Our NLEs and SLEs

“Teaching schools and system leaders support the Department for Education’s goal to provide every child and young person with access to high-quality provision, achieving to the best of their ability regardless of location, prior attainment and background.”

SLEs focus on developing leadership capacity. While other roles focus specifically on developing classroom expertise, this role is about developing the capacity and capability of other leaders so that they have the skills to lead their own teams and improve practice in their own schools.

This may be done through one-to-one or group support and could involve a variety of activities, such as:

  • data analysis
  • coaching
  • facilitating and training
  • joint action planning

Click here for more information on becoming a Specialist Leader in Education.

Meet our Specialist Leaders in Education

Caroline Harding

Specialist Leader in Education

Leadership of CPD, SEN and Attendance

Caroline has 21 years of experience working with leaders in a range of age phases and settings within the primary sector and has worked in a variety of primary schools from Camberwell in South East London to coastal and urban schools in North Devon.

She is currently the SENDco at Orchard Vale Community School in Barnstaple and has 10 years’ experience in this role. Caroline also has experience of being a Head of School, Deputy Head of School and Team leader across all key stages of a Primary school.

Caroline’s strengths lie in being able to listen and attune to the needs of others and ascertain how best to work with them. She believes in having open professional dialogues and building trusting, honest relationships with the professionals she works with.

She uses a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitating techniques to be put into place practical and sustainable support that works for the individual/school.

As well as working full time, Caroline is a full time Mother of one and in her spare time enjoys swimming, reading and cooking.

Fred Barber

Specialist Leader in Education

Computer Science

Fred has been teaching computing for 7 years and leading the Computing Department at Pilton Community college for 5 years. During this time he has overseen the transition from ICT to Computing and the introduction of many new qualifications. He has also played a key role in the implementation of ‘life without levels’ developing an assessment system for the whole school with accompanying support and CPD. Since he began teaching Fred has supported a range of teachers and leaders in his capacity as a “Learning Coach” and then later as a Computing at School “Master Teacher”. This support has ranged from one on one coaching programs to analysing and developing effective school systems to whole school CPD sessions. Fred is also currently a governor at Pilton Infants school and has supported them with several ICT and CPD related projects.

Fred is an excellent problem solver and utilises his knowledge of computational thinking methods to logically solve whole school problems. He is also a good communicator who recognises the value of effective listening and positive relationships in the development of solutions. Fred is experienced in system design within education and has worked to improve the efficiency of school systems, ranging from reporting, assessment and feedback to resource delivery, and time management.

When he is not working Fred develops custom software for education but also likes to escape the confines of the computer to explore North Devon and tend to his allotment. He is a keen guitarist and an active member of the Pilton community.

Charlotte Hill

Specialist Leader in Education

Leadership of CPD and Leadership of curriculum
Charlotte has worked for Ventrus for over 12 years in a variety of roles and is currently the Headteacher at Sidbury CE Primary School. She is extremely passionate about schools and colleagues working together to improve education for all children. Charlotte is a people person, who builds trusting relationships with others; she has an open and honest approach to working collaboratively.
Charlotte successfully plans and delivers CPD in her own school, across schools in the Trust and within other Learning communities. Essentially, school improvement priorities should drive CPD and curriculum development, once these have been identified bespoke CPD can be planned. Charlotte has had the privilege to work alongside Mick Waters to unpick school’s curriculums and how they can be enhanced. She has a track record of successfully supporting teachers into leadership roles through coaching and mentoring them.
Charlotte engages with further reading about educational matters and has a particular interest in child development, specifically linked to children’s emotional well-being. This is the catalyst for Charlotte’s drive as a leader, as she believes that the key to unlocking success for all children is for them all to enjoy self-worth.

Fiona Pearce

Specialist Leader in Education

Assessment, Closing the Gap and Behaviour and Discipline
Fiona has been teaching for over 24 years and within that time she has worked in all year groups from Reception to Year 6. Alongside teaching full time Fiona has worked for many years as a Health School rep for DCC supporting Devon schools in applying for the healthy school award.
Fiona became to team leader for key stage 1 and then a KS1 moderators for DCC again supporting schools across Devon with the moderation process. Fiona passed the assessment to become an advanced skills teacher and worked 1 day a week supporting teachers in the area of data and assessment and teaching and learning. While on maternity leave with her first child she set up a full day care provision within Orchard Vale to provide quality childcare for teacher returning to work after having children. This has been highly successful.
Fiona them moved to be deputy head of school and became an SLE. She completed her NPQSL and Fiona is now headteacher at Orchard Vale.

Lyn Brimson

Specialist Leader in Education

Curriculum Development
Lyn has 13 years of experience teaching across Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in a variety of schools in north and mid-Devon. Whilst being a team leader of upper key stage 2, Lyn has enjoyed working alongside a team of enthusiastic teachers to develop a child-centred curriculum, enabling children to take greater control of their own learning and interests. Lyn has experience of being a Head of School as well as a literacy coordinator both in school and as part of the Barnstaple learning community, where she led an English project to develop a creative approach to teaching English. Lyn has been fortunate to work with local secondary schools to develop transition links and with the Primary Languages Team - a dynamic group of people who created a practical way to support language learning in French, German and Spanish to teachers and children. Lyn has enjoyed delivering training on the KS2 framework for Primary languages both locally in Devon as part of a modular course but also in Britain across Bristol, London and Liverpool. One of the highlights of this was teaching a Take 10 exercise in French to a team of Ofsted inspectors!
Lyn is an accredited trainer with NCSL and Leading Schools South West and she has delivered bespoke leadership modules to teachers wishing to develop their leadership potential across schools in North Devon. Lyn now supports and enjoys teaching a variety of foundation degree modules in partnership with SCITT across different schools within the Trust.
Lyn's passion lies within curriculum development and in creating a curriculum that includes, engages and supports children of all abilities to explore and be independent learners, ready to engage readily with the world beyond school. Lyn is currently developing, alongside a team, a classroom hub for children with emotional, behavioural and learning needs. This supports her passion for the curriculum and helping children to access learning in a creative and supportive manner whilst understanding their own emotional needs and the strategies needed to become our future generation.

Robinne Lowrey

Specialist Leader in Education

Early Years and Support for the Most Able
Robinne is currently working as Deputy Headteacher following 13 years experience in the classroom. Robinnes specialism in education is in Early Years and has been a team leader in this Key Stage for 6 years. Previously to that, Robinne worked as team leader in Key Stage one. Her first experiences of teaching was in Inner City London, where she gained valuable experiences in teaching KS1. Robinne very quickly moved into the Team Leader role and eventually made a family choice to move to Devon. Here, Robinne has continued to develop her pedagogy at Orchard Vale school, working across the EYFS and KS1 phases.

Now as Deputy Head, she works on school improvement across the school and have developed further understanding of the KS2 curriculum, mentoring new staff into this key stage last year. Overall, Robinnes skills lie in Early Years, Data and Assessment as well as having a good understanding of coaching and mentoring staff.

Tamsin Johnson

Specialist Leader in Education

Maths and Science
Tamsin has been a teacher for 12 years. She gained a degree in Forensic Science at the University of Lincoln, before pursuing a career in education, first as a teaching assistant and then as a teacher after completing her PGCE with Devon Primary SCITT.

Tamsin joined Sticklepath Community School in 2007, where she gained management experience through mentoring, before being appointed team leader of year 3/4 at Orchard Vale in 2010. She currently teaches a mixed years 3 and 4 class at Orchard Vale but has experience of teaching years 2 to 6. Her current management role is as Maths coordinator, which also links to her work in the STEM subjects across the school.

Tamsin’s strengths lie in working closely with teachers to support their individual needs and achieve professional goals. She believes in an open and personal approach to mentoring, promoting honest professional conversations, whilst also supporting those with a hectic work-life balance!

Antonia Lavictoire

Specialist Leader in Education

English and Music
Antonia has worked at Orchard Vale for over six years, joining SLT as the Year 5/6 team leader for the past four years and leading initiatives in the performing arts and English. She gained a degree in Theology from King’s College London before pursuing a career in education, obtaining a PGCE and MEd from the University of Exeter.
Having a research background has enabled Antonia to develop and share her research in active learning and the impact of the arts on a child’s academic, personal and social experiences. She is enthusiastic about the use of performing arts to raise standards and enrich learning opportunities for all children in English.
Antonia has used these experiences to work on school improvement across Ventrus, as an SLE, and become a KS2 writing moderator for Devon. Her ongoing role, working for STA as a reading test developer and marker for KS1 and KS2 helps Antonia work to enhance assessment and teaching and learning strategies to improve outcomes for children.
In her spare time, Antonia enjoys singing, playing the flute, taking her dog for a walk by the sea and surfing.

Fran Brinicombe

Specialist Leader in Education

Inclusion and Safeguarding
Francesca was appointed as Headteacher of St David's C of E Primary School in 2008. She had previously taught in a number of Primary schools in Devon and North London and has a rich and varied experience of inclusion. Fran has more than 30 years experience of working in Education and has15 years+ experience as a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator. She is also the DSL in her current post.

Fran has gained the National SENCO qualification and has worked hard with staff teams to ensure that outcomes for all pupils, whatever their ability level, is above national averages. Fran is a founder member of the steering group for the Exeter Primary Support Partnership which supports schools to include children with the most challenging behaviours. The partnership organises regular conferences, peer support sessions and commissions a wide variety of training and Fran has been an active participant in these activities.

In her career Fran has developed a successful track record of school improvement supporting colleagues and other leaders; she has the interpersonal skills which enable her to work sensitively and collaboratively with others. Fran understands what outstanding leadership practice looks like and can help other leaders to achieve it in their own context.

Michelle Lockyer

Specialist Leader in Education

Michelle has been teaching at Hemyock School for eight years. Before qualifying as a teacher she completed her degree while working full time as a teaching assistant and higher level teaching assistant at Wilcombe School.

As a child Michelle found mathematics difficult. Rather than view this as a failing, She has used her experience to ensure that the children she teaches understand mathematical concepts. Michelle has a deep understanding of how the lack of conceptual understanding can stop children from reaching their full potential in mathematics. Michelle firmly believes that children need to have access to learning that is open and investigative so that they can develop their mathematical thinking and achieve mastery at a level appropriate to them.

Having the opportunity to teach in both Key Stages One and Two has given Michelle a clear understanding of the progression in skills that need to be taught. Knowing the key concepts for each year group has enabled her to establish a progression in skills document that is used by teachers to identify the key concepts and skills that need to be taught in each year group. Michelle has introduced ‘practise’ opportunities to develop fluency in number and calculation and developed the use of manipulatives and pictorial representations in every Maths lesson. More recently, following on from Michelle's work with the Maths Hub, she has introduced a number fluency strand into Mathematics planning to further secure pupils understanding of number.

Michelle believes that a creative curriculum which challenges thinking is crucial for adding depth to learning and is essential for development in mathematical thinking. Open-ended tasks with ‘no ceiling’ enable all children to deepen their understanding and consolidate their prior learning. Quality questioning is an essential part of quality teaching as it challenges children to think for themselves and provides excellent assessment for learning opportunities. Having high expectations of the children ensures that children are challenging their own learning and development and supports working in a mastery curriculum.

Michelle is passionate about improving teaching and learning and have supported PGCE students, NQTs and, more recently, Schools Direct students in developing their teaching.

Clair Murell

Specialist Leader in Education

Clair has thirteen years teaching experience, working across Foundation and Key Stage 1, including teaching mixed aged classes. As senior teacher at Sidbury C of E Primary School, Clair leads staff in CPD as well as conducting assessment and monitoring roles through the year. Such roles have been supported by Clair obtaining the NPQSL qualification and developing her coaching and mentoring style.

Clair has led English for the last nine years. This has involved working on raising standards in reading, writing, spelling and phonics and meeting with English leads across the Trust to share in projects, including writing, guided reading and promoting a love of reading for all. She has also worked with her school team to lead parent workshops to support home learning.
As an SLE in English Clair has worked with school staff both in and out of the trust to support and drive fluency in phonics in Year 1. This project involved training staff members on effective teaching methods, planning assessment opportunities with teachers and looking at bespoke support based on the need for each individual school.

Being an experienced Year 2 teacher Clair has worked with staff across Ventrus to support with Year 2 moderation and for the last 4 years she has led groups of individuals in different learning communities in Years 2, 4 and 6 through moderation meetings. Clair will be joining the Babcock moderators to moderate KS1 data in schools across Devon in 2019.

As well as working full time, Clair is a mother of two and enjoys welly walks, cooking and reading in her spare time.

Katie Rycroft

Specialist Leader in Education

Since joining the teaching profession Katie has had the privilege of teaching across the entire Primary phase, developing her specialism in English. She is currently the Deputy Head teacher at St Andrew’s Primary School in Cullompton and has had 10 years experience in this role. Katie has also had experience of being a lead teacher across Devon and a team leader across all key stages within the primary school.

Katie has a strong understanding of the English Curriculum and of the pedagogy of teaching and learning. She currently leads English and Phonics across St Andrew’s Primary School and has had recent experience of leading Ventrus Multi Academy Trust’ English network of schools, facilitating the collaboration of best practices and new initiatives. Katie has lead whole school training on writing, reading, handwriting, spelling and phonics: improving the quality of provision, resulting in raised attainment for pupils. Katie has recently been involved in leading and developing phonics fluency across a group of schools supporting them in best practice and leadership of phonics.

Katie is keen to ensure she offers the best support to schools by keeping abreast of recent changes and attending training to support her own pedagogy of teaching English.
Katie is a good communicator who recognises the value of effective listening and positive relationships whilst developing and supporting professionals and schools. She is experienced in, and passionate about, sharing best practice with schools to ensure staff and children reach their full potential.

Ella Rice

Specialist Leader in Education


Ella has been teaching for 5 years, at various different schools with Ventrus Multi Academy Trust. Her love of books, words and theatre meant that she naturally gravitated towards being literacy lead at Hemyock and promoting a skills based curriculum with a sprinkling of drama. Her excellent subject knowledge ensured she supported staff at school and across the trust with all things English. Recently, she has designed a reading challenge to support the achievement of the “love of reading” objective on the National curriculum. The scrap book style approach to the reading challenge has been adopted by other schools in the trust, as well as being purchased by Devon Schools Library service.

Recently, Ella’s leadership skills have been recognised, as she was placed on the NPQSL course through the trust. She has also been on a two term secondment supporting two schools by providing leadership and rapid school improvement. These experiences have honed her already strong communication skills and strong understanding of the pedagogy of teaching and learning.

Ella prides herself on being friendly, perceptive and approachable, whilst maintaining her very high standards and professionalism. She is very much looking forward to being an SLE, so she can share best practice and support schools to ensure staff and children reach their full potential.

Victoria Jones-Whyte

Specialist Leader in Education


Victoria has been a teacher for ten years working across both key stages, specialising in KS1. She gained a BA Honours degree in Theatre at Bretton hall, University of Leeds before completing her PGCE at the University of East Anglia.

Victoria worked in Theatre in Education before becoming a teacher; recognising and interested in how dramatic conventions reach the ‘whole child’ helping them develop into curious lifelong learners.

She believes in a dialogic classroom where ultimately children feel safe and confident to share their ideas and values within a stimulating and vibrant learning environment. The development of self-belief and confidence in children, she believes, is central to their success and ability to progress and reach higher. Victoria likes to be a facilitator in the classroom and part of the class community, promoting healthy questioning, debate and discussion. This fosters the children’s curiosity and challenges their thinking. She feels that teaching and learning through co-construction engages children, personalises learning and lifts the lid on set learning intentions, allowing each child to reach higher and push boundaries.

Lucy Steele

Specialist Leader in Education

Lucy has been teaching for 10 years and has worked for Ventrus Academy Trust for the last four years. She obtained a PGCE from the University of Warwick after completing a degree in Psychology. For the last three years, Lucy has worked as a part of the leadership team in the role of Middle Leader, with responsibility for improving teaching and learning across KS2.
Lucy has a passion for teaching Mathematics and has driven improvement in pedagogy across the school since becoming Mathematics Subject Leader two years ago. She has a strong understanding of the pedagogy of teaching mathematics and has provided training and CPD within her own school to develop and improve the understanding of staff across all year groups. Through a Teaching School funded project ‘Closing the Gap’, Lucy has extended her knowledge on strategies to support underperforming pupils to promote rapid progress. These strategies include assigning competence, pre-teach and incremental coaching.
In order to improve the number fluency of pupils within her school, Lucy has designed a progressive approach called ‘Rainbow Maths’. This has been very successful and is now being used in various ways by others schools across the trust.
Lucy is enthusiastic to begin to support staff from other school settings, sharing best practice and supporting the teaching and learning of mathematics to ensure that both staff and pupils can achieve the utmost progress.

Clare Bedford

Specialist Leader in Education

Clare Bedford has been a primary school teacher since 2009 having specialised in Early Childhood Studies through a 4 year BEd degree at the University of Plymouth. Clare has taught through Early Years and Key Stage 1. She became a SENDCo in 2012 and completed her National Award for Special Educational Needs in 2015. She is a trained Thrive practitioner and has had her licence since 2013. Currently Clare works as a SENDCo across two schools in Ventrus. Through this role she liaises with a range of outside agencies, holds regularly CPD for all staff, secures funding through the statutory assessment process, runs Early Help meetings, co-ordinates all interventions and works very closely with families. Clare has a specialist interest in Social, Emotional and Mental Health. She has been involved in delivering training to Newly Qualified Teacher’s through a teaching school supporting them on behaviour management as well as running parenting workshops.
Clare has had a number of her research assignments published in SEND journals and books as well as supporting newly appointed SENDCos within the Learning Community. She regularly furthers her own knowledge and understanding through extensive reading and engaging in training to ensure that she is always up to date with the latest information and research. She has participated in moderation at Devon County Council looking at the statutory requests and have been moderated by SEND advisory teachers within the schools she works. Clare has recently participated in training focusing on language which was delivered by S&L therapists and the C&I team as well as having had training linked to autism, attachment, sensory processing, Thrive and mental health.
Clare is extremely organised, hardworking, pro-active, approachable, knowledgeable about SEND and she prides herself that she strives to provide the best support and provision she can for the children, staff and families she works with.

Sarah Milne

Specialist Leader in Education

Sarah Milne has been a teacher for over 20 years and a SENDCo for 12. The schools that Sarah has worked in have been various sizes and have all had unique challenges, from very small schools with limited human and physical resources to large primaries with high levels of social deprivation. Sarah's current setting has a large number of children with significant needs and a far higher than average number of EHCPs. Sarah enjoys working with families and multi agencies and she is passionate about providing an inclusive education for all of our learners. Across Ventrus Sarah has particularly enjoyed her role in supporting the SEND Network looking at Statutory and non-statutory processes and supporting SENDCo colleagues through their Ofsted preparation journey. Sarah's current role also includes whole school leadership including staff induction, monitoring attendance, organising CPD and support staff appraisals. Sarah also holds the NPQH qualification.

Rachel Stevens

Specialist Leader in Education

Rachel has been teaching for over 11 years.
Rachel has had the privilege of teaching in a number of school settings, all with very different catchments, pupils on roll and unique characteristics.
Over the years Rachel has developed her skills as a class teacher, intervention teacher then as a SENDCo, gaining her National Award for SEND.
Rachels passion is inclusion, making sure all children receive the education which is inspiring, engaging and right for them.
Rachel has worked hard to develop a good repertoire of leadership skills, working with colleagues, in other schools across the Trust and supporting local SEND practice. Rachel enjoys refining her practice and building upon her knowledge by completing my NPQSL.
Rachel thoroughly enjoys working with parents and supporting them through their child’s journey. She is passionate about building strong, effective partnerships with the child at the centre.

Sarah Price

Specialist Leader in Education

Closing the Gap - English

Sarah is the head at Sampford Peverell C of E Primary School. She was part of the Senior Leadership team at Woodwater Academy for 4 years leading lower and upper KS2, and English. During her time at Woodwater, her leadership qualities where recognised and she was offered a secondment opportunity to be the deputy. Sarah is extremely passionate about improving the life chances of all children and enjoys working together with schools and colleagues to improve each child’s educational experiences and outcomes.

Sarah has over 14 years of experience and has worked across all year groups in the Primary phase, gaining most of her experience in Year 6. Sarah’s has a strong pedagogic understanding of teaching English and has developed and delivered CPD within her own school and other settings to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Her understanding of the English curriculum and her ability to analyse data has allowed her to identify school improvement initiatives and her strategic prioritising allows her to drive through change without overwhelming staff.

Sarah believes in having open and honest dialogues with the professionals she works with so that they feel empowered and excited to deliver the changes necessary to improve pupil outcomes. Through obtaining her NPQSL, Sarah has developed her coaching and mentoring skills and her understanding of these roles allows her to support and guide colleagues when implementing change.

As part of her NPQSL, Sarah designed a progressive approach to the assessment of spelling called ‘Rainbow Spellings’. This has been very successful and is now being used in various ways by other schools across the Trust. She also created and implemented a whole school data tracking system at Woodwater which was well received by staff as it was easy to use and allowed teachers to track progression and attainment in reading, writing and maths.

Sarah is keen to ensure she offers the best support to schools and understands the importance of keeping up to date with current research. She prides herself in actively carrying out her own reading and research and attends training to support her own pedagogy of teaching English.

Nikki Kerswell

Specialist Leader in Education

Early Years

Nikki is the current EYFS unit leader at Woodwater Academy. During her five years at Woodwater Academy she has taught in Key Stage 1 and for the last three years has been leading the EYFS unit for Reception and Nursery aged children.
Prior to teaching at Woodwater, Nikki taught for eleven years in a large Devon Primary school and was fortunate to teach children in EYFS, KS1 and KS2.
Nikki completed her BEd teaching degree in Early Childhood Studies and has always had a passion for working in the Early Years.
She is eager to understand how young children learn best, building on her own knowledge and experiences alongside EYFS pedagogy. She is excited to work with other EYFS practitioners to provide children with the best possible start in their education.

Chris Barnett

Specialist Leader in Education

Chris has been a teacher and a member of the senior leadership team for several years. She now leads the Ventrus Teaching School whilst continuing her role as a Maths SLE.
Chris has not only lead maths in her school, but worked collaboratively across the Trust, supporting CPD, school improvement and colleagues new to the role of maths lead within a range of schools.
She understands the importance of keeping up to date with current research and prides herself in actively carrying out her own reading, research and pedagogy as well as attending training that she can then use to develop others.
Chris is also an accredited Professional Development Lead for the NCETM and is currently part of their Maths SLE School Improvement Support Programme.

Meet our National Leaders in Education

Claire Baillie

National Leader of Education and Director of School Improvement

Claire was appointed as Headteacher of The Duchy School, Bradninch in 2007. She had previously taught Modern Foreign Languages in a large Comprehensive School in Nottinghamshire, before moving to Devon and transferring into the Primary Sector.

Under her leadership the standards attained by pupils at the end of KS2 have risen considerably and in 2010 the school was placed 17th out of all schools nationally for improvement over a three year period. Standards in the school remain high across all subjects. The quality of her leadership in setting clear direction leading to improvement and was judged to be ‘outstanding’ at the last OFSTED inspection in 2009.

Claire has worked with the National Strategies team as part of the Maximising Pupil Progress Initiative and was invited to be guest speaker at the National Conference. Claire and her team regularly support other schools. They are currently supporting two ‘outstanding’ primary schools with curriculum development.