Simon Beamish, Chief Executive Officer
Simon Beamish graduated from York University with a BA in Politics and went on to study for a PGCE in History at Durham University. He gained an MSc in Social and Political Theory from Birkbeck College, University of London as well as an NPQH from the National College for School Leadership. He has taught at several schools in Kent, Medway and South East London. In 2009, Simon was appointed Principal of Longfield Academy within Leigh Academies Trust. In the previous year the predecessor school had achieved just over 20% 5+ A*-C grades including English and Maths. By the time that Simon left the school in September 2013 to become Principal of The Leigh Technology Academy, this figure had risen to just under 70%.
Simon was appointed Chief Executive of Leigh Academies Trust in November 2013, succeeding Frank Green CBE, who went on to become Schools’ Commissioner for England. In addition to this role, Simon is currently Chairman of Governors of Roseacre Junior School in Maidstone. He is also Chairman of Kent and Medway Training, one of the region’s largest teacher training providers. Simon sits on the Regional Schools’ Commissioner’s sub-regional board for Kent and Medway and the Executive Board of the Kent Association of Headteachers. He is also a trained Ofsted Inspector and a National Leader of Education. He lives in Kent with his wife Emma and three children.
Neil Willis, Chief Operating Officer
After studying at Plymouth University and Goldsmiths College, University of London, Neil taught Geography at various schools in Surrey and Kent. He was Acting Headteacher at Axton Chase School in its transition to becoming Longfield Academy in 2008, and Principal at Longfield until 2012. He became Deputy CEO of the Leigh Academies Trust in 2012.
Whilst at Longfield, Neil was integrally involved in the design and development of the new academy building which opened in September 2011. As part of this work he led the introduction of iPads as a learning device for all students. As the first large scale mobile device scheme in Europe, it has garnered worldwide interest and recognition with the academy winning the national ICT Facility Award and being runner up as Academy of the Year 2011.
Sharon Waterman, Education Director
Sharon Waterman was awarded a Bachelor of Education (Honours) from De Montfort University in 1993 having studied Secondary Physical Education and English at Bedford College of Higher Education. The National College of School Leadership awarded Sharon the NPQH in 2006 and she successfully completed the Associate Academy Principal Programme in 2011.
Sharon has worked in a number of schools in both Northampton and Kent developing her expertise and experience as leader using innovative curriculum design to raise standards and achievement. Sharon was appointed Co-Principal of The Leigh Academy in 2011 and in recognition of her outstanding leadership and growing role across Leigh Academies Trust Sharon was appointed Trust Principal and an Executive Director of Leigh Academies Trust in 2015. Sharon left The Leigh Academy in September 2017 to take on her new role as Education Improvement Director.
Sue Crocker, Estates Director
Sue has worked in the education sector since 1996, including both the primary and secondary sectors, and was appointed Leigh Academies Trust Business Director in 2008. Sue has led the Trust through major capital-building programmes totalling £66m, the most recent of which, Langley Park Primary Academy, phase 2 opened in July 2018. Current projects include Bearsted Primary Academy, Snowfields Academy and Leigh Academy Rainham opening September 2020 and the new Jupiter College at Wilmington Academy. Sue is integrally involved in all aspects of business and operations and has been instrumental in bringing new schools into the Trust. Other areas of strategic leadership include health and safety, estate management and administration.
Steve Avis, Finance Director
Steve is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and joined Leigh Academies Trust as Finance Director in January 2015. He has over 25 years of experience within finance across the public sector and has held senior management positions in the civil service, including in the Department for Education. He was also head of finance at Partnerships for Schools (now part of the Education Funding Agency). Before joining the Trust, Steve was director of finance and operations at a high profile new academy in central London.
Steve has two daughters and two grandchildren. He lives in Surrey and is a lifelong supporter of Leeds United Football Club.
Stephane Vernoux, IT Director
Stephane joined Leigh Academies Trust in 2012 to transform, develop and deliver the Trust’s IT strategy. Much emphasis is placed on growth, mobility, innovation, risk and exposure management, and achieving outstanding educational outcomes. Before moving to the UK, Stephane began his career as a biomedical engineer. He then turned his focus to IT, bringing over 15 years’ technical and management expertise. Most recently, Stephane worked as the Head of IT for the largest indoor ski slope operator in Europe, prior to which he held various IT roles within a specialist property company.
Richard Taylor, People Director
Richard joined Leigh Academies Trust in 2014 to develop the Trust’s HR strategy and drive improvements in our people practices. Richard is a Chartered member of the Institute of Personnel & Development and has devoted his career to building successful HR teams that add real value to the organisations they serve. Over the last decade Richard has held a number of HR leadership roles across a variety of sectors including Engineering, Construction, Facilities Management and Oil & Gas and he brings to the Trust a commercial, pragmatic and creative approach to people management.
Debbie Biggenden, Academies Director (Central Kent and Special Academies)
Debbie Biggenden was awarded a Bachelor of Education (Honours) from Greenwich University in 1995 having studied secondary physical education and health education. She then completed her post-graduate certificate in education leadership. Following this Debbie completed her NPQH, which was awarded by the National College of School Leadership in 2006.
Debbie started her teaching career as a PE teacher and worked in a number of schools in both Croydon and Kent. She continued to develop her expertise and as she progressed into her first leadership position continued to develop her experience as a middle and senior leader.
In 2009 Debbie moved from secondary to the primary phase and took on the headship of a primary school in Maidstone. Subsequently, she was offered the opportunity to develop her leadership skills when Leigh Academies Trust appointed her as the Executive Principal of four primary academies. In order to raise standards and achievement she has used her expertise to implement innovative curriculum design.
After a year as Academies Director for Medway and Central Kent, Debbie is now responsible for specialist academies and Central Kent.
Tracey Trusler, Academies Director (North-West Kent and South-East London)
Tracey graduated from Leicester University with a BA (Hons) in French and German and worked for 10 years in the property industry, achieving a post-graduate diploma in estate management along the way, before retraining as a language teacher in 1997. She taught in schools in inner and outer London, joining Dartford Grammar School for Boys on the senior leadership team before being seconded to Wilmington Enterprise College in 2009. The college had just been placed in special measures with only 11% of students achieving 5+ A*-C grades including English, and was given the remit of transforming the school.
Wilmington Academy joined Leigh Academies Trust in 2010. Tracey was promoted to Principal and by 2013, following a lot of hard work and determination, student achievement had risen to 71%, making it the top-performing non-selective school in Kent. Ofsted graded the academy good with outstanding leadership and management in 2013 and again in 2017. During this time, Tracey successfully completed her National Professional Qualification for Headteachers and oversaw a £14 million rebuilding programme. The academy has gone from strength to strength, becoming an International Baccalaureate World School in 2017. Tracey has served as a Director on the Leigh Academies Trust Board and was promoted to the newly created Academies Director role from 1 June with responsibility for the Northwest Kent and Southeast London clusters.
Emma Elwin, Academies Director (Medway)
Emma Elwin graduated from the University of Kent with an LLB Law Degree in 2001, and after a period of time spent in the legal insurance industry then went on to complete a PGCE in English and Media at Canterbury Christchurch University. After teaching in schools across Medway, Emma joined the Hundred of Hoo Academy where she continued to develop her experience and progressed swiftly into middle and senior leadership positions. During her time at The Hundred of Hoo Academy Emma held key responsibility for raising standards, and saw outcomes in English and mathematics rise consistently from only 18% of students achieving 5A*-C grades in English and Maths to 62%.
Emma’s expertise as a leader was swiftly recognised and she became Principal of The Hundred of Hoo Academy in 2016. Her exceptional knowledge, experience and skills across the full age range has been integral to the leadership of the first all through school in Medway. She has been instrumental in the academy’s journey from special measures to the 2018 Ofsted inspection, which judged the academy as strongly good across the board with outstanding early years, personal development and leadership and management. In 2019 outcomes at the Academy represented some of the strongest in the Academy’s history.
Emma was appointed as Academies Director for Medway in September 2020.