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The Latest Guidance on School Land Transactions

on Wednesday, 07 April 2021.

The Department for Education (DfE) recently published revised guidance for school land transactions, intended for anyone with a freehold or leasehold interest in land used (or previously used) for the purposes of a school.

The guidance therefore applies to local authorities, academy trusts and trustees, and is designed to assist them to be able to recognise if and when they will require the DfE to be involved in their land transaction.

Different rules apply depending on who holds the land, what type of land transaction is taking place and what type of land is involved.

A full understanding of these requirements is important, as failure by the landowner to follow the proper process may result in, taking an academy trust as an example, breach of its funding agreement. In addition, an understanding of the consent requirements is key when planning a land transaction, as well as avoiding unnecessary delays in negotiating and completing one.

We summarise the key aspects of the guidance as follows:

  • Part 1 focuses on whether or not different types of landowner are required to involve the DfE in their land transactions, which depends on what type of land transaction is envisaged.
  • Part 2 focuses on the assessment criteria relevant to specific land transactions - including (but not limited to) disposals of non-playing field land, the grant of telecommunications leases and a change of use of school land. It also provides helpful guidance on what information and evidence the landowner will be required to provide to the DfE in support of its application.
  • Part 3 considers playing field land and provides a useful definition to help landowners understand what exactly constitutes a "playing field" (this is often wider than many landowners expect). This part of the guidance also provides updated information about the specific role of the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel in determining applications for consent.
  • Part 4 summarises the rules around general consent orders (GCOs). These usually apply to minor land transactions (for example, disposals granting access to utility companies, short-term changes of use and like-for-like swaps) and means that the landowner is not required to make a full formal application for consent, but need only inform the DfE that they are applying a GCO using a specific notification form.
  • Part 5 summarises the forms to be used to apply for consent to a land transaction. As before, forms should be completed electronically and emailed.

We have a team of property lawyers who specialise in advising academy trusts on property transactions.

If you have any queries in respect of the revised guidance or need any legal advice on managing school land, please contact Robin Rajanah in our Academies, MATs & Schools team on 07880 315872, or by completing the form below.

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