Ward Hadaway advises on £48m education shake-up | 21 December 09

LAW firm Ward Hadaway has played a key role on a £48m education project in Northumberland.

The firm, which has offices in Newcastle and Leeds, advised The Church of England Diocese of Newcastle and the Duke of Northumberland’s Charitable Trust on the Northumberland Church of England Academy scheme.

This is one of the most radical shake-ups of education ever seen in Northumberland.

Under the scheme, first, middle and high schools across 10 sites in the Hirst area of Ashington, Newbiggin and Lynemouth are being replaced by a two-tier academy system across five sites taking pupils aged from three to nineteen.

Three of these sites – primary schools in Lynemouth and Newbiggin and a flagship secondary school in Hirst – will be brand new buildings with state of the art facilities.

There will also be a 100-place specialist unit for pupils with particular Special Educational Needs (SEN).

The Diocese of Newcastle and the Duke of Northumberland Charitable Trust are joint sponsors of the academy scheme, providing some funding elements and having an input into the curriculum at the academy schools, which will still follow the National Curriculum.

Ward Hadaway has advised the two sponsors and the special trust company which has been set up to run the academy.

Lawyers at the firm have been working on the project for more than 18 months, advising on everything from the setting up of the trust company and funding agreements to property matters and all the commercial aspects of the scheme.

Melanie Pears, partner and head of public sector at Ward Hadaway, said: “As well as being a major education scheme for the North-East, this is one of the largest academy projects in the country, in terms of the number of sites and the number of pupils affected.

“The past year and a half has seen an awful lot of hard work from all the parties involved on the scheme, from the sponsors The Diocese of Newcastle and the Duke of Northumberland Charitable Trust, the local education authority and central government to the other stakeholders playing their part.

“Ward Hadaway’s role in the project has involved input from many different areas of expertise within the firm, from property and commercial specialists to experts in funding.

“Everyone has been fully committed to the goal of transforming education for children and young people in this area of Northumberland and it is very rewarding to see the project taking shape.”

The process has so far seen the ten schools covered by the Hirst partnership reopen as one single Academy in September 2009.

All have been renamed after distinguished North-East figures including Robert Stephenson, Grace Darling and John Dobson.

The planning and tendering processes for the new-build schools are under way and it is hoped the new buildings will be ready for pupils by September 2011.

Ward Hadaway’s expertise in the education sector has seen its services in demand on projects across the country.

It has advised on more than £150m worth of school rebuilding schemes in Nottingham under the Government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and, closer to home, it is advising on BSF schemes in Hartlepool and Redcar, where it is acting for the respective local authorities.

Ward Hadaway is one of only two law firms based in the North-East and one of only 17 across the country to be on the legal panel for Partnership for Schools, the body responsible for delivering the BSF programme.

So far, it has worked on almost £700m worth of BSF projects, with its public sector group as a whole advising on more than £2bn of capital projects.

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