Brunel Academies

Heads of Educational Provisions

At Brunel Academies Trust (Brunel) we are proud to have an inspiring and dedicated team of Head Teachers of our schools and Principal of our College that lead our teams. Below are the biographies of the HOEPs which we hope you will enjoy reading.

Alison Paul OBE - Head of Brimble Hill School

Having graduated with a Bachelor of Education in 1986, Alison moved to Swindon to take up a post as a class teacher at Brimble Hill School.   During her time at the school, Alison has been a class teacher, Department Leader and Assistant Head Teacher, before becoming Head Teacher in 2008. Alison was awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to Education in 2020. Alison feels honoured to be able to work with the amazing students and staff at Brimble Hill. 

Helena Knight - Head of The Chalet School

My multi-cultural upbringing and educational background has definitely helped to shape the person and the professional I am today. My early years and primary education took place across schools in Malta and London. 

I completed my secondary education at a mixed state school in West Yorkshire before emigrating with my family to South Africa in the early 80’s, where I attended a private girls school and learnt to speak Afrikaans. I experienced first-hand the human injustice of the apartheid system and my time there has left an indelible mark on my conscience and outlook to treat all humans equally regardless of their differences and stand up for those overlooked by society.

I returned to the UK to complete my A levels & BA honours degree in English and Inter Arts at Bretton Hall College, West Yorkshire with the view to become a broadcast journalist. However, fate took me in another direction and I went on to work as a residential social worker and teaching assistant at a residential school for CYP in care where I also studied to gain a PGCE in Primary Education at Christchurch College, Canterbury. It was during my time at the Coldecott Community Childrens Home and School; that I found my vocation to teach and after gaining teaching experience at home and abroad while travelling in India and Nepal; I settled into a teaching post at The Chalet School in 1999 as an SEN classroom teacher.

I said I would probably only stay a few years and here I am 21 years later after progressing into senior management and now privileged to be the Headteacher since 2017, of this very special school community for pupils with autism and additional learning needs.

I am a child-centred, person-centred leader and have actively equipped myself with the necessarily skills to help others by gaining a Level 2 in Counselling and attending training to be the school MHWB Lead- a title & role I am proud to hold.

I am an experienced Yogi and bring mindfulness into my daily life to help me ‘ride the waves’ and stay strong for others around me inside and outside of work. I am a keen gardener and find it very satisfying to watch my plants grow from my own seed collection. Both of these hobbies have found their way onto the school curriculum to the benefit of the whole school community.

My greatest professional achievement is to see the pupils that I taught in reception, grow and develop and thrive into valued young people and to know I have played an active role in supporting them and their families along the way in my various roles. I don’t have any children of my own, so I live out my parenting vicariously through the pupils in my care.

In more recent years, my greatest personal achievement is to become the proud owner of a husband, a cat and a motorhome.

Im excited to see what the future holds for me personally & professionally and if the clock stops tomorrow my headstone will read Non je ne regrette rien (Song by Edith Piaf).

Dave Dearsley - Head of Churchward School

Having completed a degree in sport and physical education, Dave started working as a teaching assistant in a specialist provision for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Dave found working with hard to reach children incredibly rewarding and decided that he wanted to complete his teacher training whilst continuing to work in special education. From there Dave has worked in a range of special school settings including pupil referral units, SEMH provisions and independent autism specialist schools fulfilling a range of roles through to his current position of Head Teacher at Churchward School.

As a teacher, Dave specialised in PE and Maths but also taught a range of other subjects including Science and English to a range of students. Throughout his career he has encouraged students to believe in themselves and has used outdoor education as a key part of this, using the countryside as a vehicle to build confidence and self-esteem. He has set up and run Forest School programmes and taken students climbing, mountain biking and kayaking as well as completing a residential sailing trip to the Channel Islands.

Whilst in various Senior Leadership positions Dave has been responsible for pastoral, safeguarding, teaching & learning and assessment as well as always taking responsibility for developing new areas whether that be introducing a range of therapeutic interventions or supporting the growth of a school and ensuring consistency and high standards.

Always looking to challenge himself and the team around him, Dave has relished the chance to set a new school up from scratch and is looking forward to whatever the future holds for Churchward School.

Outside of school Dave looks forward to spending time with his partner and their new son whilst also continuing with his enjoyment of being outdoors including taking care of their horses.

Genti Mullaliu - Principal, Horizons College

I was born in Albania and lived there for 24 years prior to moving to United Kingdom, I studied Medicine and graduated in 1997 from the University of Tirana. Due to meeting my future wife, I moved to the United Kingdom where we were married and have lived in the UK since.

My experience in education and training developed after success with training in the FE and secondary school sector. I have always been ambitious for the learners and staff which allowed me to focus my energy and commitment into my future in the education arena and as a result develop learners with many different skills in different curriculums.

During this time, I completed my studies in Post Compulsory Education with Oxford Brookes University. I have also successfully completed the Senior Management and Leadership Development programme delivered by the Association of Colleges, an outstanding programme of study designed for Principals and aspiring Principals.

Previous to this position, I taught for 16 years within a General Further Education College working primarily with learners with special educational needs and complex behavioural difficulties within the Vocational Studies and Foundation Learning Department. I joined Uplands Educational Trust in 2014 and became Head of College in 2015 and subsequently appointed as Principal in 2017.

My journey to this point has been one presented with amazing opportunities and of striving to achieve my best potential despite challenges. Therefore, I have made it my aim to provide an inclusive and innovative learning environment for all our learners, giving them the opportunities to excel to their full potential in developing their independence despite the barriers presented to them.

Outside of work I like keeping a healthy active lifestyle. I enjoy running, cycling, paddle boarding and sea fishing. I love camping and driving therefore enjoy taking long road trips in the summer with my family in our campervan. I also lead a small local church and my faith it is very important to me and through this I have been able to support charitable educational projects in Burkina Faso, Albania and Nagaland (India).

Jenny Muirhead - BASIS Head of Service

Sometimes you just land somewhere you never expected or set out to end up…and working in SEND is a bit like that for me.

I was really lucky in that I grew up in SE London and was educated in the old Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) at a time when there were lots of resources for extra- curricular creative arts and music. And playing the piano and the guitar, being involved in musical theatre and singing and just having a social musical ball consumed my growing up life; it was to university to do a Music degree that I headed in the mid 70’s followed by postgraduate teacher training and an intended career in schools as a music teacher.

It took me all of about 2 weeks to work out that although I loved musical activity, teaching curriculum music in a secondary school was not for me. I much preferred the idea of working as a primary classroom teacher with the chance to really get to know a group of children and so to that side of the tracks I happily leapt.

Fast forward twenty years, pottering around with part time jobs that work around family life with 4 young children, I am literally sitting minding my own business in the staff room at Ruskin Junior School arranging something for three treble recorders and a trombone or such like when I am asked (rather tentatively) if I would do consider doing some cover work in the Special Resource Provision, SRP for children with autism. They needed someone to work in partnership with the newly appointed manager who had herself a commendable eye on work life balance and sensibly wanted to work 4 days a week rather than 5…..I had had some experience a decade or so working as a teacher for a few years in an alternative provision for children with speech and language difficulties but hadn’t at that stage or this, supported children with autism or social communication. This was a bit of an unknown and I was nervous I might not have what it took to do a good job.

It’s a bit of a tale of me falling hook line and sinker after that. Right from the start I loved the children, the way they looked at the world and its challenge to me as a facilitator supporting their access to learning and social education. I also loved working with a team of like-minded adults and helping all of us to develop our skills and expertise. I undertook several SEND training courses over the next few years including a Postgraduate diploma in autism studies and when the opportunity eventually came to take on the full manager role of Ruskin SRP, I jumped at it.

The expansion of our autism support services initially involved taking on the wider ASC advisory teaching team for Swindon LA around 2008 to support statutory work before a more formalised and adventurous foray into ‘outreach’ got underway. Swindon LA had approached Ruskin and asked us to develop an outreach service but we knew early on we wanted these services to be bolder, more all-encompassing and extensive. I admit to carrying out a bit of haranguing of the then SEN LA Commissioner, she gulped a lot and seemed pretty nervous but she finally agreed ARC could be born. A manager was appointed (yes this was and still is Bill Rigg) and the rest as they say is history!

BASIS and the BSM is our home now. I admit to a bit of a proud tingle when I reflect on the resilience of an underfunded ASC advisory teacher service, ARC’s reach across the Borough, the schools, children and families we support, the special more recent joy of opening ARC All Aboard Nursery and possibly above all else the astonishing team of skilled and specialist autism practitioners we have gathered enroute. (A couple of whom jogged along with me from Ruskin so we really are growing old together ladies!)

As I say, I landed in SEND almost by accident or perhaps it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time. Even so, it has been the best part of my professional life and I couldn’t’ have wished for better.

Kate Birtwhistle - ARC All Aboard Nursery Manager

Since leaving school I have spent the last 18 years working with children with additional needs in different educational provisions including nurseries, an SRP provision within a mainstream school and a specialist primary school supporting children with autism.

I completed my foundation degree in Early years as I particularly enjoy working with young children and supporting them with their early play skills.  

I have been fortunate to find a role which combines both my passion for Early Years and SEN, and it has been a pleasure and achievement to help set up the All Aboard Nursery in 2018 which is continuously growing. I am lucky to work with a great team of people and be able to support so many children and their families through their first stages of education.  

In my spare time I am kept busy with my own 2 children, and we regularly spend days exploring new places with family and friends.  

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