River Learning Trust

A Multi-Academy Trust

committed to excellence

in education

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Central Team

Paul James - Chief Executive

Paul James is a qualified teacher with over 20 years of experience in schools, including in senior leadership roles in a range of secondary education settings, and as a primary school governor and IEB member. Until recently he was a Headteacher of a comprehensive school of over 1800 students, which is a National Teaching School. He is currently a National Leader of Education and an Ofsted inspector alongside being Chief Executive of the River Learning Trust.


Lisa Hughes - Chief Operating Officer

Lisa has worked at Executive and Non- Executive levels in the not for profit sector for 18 years, 16 of which have been in housing. Lisa has spent the last decade specialising in change and transformation, governance and strategy, working particularly with organisations undergoing a significant programme of change and growth. She is a qualified accountant with over 20 years post qualification experience, and holds a post grad cert in Organisational Development from Roffey Park Institute. She is also a Board member of Chipping Norton Theatre, Oxfordshire Credit Union and the Hastoe Group.

Claire Handyside - HR Director

Claire has had an extensive career in HR through a range of educational HR settings including the University of Oxford and academic publishing. Previous roles have required her to lead on acquisitions and mergers, strategic HR planning, supporting and leading organisational change, operational HR as well as HR process management and administration. She has been a Chartered member of the CIPD since 2007.


Malv Bhomra - Operations Director

Malv has significant experience in a range of operational, financial and administrative roles gained through a career in banking and education. These roles have given him exposure to a variety of aspects including financial management and budgeting, premises management, project management and leadership roles. A former registered Prince2 Practitioner, Certificate of School Business Management qualified and a Fellow of the Institute of Administrative Management. Malv also has experience of process and policy design and a reasonable understanding of IT systems and infrastructures.


Fadiya Rassel - Head of Finance

Fadiya is the Head of Finance at River Learning Trust. Before joining River Learning trust, Fadiya was Senior Accountant at Oxford Brookes University. She held a range of roles in Finance at Oxford Brookes University, including Strategic Planning, Systems Accounting and financial reporting. Fadiya is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University, has a master’s degree from Grenoble Graduate School of Business and is an ACCA Qualified Accountant. Her early career was spent working in private sector and the NHS.


Louise Askew - Head of Governance and Compliance

Louise has extensive experience of school governance: she is Chair of Governors at an outstanding school in West Sussex having seen it move from Special Measures in under three years. She is also a Non-Executive Director of the REAch2 Academy Trust, the largest primary academy trust in England. She has significant experience of governance restructuring, as well as developing and delivering training for governors. She has also been on an IEB and is an NLG. Professionally, Louise has had a career as a translator and interpreter working to and from English and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and her last post was as the Chief of NATO HQ’s language service in Bosnia which she set up and ran for several years. She has a PhD from the University of Nottingham.


Kate Curtis - Secondary Support and Challenge Partner

Kate is a teacher and leader with over 30 years experience, most recently serving for 12 years as Headteacher of Wheatley Park School, a large 11-18 school on the outskirts of Oxford. Kate oversaw rising standards, leading the school from 'special measures' to Good and was praised by Ofsted in 2016 for her 'focused and purposeful' leadership. Kate was designated an LLE in 2015. She is a board member of Oxford's Pegasus Youth Theatre.


Sue Grundy - Primary Support and Challenge Partner

During her time in education Sue Grundy has worked in all sectors from primary through to higher education. She joins the Trust following a period of ten years as the Headteacher of St Michael’s CE Primary School. During this period, successes included year-on-year improvements in standards, government awards for work with disadvantaged pupils, an outstanding judgement in a SIAMS inspection and opportunities to celebrate the wider curriculum through Arts Mark, Eco Schools status and sports awards.

Steph Lovett - Primary Support and Challenge Partner

Steph Lovett is an accomplished and successful Headteacher with 25 years of experience in primary education including as a Literacy and School Improvement Consultant. As Headteacher of Sandhills Primary, Oxford, she established the school in the UK’s ‘Top 100 Most Improved Schools’. The school received recognition from the Government with regards to the performance of disadvantaged pupils and has, for the past several years, been in the top 15% of Oxfordshire schools for the overall attainment of its pupils and the top 6% for the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

Members of the Trust

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