Robert Simpson – Director of Education
Rob completed a Bachelor of Education Degree with Honours in Theology at Leeds prior to starting his teaching career in a large Catholic Secondary School in Bedfordshire. Following further study in Religious Education and Catholic School Leadership he worked as Deputy Headteacher on the Senior Teams of Catholic schools in North London and Milton Keynes. Robert moved to Buckinghamshire to take up the post of Headteacher of an 11-18 Catholic Secondary School in January 2005. He successfully led this school through an amalgamation process with a neighboring Primary School in 2011 to create a Catholic all through school which provided education for children from Nursery to Sixth Form. He led the school through several successful OFSTED inspections before working for the Anglican Diocese of Oxford as their Principal Secondary Adviser with responsibility for Business development. Rob also trained as an OFSTED and Section 48 Inspector. Rob now leads an expanding Diocesan Education Service at the Diocese of Brentwood and is keen to use the experience and knowledge that he has gained to support school leaders and staff in providing excellent Catholic education for all who attend our schools.
Maria Shepherd – Deputy Director of Education & Primary Schools Link Adviser
Maria completed her B.Ed (Hons) in Education and English at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton before beginning her primary school teaching career in a Catholic primary school in Brixton. After a couple of years, she spent a brief time teaching in a Catholic school in Essex, before returning home to Kent. Over the next few years she worked in a variety of state and Catholic schools doing supply and short term contracts whilst her 3 children were very young. In 1995, she became the Deputy Head in a Catholic primary school in Dartford and during this time, she undertook her NPQH; in 2001, she took up her first headship in the neighbouring Catholic school. After 8 successful years there, she took up the headship of a larger Catholic primary school with a nursery, in Thurrock. Maria completed 8 years of headship in this school, leading the school to a range of successes. During her time there, she also completed a part-time course to gain her Masters in Catholic School Leadership. Maria is looking forward to using the knowledge, skills and experience she has built up over the years, in her new role, to help other schools further develop and improve against the backdrop of a changing world of education and a new and evolving diocesan education department.
Fr Stephen Myers – Episcopal Vicar for Education
Fr. Stephen grew up in Basildon and attended what was then St. Anselm’s (later De La Salle) school. He studied for a BSc majoring in Genetics at the University of East Anglia after which, he attended Cambridge University to obtain a Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE). He was accepted a student for the priesthood by the Diocese of Brentwood, studying a Ushaw College receiving a Certificate in Theology from Durham University. On being ordained in 1993 he served in the parish of Grays, Essex. He became a governor of his old school, De La Salle, in 1994 and was later chair of governors. He has served as governor of All Saints secondary school in Dagenham and St Joseph’s Dagenham (he is currently Chair of St. Josephs’ federation governing body). In total he has over 24 years experienced of governance in Catholic schools, many of which has been as chair. During his priesthood he has continued his studies obtaining a BA from the Open University, majoring in Art History, and an MA in Theology from the University of London. He has served the diocese in many capacities over the years. He was Youth Director for eight years and member of the Safeguarding Commission. He was appointed as the Episcopal Vicar for Education by Bishop Alan Williams in 2015 and is also a Trustee of the Catholic Diocese of Brentwood.
John Adams – Secondary Schools R.E. Adviser
John studied German and French at Royal Holloway and started teaching at All Saints Catholic School, Dagenham in 1991, where he remained for 26 years. He began to teach Religious Education alongside Modern Foreign Languages until RE soon became his sole subject and he was appointed Head of RE in 2000, a post in which he remained for 17 years until becoming Diocesan Secondary Adviser. A product of the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies himself, he began to tutor the course in 2006 and has to date helped over 100 teachers towards achieving the qualification. He saw All Saints move from a Good to an Outstanding Catholic school and led his department successfully through diocesan inspections. John worked with NBRIA and NOCN in establishing General Sixth Form RE certification and funding. He founded and led for 15 years a cross-curricular extension programme initiative supporting pilgrimage and awareness of Catholic heritage in Europe, with study trips to Rome, Naples, Lourdes, the Black Forest, Alsace, Bavaria and Catalonia. John is accredited as a Specialist Leader in Education, specialising in Religious Education, and looks forward to assisting schools and their RE departments in responding to curriculum change and support schools achieving excellence in provision in Religious Education.
Stephen Adamson – Multi-Academy Trust Development Officer
Stephen has taught in Catholic secondary schools for over 35 years working within both the Brentwood and Southwark dioceses. He has a degree and Masters qualification in History.Stephen gained experience fulfilling several different roles including head of department, head of lower school, director of sixth form and deputy head teacher. He was appointed head teacher of a large mixed comprehensive secondary in Kent in 2009 and led that school to an outstanding Ofsted judgement four years later. His school subsequently became a founder member of a large Catholic multi academy trust (MAT) where Stephen served as a Principal Director with a seat on the Board. This allowed him to gain an insight into how successful MATS work and involved him in the key decision making processes. He also chaired the Achievement Committee which monitored the academic performance of the 24 schools in the trust. He was asked to become Executive Head Teacher of two secondary schools within the MAT. Stephen sat on the Southwark Diocese Educational Excellence Board for 3 years. In 2018 Stephen joined Ofsted and qualified as Her Majesty’s Inspector of schools leading inspections of primary and secondary schools in London. He thus has a lot of experience of working with the Ofsted framework. Stephen would hope to be able to bring some of his experience as a school leader, HMI and MAT director to bear in providing advice, guidance and support to schools and governors.
Debbi Botham – Governance Development Officer
Until May 2018, Debbi led the EES for Schools Governance Support team in Essex, supporting and developing the effectiveness of over 400 governing boards; she continues to support Essex schools on a part-time basis as a tutor for governor training. Initially a secondary school Religious Education teacher, Debbi worked as a HR professional for over twenty years, specialising in performance management, recruitment, professional learning and development and equality and diversity. Serving as a school governor for nearly nineteen years at both a large primary school (now Outstanding) and several secondary academies, has given her a deep understanding of the difference effective governance makes to school improvement as well as the challenges faced by governing boards. Approachable and professional, she can help with any aspect of governance from the every-day to the extraordinary to support governing boards in carrying out their role effectively. Debbi is well respected as a school governance expert nationally, serving as chair of a regional board of governance support professionals, as well as the Eastern region representative on the national group.
Helen Dudley-Smith – Consultant Primary Schools Link Adviser
Helen completed a Bachelor of Education Degree at Sheffield and began her teaching career teaching in Stockport, before getting married and moving to Essex a year later. As a Literacy Lead and Deputy Headteacher in her earlier career, her achievements in moving schools on include taking a large primary in Halstead from ‘serious weaknesses’ to ‘good’. A foray into Headship in private education resulted in moving the school to ‘outstanding’. Helen’s next 11 years were spent as the Headteacher at a Colchester Infant School which she moved to ‘good’ within a year. Helen was then appointed as Executive Head at the Junior School, she successfully led both schools through amalgamation to become a well-established, ‘good’ primary school.
In recent times Helen has had an active role in her capacity as an Advisory Headteacher and within several highly valued school partnerships. She has been a long standing proactive member of the EPHA Executive and has spoken several times at their conferences, most recently about her effective strategy for successful recruitment and retention of a continuingly developing staff team. She is wholeheartedly committed to school to school partnerships and credits this approach with much of the success of her school, such as recruiting and training high quality trainee teachers within her TSA, the successful launch of Peer Reviews in her cluster, and securing a range of vital extended services via the thriving Charitable Trust she helped to found as Chair of the previous LDG of 20 schools.
Since leaving headship in 2017, as an educational consultant Helen is working as an Independent School Improvement Adviser and External Tutor for Essex ITT. She is co-founder of the ‘2to4’ RQT project that is being piloted in four clusters in North Essex and remains by invitation, on the Essex SEND Heads Roundtable Group and the EWHMS strategy group. She continues as a trustee of Child First Charitable Trust and she is a governor of a Colchester Primary School.
Helen aspires to work in true partnership with our Headteachers and staff teams. She is delighted to have this “privileged” opportunity to be able to use the experience she has gained, to support and help to continue to develop, the important work of our special family of Catholic schools.
David Gatheral – Buildings Officer
David studied Environmental Science and Geology at the University of Bedfordshire before gaining employment at Greenpeace UK as a Database Administrator. Returning to his home town of Chelmsford in 2004, David spent the next sixteen years working in the Education Department of Essex County Council first as a Research and Development Officer designing and administrating databases of asset management information such as building condition, suitability and sufficiency and then as Assistant School Capital Programme Manager dealing with school capital maintenance projects. David has always sought to use data driven approaches in his work and been responsible for devising several project prioritisation methodologies and systems using asset management information. He was the Secretary of the South East Education Building Officers Group for several years and built up a more general knowledge of school property issues during this period including leases, asbestos, pupil planning and landlord consent. Working with the ECC Capital Programme Manager he helped programme many tens of millions of pounds of school capital investment.
David brings a sharp focus on property data to the Brentwood Diocesan Education Service and a sincere desire to help schools make the most of capital funding opportunities. He is happy to be the first port of call for advice on schools’ property issues.
Sr Jude Groden, rsm – Primary Schools R.E. Adviser
Sr Jude is a Sister of Mercy and author with a wide variety of teaching experience for over twenty years in different parts of the country which included leadership roles, such as, deputy Headteacher and Headteacher. She is an experienced S48 Inspector and OFSTED trained. She holds a B.Ed (Hons) and obtained an MA in spirituality from the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Dublin and has been a Primary R.E. Adviser for the Brentwood Diocese for over twenty years. She collaborated with a Carmelite theologian and produced nine user friendly resources for schools and parishes which were published by McCrimmons Publishing.
Lisa Gunther – Education Service Administrator
Lisa graduated from the University of Sheffield with a BA Hons in Business & Management, she spent 17 years of her career as a strategic business development project manager for professional service firms including global Accountancy and Law practices. She is a Chartered Marketer recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing & has a PR diploma. Lisa is also a school Governor and is currently in her second term of office. She is Chair of the Teaching and Standards Sub-Committee and is responsible for data assessment. Lisa is also an RFU qualified referee and coach and is the Chief Safe Guarding Officer for her local mini’s rugby team. Lisa has been part of the Diocesan Education team for 5 years providing administrative support.
Catherine Harwood – Primary Schools Link Adviser
After qualifying with a BA (Hons) in Modern Languages from Southampton, Catherine embarked on a career with the London Borough of Greenwich which saw her qualify as a chartered surveyor; specifically appointed to work on the Council’s Education portfolio when the abolition of ILEA was imminent. After ten years of visiting and supporting schools with their property needs, Catherine was inspired to make a career change and enrolled on the PGCE course at the University of Greenwich. She has subsequently worked at three Catholic primary schools over a period of 20 years: two in the London Borough of Bromley- St James, Petts Wood and St Vincent’s, Mottingham where she worked as a senior teacher with responsibility for assessment and IT and then in the Royal Borough of Greenwich at Notre Dame, Woolwich, were she has been a Deputy Head for fourteen years. During this time, she gained her NPQH, has had experience of teaching the whole age range and leading teaching and learning. She was part of a working party at the University of Greenwich in developing a programme for the teaching of poetry, worked with a cluster of schools to develop assessment procedures, delivered CPD on topics such as Developing More Able Readers and Growth Mindset and established an induction programme for NQTs working in Catholic Schools. For the last three years she has worked closely with two Executive Heads while leading the school on a day-to-day basis.
Catherine is looking forward to supporting schools to ensure that children taught in our establishments achieve the best possible outcomes, enabling them to succeed in our diverse and ever-changing world.
Cathy McKenna – Secondary Schools Link Adviser
Cathy graduated in History from Leicester and followed this with a PGCE. Her teaching career began in Hull at a Catholic middle school, which over time transformed into a Primary School. She then worked in the London Borough of Sutton in a Catholic Primary school leading on PE and IT. She then spent 17 years on the edge of the New Forest working in 2 large secondary schools, one in Hampshire best described as innovative and pioneering as Head of History within a large humanities department; she then moved onto to a VA Church of England School in Salisbury where she was Head of Humanities. She moved again and took up the post of Assistant Principal in a large comprehensive in North East Essex. Part of the remit was post 16 provision graded as outstanding at the time of a whole school inspection. As part of the leadership team most recently her focus has been on curriculum. Cathy has also taught a module on Educational Assessment on the Professional Masters programme at Bath Spa University and has been an Ofqual external expert since 2014. Most recently she has been working with Jack Whitehead on an Action Research project. She is delighted to have returned to the Catholic education sector and is looking forward to sharing her experience and the knowledge in support of colleagues to help ensure the best possible outcomes for all students.
Sophie Russell – PA to the Director of Education
Sophie Russell is a confident and professional Personal Assistant with over seven years experience of secretarial, Office Manager, Customer Service and Executive Assistant roles. Her experience includes providing PA support to Director Level.
Sophie is motivated, enthusiastic and highly organised. She has a strong work ethic and a positive attitude which enables her to work with and get the best out of others. She enjoys working in a busy office environment but has a calm and efficient manner that schools will appreciate when contacting her.
As the first point of contact for most schools and organisations with the Director of Education, Sophie wants to use her excellent communication skills and growing knowledge of the Diocese to support the efficiency and effectiveness of Brentwood Diocesan Education Service.