Central Team

Our Central Team supports School Improvement, Financial, Operational, Health and Safety and Human Resources services to our schools. If your would like to know more about these services please contact us at [email protected]

Paul James - Chief Executive

Paul James is a qualified teacher with over 25 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 2016 he was Headteacher of a comprehensive school of over 1900 students, which is a National Teaching School. He is currently a National Leader of Education 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 Business Partner

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.

Malvindar 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.

Louise Askew - Head of Governance and Compliance and Trust Data Protection Officer

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 was a Non-Executive Director of the REAch2 Academy Trust from September 2013 until July 2021. She has significant experience of governance restructuring, as well as developing and delivering training for governors. She has also been on an IEB and was 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.

Sarah Separovic - HR Director

Sarah has extensive experience in Human Resources gained across a variety of sectors including charity, private and public sectors as well as 7 years experience in the Education sector in higher education and setting up and leading the HR provision for a multi academy trust. Sarah's most recent role was leading the central support service functions within a multi academy trust including onboarding new Academies. A Chartered member of the CIPD since 2014, Sarah also holds a BA (Hons) Degree in Business and an Advanced Level Diploma in HR Management.

Fiona Henderson - Director of Primary Education

Fiona has worked in education for the last 30 years, taking on her first headship in 2000. She is an experienced Headteacher of four primary schools, working in three Local Authorities. For the past eight years she has worked in West Berkshire as a Headteacher and School Improvement Adviser. Additional leadership responsibilities have included the induction of NQTs and Continuous Professional Development of staff within the Authority working across the primary and secondary phases. She has assisted schools as a Pupil Premium Reviewer and in ‘Supported School Reviews’ and has been a Quality Assurance Assessor for a SCITT. Fiona has also worked as an Adviser to Governors in the Headteacher Performance Management process.

Tom Boulter - Director of Secondary Education

Tom is an experienced teacher and school leader. Having been a successful teacher, middle and senior leader, his most recent post prior to joining the Central Team was as Deputy Headteacher for curriculum, attainment and achievement at The Cherwell School. Tom's leadership ensured the ongoing development and improvement of excellent outcomes at this Outstanding school. He has particular interest in issues relating to curriculum design, assessment and classroom delivery, and is an SLE for leadership of English. Tom has extensive experience of classroom teaching, particularly related to teaching weaker and vulnerable students; he promotes active and purposeful collaboration between teachers as a way to achieve the thriving cultures of professional learning that schools need.

Felix Rayner - Deputy Director of Education ( Primary )

Felix has worked in primary education since 1995, taking on his first headship in 2004. Since then he has led a range of primary schools, from a very small village school to a large, three school federation. As an advisor, Felix has experience of supporting schools within West Berkshire. Alongside his role as Deputy Director of Education (Primary), Felix leads Ofsted inspections and facilitates National Professional Qualification for School Leadership training across the South East.

Roger Nixon - IT Technical Director

Roger Nixon is a qualified teacher and Google Certified Innovator with over 20 years of experience in schools. Roger has extensive practical experience in the effective implementation of a wide range of technologies in schools. He has led Wheatley Park to Google Reference School status where he is also based in this role alongside his role in the Central Team. Roger is a founding member of the UK Google Educator group, blogger, YouTuber and regular presenter at BETT.

Susie Morrissey - Transformation Director

Susie has a broad range of experience having worked in the education sector for over 15 years in both central and local government, as well as for a Diocese and with Multi Academy Trusts where she has worked in a number of senior roles focusing on leading change. Susie is a qualified project and programme manager (PRINCE2, MSP and P30 Practitioner) and has managed projects creating over 6500 new school places, converted dozens of schools to academy status, managed a secondary school admissions service, made significant changes to schools, and established new Multi Academy Trusts. Previously she set up and became the Chief Operating Officer of a Diocesan MAT, established to serve schools across Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire. Susie is a governor of an Outstanding primary school and is currently serving as a member of an IAB as well as being a member of the Strategic Board for the Milton Keynes Teaching Schools Alliance.

Simon Duffy - Secondary Support and Challenge Partner

Simon has over 35 years of teaching experience and 13 years of secondary headship. He works as a consultant and RLT support and challenge partner to support school leadership with strategy to raise standards. Such work includes developing precise action plans, improving leader and teacher performance, and closing gaps where they exist. Simon brings an Ofsted perspective to school self- evaluation and an impact focus to effective school improvement. He works to make a difference by highlighting themes; providing guidance and challenge to senior teams; evaluating the quality of teaching and learning; and supporting the development of precise improvement and action plans.

David Wilson - Secondary Support and Challenge Partner

David has over 40 years of teaching experience and 21 years as a secondary Headteacher with 8 of these leading an 'outstanding' school. Over this period he was designated as a National Leader in Education and also trained as a Leadership Coach. David was a founder member and appointed as Executive Headteacher of the Faringdon Academy of Schools, a Multi-Academy Trust consisting of one secondary and seven primary schools. He believes strongly in looking for and sharing best practices and in doing so has worked closely with schools, not just in the UK, but also Finland, Poland, Singapore, Uganda and Australia.

Angie Burnett - Early Years Support and Challenge Partner

Angie has more than 30 years' experience of teaching and learning in the Foundation Stage within a range of primary education settings, and joined the Central Team in September 2020. Prior to this she was the Assistant Headteacher, SENCo and Early Years lead at Madley Brook Primary School, where she taught for many years in both the Nursery and Reception classes from the school's opening in 2003. As a member of the Senior Leadership Team, Angie not only played an active role in raising standards in teaching and learning at Madley Brook, but was also a Peer Reviewer in the School Partnership Programme for two years, supporting the commitment to improving outcomes for pupils in other primary settings.

Katherine Spencer - Support and Challenge Partner

Katherine has over 30 years of experience of working in primary schools including 18 years as a headteacher of three different schools. Her most recent headship was with an RLT school, a position she held for 13 years. Additionally she has previously worked as an Ofsted trained inspector. Katherine has extensive experience of school improvement and curriculum development and joined the central team in January 2021.

Sarah Kerswell - Primary Support and Challenge Partner

Sarah has more than 20 years' experience in primary education, including 11 years as Headteacher and three years as CEO of a multi-academy trust. Sarah has extensive experience of supporting schools to improve in a variety of capacities including Acting Headships and governance

Mike Goves - Lead for Professional Learning and Development

Mike has taught science since 2005, holding senior leadership posts including DHT, AHT and Director of Teaching School roles in both maintained and independent sector schools, and with Ark Teacher Training where he held lead responsibility for the curriculum and assessment of all of Ark’s trainee teachers and NQTs for both primary and secondary across their national network. His experience lies with teaching and learning, curriculum and assessment, CPD, ITT and induction, and his passions lie with all things cognitive science. His writing, podcast and conference presentations have a focus on teacher development, research and implementing effective pedagogy. He has also been a national judge in the Pearson Teaching Awards since 2011.

Katherine Walsh - Director of Inclusion

Katherine Walsh is the Regional SEND Leader for South Central England and Northwest London with Whole School SEND and Co-Project Director for the Educational Endowment Foundation’s SEND Review Trial. She is an experienced teacher and school leader, bringing fifteen years teaching experience and nine years as a senior leader to the role. Katherine has experience teaching in both primary and secondary schools as a class teacher, Qualified Teacher of the Deaf and Autism Resource Base Teacher. Katherine is also an experienced SENCO; she has led SEND provision in primary and secondary schools in England and America. Over the past ten years, Katherine has developed particular expertise in working with leadership teams to develop school-wide systems, establishing shared and inclusive visions for the education of children and young people with SEND.

Jo Holohan - HR Business Partner

Jo has worked in HR in both the Commercial and Education Sectors since 1999. Specialising in Employment Law and Change Management, Jo holds the CIPD Advanced Employment Law Practitioner Certification along with CIPD qualifications in Leadership and Management. Previous positions have required her to lead and develop HR, OH & Recruitment Functions working alongside Senior Management Teams to support the effective delivery of organisational objectives. In Jo’s most recent role as HR Manager of Kingsdown School she successfully set up and lead the School’s HR Department.

Rachael Bayliss - Payroll Manager

Rachael has a significant amount of knowledge and experience working within the Education sector, delivering payroll services and providing support to a variety of maintained schools, Academies and Multi Academy Trusts across many different Local Authorities. In previous roles her management and leadership skills have also supported development of team structures, strategic planning processes and overall growth.

Sarah Taylor - RLT Administrator

Sarah joined RLT in July 2017 as Administrator. She had 12 years of experience in the NHS including being a Payroll Team Leader before moving into the education sector. Prior to joining RLT her previous role was a Pre-School Supervisor/Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator at a local Pre-School giving her an in depth insight to the structure of an Early Years establishment over a thirteen year period.

Gary Bosher - Head of Finance Business Partnering

Gary is an experienced Finance Business Partner having worked in the Banking sector for over 14 years supporting Sales and Business Management teams within Lloyds Banking Group. Gary moved to the education sector in July 2017 working as Senior Finance Officer for The Blackbird Academy Trust in Oxford before joining RLT in August 2018.

Kerry Harries - Finance Business Partner

Kerry started working in the education sector in September 2017 as a Finance Officer within an RLT school and moved to the RLT central finance team in September 2018 as School Finance Partner. Kerry previously worked in an accountancy practice where she gained her MAAT qualification. Prior to this, Kerry has more than 10 years' experience in the Commercial Banking sector as a Finance Underwriting Manager working for Bank of Scotland Equipment Finance and Investec Asset Finance.

Helena Hermsen - Trust Financial Accountant

Helena is an ACCA qualified accountant with more than 10 years' experience, gained within both practice and industry. She has worked in various accountancy/finance related roles over the years, gaining most of her experience as a senior auditor, looking after charities and other not for profit organisations. Being part of a finance team in an education environment is something she purposely sought when looking for her next job challenge.

Tracy Stanley - Senior Finance Officer

Tracy has worked in education for over 25 years ranging from Pre-School to Secondary School. She started working at The Cherwell School in September 2001, two years in the Art department then into the Finance department where she is now Senior Finance Officer for the Trust.

Ann Simmonds - Trust Accountant

Ann has more than 40 years of experience as a Chartered Accountant. Over 30 years of her professional life was spent providing accounting and auditing services for a wide range of clients including ‘Not for Profit’ organisations. In 2012, when Whitley Stimpson started to develop an interest in academies, it was a natural fit for her to become the lead Associate Director of the newly formed Academies Team. Ann spent the majority of her time out at schools providing support to Governors, Head Teachers and their finance team. In 2016 Ann took all this knowledge to a newly established free school as Chief Finance Officer. After an enjoyable but exhausting two years Ann moved to a four-school MAT providing the Chief Finance Officer with support and technical knowledge to move the decentralised finance structure to a centralised team.

Ruth Henagulph - Finance Officer

Ruth has worked in finance since 1999, initially in a self-employed capacity as a Company Secretary for three businesses. During this time, she gained an in-depth understanding of financial administration/procedures. In 2009 she commenced a role as Finance Assistant for The Cherwell School and in 2012 she started her current role as Finance Officer for the Trust.

Sarah Cox - Finance Business Partner

Sarah started working in the education sector in Nov 2013 for the OCC Schools Finance Team after working for many years in Childrens and Adult Social Services. This work continued as she moved to Vale Academy Trust to set up the budget monitoring for the primary and secondary schools. Sarah is a part qualified CIMA accountant experienced in working for financial services and partnering public sector organisations

Clare Carpen - Personal Assistant

Clare has worked within education for more than three years and her career path has always been within the administrative field. During this time she has gained in-depth knowledge and understanding of school governance and has continued to progress professionally.

Benedicte Yue - Chief Financial Officer

Bénédicte has over 20 years’ experience in Audit and Finance. She spent the first 10 years of her career as an external auditor mainly with KPMG & Deloitte in Paris and in London auditing large companies and financial institutions. She then became Director of International Affairs at the French Asset Management Association advising international asset management companies on cross-border issues and worked with the European Federation of Investment Funds on the development of the European Financial Regulatory Framework. In 2010, she developed a passion for international education and became actively involved in setting-up a multi-lingual free school near Oxford. She acted as Vice Chair of Governors and chaired the Finance committee. This led her to support other bilingual free school projects in London and to coordinate a working group at the French Institute promoting language learning in the UK.

Florian Le Barbier - Subject Support Partner for MFL

Florian has 14 years' experience in secondary education, starting as a Teaching Assistant and moving on to Cover Supervisor in his early career, before teaching French and Spanish for 11 years and leading the MFL faculty at Wheatley Park School for three years. He has particular interest in promoting the teaching of MFL in secondary schools and believes that is it is essential that all students are offered the opportunity to open their minds and face the challenges presented by new ways of thinking and perceiving the world through the learning of a foreign language. Florian promotes a culture of collaboration between teachers to support effective teaching and learning and at the same time reduce workload, and trusts that self-reflection is at the heart of developing practice.

Susan Druce - Estates Manager

Susan has been involved in various property related roles during the past 17 years, covering retail, commercial and residential sectors. With an extensive knowledge of compliance and health & safety related aspects of property management, Susan will be on hand to support all schools within the trust to ensure all areas of H&S compliance, property maintenance and training requirements are met.

Lucy Palmer - Junior HR Business Partner

Lucy joined the trust in January 2018 and has over 20 years' experience in the education sector, providing administrative support. Prior to joining the central team in January 2020 she worked within an RLT primary school providing HR, finance and premises management support. Lucy is CIPD qualified and holds a professional qualification in Human Resources practice. Lucy also works as part of a team of three wellbeing coordinators supporting staff wellbeing strategies and projects across the trust.

Sian Roberts - Subject Support Partner for Maths

Sian has over 20 years of experience of teaching mathematics in Oxfordshire secondary schools and is currently head of the very successful maths department at the Cherwell School. Sian believes that all students can experience success in learning maths and is particularly interested in teaching for mastery. She is currently part of the Secondary Mastery Specialist programme run by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics.

Neil Sadler - Subject Support Partner for English

Neil is an experienced teacher of English, with a background in teacher training. Whether working with students or with other teachers, Neil is fascinated by the interface between subject knowledge and the classroom. He believes that clear discussion around this, informed by an understanding of pedagogy and a respect for the different contexts we work in, will ultimately enhance students' experiences of learning English with us

Louise Gilkes - Subject Support Partner for Science

Louise has worked as a science teacher and school leader in several schools across Oxfordshire, holding roles including Assistant Headteacher, Head of Faculty and Science Specialism Coordinator. She has a passion for providing high quality science education and a particular interest in curriculum development and supporting effective teaching and learning. Louise believes that as science teachers we have a key role to play in developing students’ resilience and confidence in our students by providing learning experiences founded on sound conceptual progression. Coaching and mentoring has been at the heart of Louise’s work and she believes by working collaboratively and valuing the strengths of individuals we can get the best from our students.

Barbara Timms - Safeguarding Network Lead

Barb is a secondary teacher with over 30 years' experience including as a Senior Leader since 2003. She was Deputy Headteacher and DSL at The Cherwell School from 2007 - 2022 and has extensive experience of pastoral care especially relating to vulnerable children and young people. As well as Designated safeguarding Lead, she has been Domestic Abuse Champion, Designated teacher for Children we care for and has been part of the In Year Fair Access Panel since it was set up in 2003 working to prevent exclusions and secure school places for those children who do not have a school

Jo Greaney - Payroll Officer

Jo has had nearly 20 years' experience, heading the payroll for multiple companies. This is Jo's first vocation in the education sector and she is looking forward to bringing her experience to support the Trust.

Matthew Proffitt - Senior Network Manager

Matt has 13 years’ experience developing IT systems for school settings. As Network Manager, Matt has redesigned network infrastructures and deployed server virtualisation to increase disaster recovery capabilities as well as implementing cloud computing to enable remote access for staff and students. Matt has also worked with local partners to provide hardware for students to maintain their education whilst studying at home.

Chris Hardy - Estates Manager

Chris joins the River Learning Trust with twenty years’ experience within the building service industry. He has also previously worked in estates management in the private education sector bringing valuable knowledge and experience to the trust. Having completed an advanced modern apprenticeship to then gaining qualifications in construction site management, has enabled Chris to project manage a variety of mechanical and building projects within various commercial and domestic establishments. Chris also has experience of managing hard and soft services, including overseeing planned preventative maintenance and service level agreements for various educational establishments and high-end residential clients.

Richard Tilley - Communications Manager

Richard has more than 25 years’ experience in media and communications in the Oxfordshire area. He believes good schools that communicate and market themselves effectively have the best chance of thriving in an era when the UK’s low birth rate is leading to a fall in overall student numbers. Richard founded and owns education marketing firm Comms for Schools, which has run campaigns, built websites and produced videos for RLT schools. Previously he was assistant editor at Newsquest Oxfordshire, where he was responsible for the group’s weekly newspapers, including The Oxford Times. Richard started his media career as a sports journalist, winning national awards for his writing. He retains a passion for journalism and is an examiner with the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Richard has been a governor at an RLT primary school that his two children attended.

Mark Hancock - Curriculum planning advisor and data manager

Mark has 20 years of teaching experience in the UK and UAE, with 10 years of this at a senior level. Areas of specialism are sixth form, data, curriculum, finance and timetabling. He played a pivotal role in starting a new school in Kent where he went on to be vice chair of governor's, has supported sixth form leadership across a London borough, and spoken about the use of data at national conferences. Mark has been working with RLT schools since 2017 as an external consultant, and in addition to these roles joined the central team as a curriculum planning advisor and data manager in 2021.

Sally Owen - IT Helpdesk Manager

Sally joined RLT as an IT Technician in 2020, being based at Wheatley Park School but also supporting several local primary schools. Previously, after graduating in Computer Science and working in IT for a few years she moved with her family to Thailand where she was involved with IT support and children's education in the international community. Since joining RLT she has broadened her experience of various Google services, particularly coding with Google script, and become familiar with the RLT IT systems. She enjoys solving problems and helping others become more comfortable with IT.

Stephen Axcell - Finance Manager

We welcome Stephen Axcell who is supporting the Central Finance team, Stephen is also the new Finance Manager at The Cherwell School. He has many years of experience gained through various Audit firms. Stephen already knows our schools well after providing financial support following the Oxford Academy transfer and was subsequently interim Head of Finance at CSAT."

Clare Loose - Operations Administrator

Clare has worked within the education sector for the previous 8 years and prior to joining the RLT as an administrator, held the role of pre-school Manager. She has a background in Finance and has worked for both The Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Lloyds TSB in customer service, sales and managerial roles. She has a keen interest in administration and working within the education sector.

Jessica Gerfen - Trust SENDCo

Jess is an experienced teacher and school leader. She started her career teaching in mainstream primary schools before moving to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities sector, most recently working as an Assistant Headteacher in a community special school. Jess has overseen strategic change in her role as a senior leader including improving teaching, learning and school provision for students with a range of SEND.

Pip Elphick - Work Experience Project Manager

Pip has 14 years management experience in local universities. Prior to that she worked in the charity sector in administration and project management roles. Pip is relishing the opportunity to bring this experience to the world of work experience

Melanie Bywaters - HR Officer

Melanie is a fully CIPD qualified HR professional with experience of working in HR Advisory roles in both the public and private sector. Previous roles have required her to work in all aspects of HR including Compensation & Benefits and Generalist HR business support. Melanie joined the Trust 2021 as Clerk to the Governing Body of an RLT School and is delighted to be continuing this work alongside her role within Human Resources

Kim Young - Safeguarding Officer

Kim has a wealth of experience in safeguarding and has worked as a Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead for the last 23 years. She has supported vulnerable students including Children We Care For (CWCF), and has improved the attendance, wellbeing and outcomes for many students over the years. Her role in the River Learning Trust is to ensure that Designated Safeguarding Leads and front line pastoral staff have the support they need to ensure that safeguarding is of the highest standard in all our schools.

Tara Lamb - Finance Manager

Tara started her Career in the Finance sector in a scientific industry where she remained for two years as a Finance assistant. She then joined the education sector in 2019 where she worked as a Finance Officer, Finance Services lead and Finance Manager. Tara has had great exposure to school finances and implementation of new processes/systems which she thoroughly enjoys and will continue to develop. Tara is studying for her CIMA.

Cat Hughes - Primary Instructional Coach

Cat is a highly experienced teacher having taught across the primary age range for the past 10 years. Prior to this she worked across a range of Oxfordshire primary schools as a sports coach. Cat has held a range of senior leadership roles in both primary key stages, including the role of DSL, and, in 2018, she completed her NPQSL. Her responsibilities have included mentoring ECTs and supporting staff with their continuous professional development across a range of subjects. She has always had a keen interest in improving curriculum design and working alongside staff to deliver high quality lessons to improve teaching outcomes for children.

Darla Merry - Operations Administrator

Darla has experience within child protection services for Oxfordshire County Council, including dealing with the safeguarding of vulnerable children, as well as a Level 2 apprenticeship in customer service. In her spare time, Darla enjoys travelling.