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.