Mark Blois, Browne Jacobson’s national Head of Education, is marking a notable anniversary, an incredible 25 years as an education lawyer.
Mark Blois, Browne Jacobson’s national Head of Education, is marking a notable anniversary: an incredible 25 years as an education lawyer.
The new academic year 2021/22 will see the 25th anniversary of the start of Mark’s career as an education lawyer. As he reaches this major milestone Mark reflects on his professional journey and some of the achievements of the Browne Jacobson team he founded and has led.
It is somewhat extraordinary to find myself reflecting back on having completed 25 years as a lawyer dedicated to supporting and advising the education sector. Around the time I started my legal career a new area of law was developing around what were known as ‘failure to educate’ claims. These were insured liability claims in which claimants typically alleged negligent failures by those involved in their education to diagnose their special educational needs (SEN) and put in place appropriate support during their education. Thanks to Browne Jacobson’s client base of major insurers involved in the local authority market, I had the opportunity as a young lawyer to be at the forefront of these new types of claim. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge but, in particular, I found the range of education professionals I got to work with, including head teachers, SENCOs and educational psychologists and their professional and personal values to be a hugely rewarding group to work with. Through working on these claims, I learnt a great deal about the education sector and the work of education professionals. It became clear to me that I wanted to dedicate my legal career to advising education professionals and the organisations within the education sector.
Since then, my work as an education lawyer over the last 25 years has been wonderfully diverse and fulfilling. While my career began working exclusively on education negligence cases, my interest in the education sector then led to me seeking to actively diversify the range of legal advice I provided to education providers to include other aspects of education law, such as admissions, exclusions, SEN, pupil behaviour and child protection. Back then, specialist education lawyers, certainly outside of local authority legal teams, were quite a rare breed, but I was able to build a practice for myself that, in turn, enabled me to found a small Education team at Browne Jacobson that supported and advised school clients in relation to education law issues and helped them manage some of the practical implications of what tended to be an escalating stream of new statutory guidance and regulation.
Browne Jacobson’s Education team was fortunate to enter the market at the beginning of what turned out to be a hugely significant decade of policy developments around the school system. First, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 introduced foundation schools as a replacement for grant-maintained schools, which were schools whose governing bodies were afforded greater freedoms in the running of their schools. Further developments around school system reconfiguration and governance autonomy followed thereafter. In 2000, the original academies programme commenced via the provisions of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 although, at that point, the number of academies remained very small, and in 2007, proposals for another new form of school, the trust school, were enacted in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which added further momentum to the theme of giving increasing freedoms and devolved decision making powers to schools and reducing the role of local authorities. The climax of this run of significant policy developments around the school system was then the Academies Act 2010. It was a fascinating period and the education team and its client base grew steadily during this time.
Since 2010, thousands of schools have converted to academy status, adopting the status of charitable companies and starting to employ their own staff and manage their own assets. The range of law with which academies are required to engage is much more wide ranging than maintained schools, and the legal and regulatory framework for academies has evolved with increasing complexity over the last decade. As a corollary of this, the range of legal advice education clients have required has diversified incredibly. In tandem with that development, we have seen the emergence of multi-academy trusts, as the predominant model of governance within the education sector. These multi-academy trusts are essentially large charitable companies delivering state education, and the legal teams who serve them have needed to progressively build their capability and capacity to ensure that they have continued to meet the legal needs of their clients. As a result, the modern education law team is a very different and much larger organisation than the small and very niche teams that existed before.
Against this background, I have had the great privilege of leading the Browne Jacobson Education team from its modest beginnings to become the market-leading practice it is today. Today, I oversee a multidisciplinary team of around 70 lawyers across a national network of offices, meeting the legal needs of over 1,300 different education providers every year. While still a specialist area of the legal profession, the number of education lawyers has increased significantly, in particular over the last ten years, and it is a little odd to now find myself to be one of the most experienced education lawyers in the country. Reflecting back on having completed 25 years as a lawyer dedicated to supporting and advising the education sector, I find myself feeling very grateful for having had the opportunity to work in such a fascinating and fast-developing area of legal practice. I have also had the pleasure of working with a wonderful and talented team of colleagues whose commitment, as we have built the hugely successful Browne Jacobson team together, has been extraordinary. However, above all, I feel honoured to have been able to serve the thousands of education professionals who have been my clients over the last 25 years. The values of education professionals and their remarkable work improving the life chances of children and young people was what originally inspired me to become an education lawyer all those years ago, and it is also what has sustained my ongoing commitment to the education sector over the years that have followed.
There’s been little evidence of interventions or financial management reviews this year and it appears the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) has re-focussed on financial delivery. It’s also telling that there were no discernible changes to the reporting of financial irregularities in the Academies Trust Handbook 2022.
The Children’s Commissioner, Rachel De Souza, has recently published a report “Beyond the labels: a SEND system which works for every child, every time”, which she intends to sit alongside the DfE’s SEND Review (2019) and SEND Green Paper (2022) and which she hopes will put children’s voices at the heart of the government’s review of SEND system.
There’s greater opportunity than ever for parents, carers and guardians to voice any concerns they have relating to their child’s education and for their concerns to be heard and to be taken seriously. While most staff in schools and academies are conscious of their legal duties relating to complaints management, many are struggling to cope with such a significant increase in the volume of complaints they must manage.
We’re pleased to collaborate with Lloyds Bank, who recently asked us and audit and risk specialists Crowe UK to offer guidance that academy trusts would find helpful when considering setting up a trading subsidiary.
The DfE has published new guidance and opened the application process for window two of the Trust Capacity Fund (TCaF) for 2022/2023, with a fund of £86m in trust capacity funding focused particularly on education investment areas.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was established in March 2015. We now have its report. As you would expect with such a broad scope, the report is long and makes a number of far-reaching recommendations. In this article, Dai Durbridge highlights seven of the 20 recommendations, sets out how they could impact on schools and suggests what steps to take now.
Browne Jacobson’s education team has been named as winner of the ‘Legal Advisors to Education Institutions’ category at the Education Investor Awards 2022 for a record sixth time.
Since the new Suspensions and Exclusions Statutory Guidance was published, we have received a lot of questions about the use of managed moves. For the first time, the Statutory Guidance does explain what a managed move is, but in relatively broad terms and does not cover the mechanics of how a managed move should operate.
Over 3000 young people from across the UK and Ireland took part in a virtual legal careers insight event, aimed at making the legal profession more diverse.
Holly Quirk, an associate barrister in Browne Jacobson’s Manchester office, was awarded the Legal Professional of the Year Award at this year’s Manchester Young Talent Awards.
The risk of assault against staff is, sadly, something that all schools need to consider carefully. Here one legal expert explains what they can do to protect staff and ensure they fulfil their duty of care.
Browne Jacobson’s education team has again been confirmed as a national powerhouse after securing five Tier 1 rankings relating to Education in the latest edition of Legal 500 and maintaining a Band 1 UK-wide ranking for Education in Chambers & Partners UK 2023.
Created at the end of the Brexit transition period, Retained EU Law is a category of domestic law that consists of EU-derived legislation retained in our domestic legal framework by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. This was never intended to be a permanent arrangement as parliament promised to deal with retained EU law through the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (the “Bill”).
In this article we set out the criteria, expectations and support schools should consider if notified they fall within this new category.
The words “Grammar schools” are once again being whispered in government and the question of whether the creation of new grammar schools will finally be implemented as a central focus to DFE policy has re-surfaced.
As a result of a recent Charity Commission legal action, the former trustee of a Welsh charity was ordered to pay over £117,000 to Wrexham charities which support cancer patients.
Academy trusts no longer need to seek consent for contractual indemnities within the ‘normal course of business’. What do trusts need to consider?
In this article we set out the most common issues we encounter, along with guidance on assessing and mitigating the risk from assaults.
In this article we set out some of the support that's available to schools in a bid to reduce the overhead that complaints management generates.
As we start the Autumn term, the first part of the process for changing school admission arrangements can begin.
On 21 September 2022, we had the pleasure of hosting a Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) lunchtime briefing, delivered by the Director General for the DfE’s Strategy Group, Julia Kinniburgh.
Law firm Browne Jacobson and the University of Nottingham are launching a ground-breaking two and a half year Knowledge Transfer Partnership which aims to develop and embed long-lasting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) principles and learnings into the firm’s practices and processes, amongst its key client-bases and the national legal sector.
In an academic environment, there can be pressures to publish, particularly where funding is dependent upon research and reputation. Whilst there can be competition between Higher Education establishments to be the first to publish, there can also be internal conflicts over authorship rights where several individuals have contributed to the work.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have announced they will be carrying out a programme of inspections to primary and secondary school establishments from September 2022. The inspections will assess how schools are managing the risks from asbestos and meeting the Duty to Manage requirements, set out in Regulation 4 of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012.
In July 2022, the Supreme Court handed down its long-awaited Judgement in the case of Harpur Trust v Brazel relating to the correct calculation of statutory holiday pay for part year workers. This decision has implications for all part year workers on contracts which subsist all year round, whether their hours are normal or irregular.
Universities and colleges are not immune from deception by unscrupulous bad actors. The extent to which educational institutions can manage and control risk not only depends on financial management and internal controls, but also the robustness of security and processes which can be exploited from outside the organisation.
The new set of Legal 500 directory rankings have been published and we are proud to once again be recognised as one of the country’s leading firms advising the Education sector.
Browne Jacobson has been ranked as a Top Tier law firm in 25 key practice areas in Legal 500 UK 2023, the independent directory of comparative law firm performance. The firm also continues to underpin its status as one of the leading law firms in the East Midlands region with 16 Tier 1 rankings.
Since the UK left the EU and are now able to move away from the EU data protection regime, the UK government have implemented a national data strategy with the aim of reducing the burden on organisations but maintaining a high data protection standard.
The Chancellor’s recent mini-budget provided a significant announcement for business as it was confirmed that the off-payroll working rules (known as “IR35”) put in place for public and private sector businesses from 2017 and 2021 will be scrapped from April 2023.
The law around disability discrimination against pupils is not straightforward – but the reputational risk, let alone costs, of falling foul of the law are huge, so it’s worth upskilling staff whenever possible, as these two lawyers outline.
On 20 July 2022, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited judgment in the case of Harpur Trust v Brazel, upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal. For those of you familiar with this case, you will know that it concerns the statutory leave requirements for part-time and part-year workers. For schools and academies whose workforce consists of a variety of types of part-time and part-year workers, this case is one that must be understood before any changes are applied. Come and join Emma Hughes, Head of HR Services as she puts questions to Ian Deakin, Employment Partner, and Sarah Linden, Senior Associate.
The Department for Education (DfE) have announced that the conversion of Donisthorpe Primary School in Leicestershire on 1st September marked the 10,000th academy conversion.
There is (understandably) some confusion about the steps schools and trusts need to take to discharge the new online check duty set out in paragraph 220 of KCSIE. I can’t completely clarify all of it for you, but I can help you find a sensible route through. These FAQs are a good place to start.