strategic objectives and resolve their operational issues. Our services include academy conversions, establishing multi-academy trusts, re-brokering existing academies, establishing alternative provision academies, studio schools and university technical colleges.  We also advise on human resources, property development and estates management, construction, commercial transactions, public procurement, funding, and PFI issues amongst others.

We have dealt with complex conversions, mergers, expansion programmes and projects relating to improvement and your statutory duties.

Case Studies

We have an impressive track-record advising schools and Governors.  From our involvement in the first conversion in the North East, we have also helped academies and multi academy trusts with their full range of commercial and legal needs.  Recent examples include:

Discipline and a Criminal Investigation

  • The investigation and disciplinary of a senior teacher after complaints made about him raised serious safeguarding concerns.  The involvement of the police meant that the Trust was discouraged from investigating matters for itself.  We helped to guide them through what could be done, based upon the Trust’s systems and procedures, with our advice leading to the teacher’s dismissal.

New School Sites Project

  • Assisting an academy trust with the legal support required during the construction of 3 new school sites in circumstances where much of the funding for the £45 million project was coming from the local authority.  We provided due diligence on the construction contracts reviewing the development agreement, building contract, forms of appointment, sub contracts, warranties and deed of novation.  We renegotiated and amended all of those contracts to ensure that the best interests of the Trust were protected.  We helped to manage all major commercial and investor notes for the Trust.

Further Education Conversion of Federation and Complex Academy Programme

  • Advising on a large number of academy conversions (both for multi-academy trusts and standalone converter academies), including the conversion of a federation of schools.  This included de-federation (prior to conversion) of one of the constituent schools within the federation which was not part of the conversion process. We advised both the converting schools and the DFE on the appropriate procedure to achieve the de-federation ahead of conversion. We also provided advice on all elements of the academy programme, including the conversion of special schools and pupil referral units, free schools and studio schools, and the establishment of a university technology college for a local university and major employer partners.

"Paul Wigham has extensive track records in academy conversions"

Legal 500, 2017



Paul Wigham | Partner | Watson Burton LLP