senior Leadership Team Biographies
Karen Iles - Acting Director of Education
I have worked in education now for nearly thirty years. I took on the role of SENCO very early in my career and never looked back. The vast majority of my experience in SEND and inclusion has been in mainstream secondary education as a leading SENCO and Assistant Headteacher and as a Deputy Head in a large special school.
From school leadership, I moved to a local authority role as Strategic Lead for SEND Improvement. In this role I worked across all education settings for Gloucestershire with the aim of improving outcomes for children and young people with SEND, across mainstream and special primary and secondary schools. Part of this role was also supporting schools in special measures as part of the local authority school improvement team. I also managed a DfE pilot project Achievement for All which extended my role of improving outcomes for SEND to a regional role across the South West. The Achievement for All charity was set up to continue this work and in the latter years of the charity I took on the role of Acting CEO. Across the 10 years of Achievement for All I co wrote the Pupil premium review, developed programmes for schools across the phases, led national and regional training, was involved in international inclusion projects and working groups for the DfE.
My passion has always been to improve education outcomes for children and young people and their families and working closely with school leaders to enable them to achieve this. I knew from my first year of teaching that my focus would be SEND and inclusion. Although I am relatively new to Brunel, I am thoroughly enjoying my role, working directly in a Brunel school and love what the Brunel Trust stands for, as far as opening doors for those children and young people with SEND is concerned.
Having been a keen sports person in my youth, I now enjoy watching my son play his chosen sports. I have a beautiful basset hound who we love to spend time with and take out for a ‘leisurely walk’, nothing too fast for her short legs!
Interim Director of Finance/CFO
David West - Director of People & Culture
I grew up with my family in Thatcham, just outside Newbury, Berkshire. I enjoyed playing tennis and badminton when I was younger and I was lucky enough to represent Berkshire in badminton competitions. I was also a keen runner and was fortunate enough to run for the District and take part in many local competitions.
I have developed into the professional I am today by completing my Level 7 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in Human Resource Management and taking my career in different industries. These have included, retail for over 16 years in two different organisations and developed my management career quickly starting from the age of 18 as an Assistant Store Manager. I have worked for the NHS in employment law, an FE & HE College as a HR Business Partner, the Motor Industry as HR Manager and currently, back in Education at Brunel Academies Trust. As an Executive Leadership Team (ELT) member of Brunel, it is a privilege to see the difference we can make to our children & young people, our local communities and how this impacts on their daily lives.
My role as Director of People & Culture is crucial in ensuring we have ‘Exceptional People’ who are, in the right place at the right time. Along with this, our people need to have the appropriate and current skills to deliver our mission, ‘We will significantly improve life chances & outcomes for children & young people with special educational needs & disabilities’.
I certainly relish my role in leading the People Services team, this including, Recruitment, Employee Relations, Learning & Development and Organisational Change. Together as a Brunel family, we really do make a difference and deliver excellence in everything we do.
In my spare time, I am a keen horse rider and enjoy walking our two lovely cocker spaniels, Otto and Matilda. My partner and I enjoy walking holidays in Wales and exploring new places. We enjoy meeting up with friends for social events and spending time on our Grade II listed Cottage in Wiltshire. I adore spending time in the garden and buying lots of different plants from the garden centres and the nurseries near our home.
Rob Reeve - Director of Operations
I’m not sure many people who work in Facilities can tell you this was their chosen career, that was the case for me having started my working life as a personal trainer and sports coach.
I left college and went straight into personal training for a few years before taking a job with Nationwide Building Society as part of the lifestyle team, our remit was to promote a healthy and balanced work life through the internal services which included a gym, salon and exercise classes, while part of this team I had my first taste of Facilities Management as we reported into that department.
I was fortunate enough to take a role sponsored by Sport England which was a partnership between Swindon Borough Council and Swindon PCT, the focus of this project was to increase physical activity levels across the communities of Swindon which had an impact on reducing avoidable treatments and increasing participation in physical activity and open door ways to sports participation, this was a 2 ½ year project which when it was coming to end brought a change of career focus.
My first role in Facilities was managing a team of cleaners across 6 sites in Swindon, I grew this role to be part of a team mobilising over 100 extra sites across the southwest and benchmarking services, I left that role as a Facilities Manager and over the next 10 years have been fortunate enough to be part of some fantastic projects and teams within some great organisations which have led to winning awards with BIFM (Now IWFM) and Hospitality Assured as well as enhancing my professional qualifications within Health & Safety and Facilities.
I am local and was at a time when I was looking for new and different challenge which is why working for Brunel and developing the Estates and Facilities service appealed so much, contributing to enhancing the lives and opportunities for local children and young people was not something I had considered would ever land on my career path, I enjoy the challenge it brings and seeing what we can create is motivating.
Outside of work I am a very active sports person, I’ve just finally hung up my rugby boots but still workout and now have more time for Golf, My wife is also very sporty and we have 3 sporty boys who we like to hang out with, watch them play sport and play alongside.
Catherine Clark - Brunel Safeguarding Lead
I have lived and worked in and around Wiltshire for most of my life. After completing a degree in Psychology I knew I wanted to work with children and families and started my career as a learning mentor in a Swindon secondary school. This led to further roles in the education and charity sectors and then on to working in local authorities.
Prior to joining Brunel I worked for both Swindon and Wiltshire safeguarding partnerships, the statutory arrangements that require agencies to work together to safeguard and protect children. In these roles I led on developing safeguarding policies, multi agency training programmes, systems of quality assurance and auditing. The roles also included leading on child safeguarding practice reviews, safeguarding adult reviews and domestic homicide reviews.
I am passionate about improving outcomes for children and supporting organisations to protect, safeguard and promote the welfare of the children to the highest possible standards.
Louise Thomas - Head of Finance
I have had a slightly nomadic life; I spent my childhood in Didcot, moved to Cornwall via Cheltenham, then Bath & Swindon before settling in South Cerney 11 years ago.
When the time came to leave compulsory education, I took a BTEC National Diploma in Business and Finance at Abingdon College of Further Education. Having studied modules on economics, marketing, and law it was the finance and accounting that stood out. I qualified with a distinction and my first job took me to a locally based national charity as payments clerk. It wasn’t long before I was taking evening classes to gain my Association of Accounting Technicians qualification and my role changed to ledger clerk then senior ledger clerk.
A chance meeting with the owner of a Cheltenham based business took me on to be the office manager for a small group of companies involved in providing event management, theatrical sound, light and AV services. A quick dip into the private sector and a lot of fun, but by now, my parents had moved to Cornwall, and I shortly followed.
It was here I took my first step into the public sector with an accountant role at Restormel Borough Council. Again, it wasn’t long before I was studying again – this time for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. Three very long, hard years, working full time with one day a week at college in Bristol but worth it. A couple of role changes at Restormel and it was time for the next challenge.
Another slight step sideways – for a short time I worked for a private company providing interim / consultancy services to Local Authorities. A fantastic opportunity to use my knowledge and skills and meet amazing people. Unfortunately, with the financial crisis came redundancy, but thanks to contacts made along the way, I was offered a full-time permanent role with North Somerset Council.
I was happy at North Somerset, but my personal life was moving on – by now I was living in South Cerney, married and had our son. For about 18 months I commuted (baby in tow) up and down the M4/M5 between South Cerney and Clevedon but realised this couldn’t continue.
Another chance conversation with a friend I had studied with took me to Cotswold District Council. A challenging role, supporting the implementation of a transformation programme that would lead to 4 local authorities coming together to form a separate company model for service provision. I learnt a lot about organisations, project & programme management. Once the company had formed, my role changed to that of Chief Accountant, supporting the Finance Business Manager and Director of Finance, with technical and financial management reporting.
2020 brought the Covid pandemic and school closures saw me working from home, whilst home-schooling my son. Although an incredibly difficult time, it also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my work-life balance and I realised this had got slightly lost somewhere along the way. I want and need a challenging job – that has been the main driver behind most of the moves throughout my career - it’s the challenge that brings the rewards but not at any cost.
So, June 2021 and another move brought me to Brunel. It is a pleasure to work with like-minded people, who bring such passion and commitment to the work we do, improving the lives and opportunities for children & young people.
Meanwhile, at home, both my husband and I are Scout Leaders and we support our local church with their “Messy Church” services. I am also the Treasurer for the church. As a family we enjoy spending time outdoors and like nothing better than a day walking in the Brecon Beacons. When I do sit down, its usually with a book or some knitting while watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Hannah Rackauskas - Head of People Services
I grew up in Croydon, South London, until I was 12 when my family moved down to the coast in Dorset. This was where I discovered my love of the countryside and the sea. When I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but enjoyed Psychology and French. So, I decided to find a university that let me study those together – this led me to move to Oxfordshire and, as much as I really miss the sea, I’ve never looked back. During my time at university, I worked casually at various nurseries and tutored children to supplement my student loan.
I always knew I wanted to work with people and decided that HR was a good career for me. Over my HR career, I have worked for Oxfam and Oxford University, before moving into a role at a Multi-Academy Trust in 2018. Working in the education sector brings me a real sense of satisfaction; I know I am working for a great cause, and it motivates me to work at my best.
Outside of work, I am kept busy with my very lively Labrador puppy and doing DIY on my new house. I also go to the gym several times a week to offset my love of all things sweet. My absolute favourite place to be is out on the Purbecks in Dorset.
Jon Pestell - Head of Operations
Like many I didn’t know what I wanted when I left school but after a few jobs I quickly knew what I didn’t want to do! An interest in engineering and design led me back to education where I studied at the Open University attaining a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) in Design and Innovation and an Open Degree (BSc) in Design, Engineering and Business Management.
While studying for my degree I worked in my local community centre initially as an administrator then later as their facilities coordinator, managing site maintenance and compliance as well as lettings in their offices and training venue. This led me to a great opportunity working for a local mental health charity as their facilities manager. Since then, I’ve worked in several public sector organisations in property & facilities management, including roles in education and the NHS.
I think there is some kind of gravitational pull towards public service for some people; whether that’s teaching, nursing or someone behind the scenes keeping the lights on there is something about helping others that drives us. This has certainly been the case for me. I’m very proud to be working for Brunel as Head of Operations, supporting my fantastic team to deliver facilities management, ICT, health & safety, and transport services for all the provisions in the trust. As a member of the Senior Management Team (SMT) I enjoy working with the other heads of service and provisions to ensure we provide the best opportunities for the children and young people at Brunel.
Outside of work I have several interests including mechanical engineering and classic vehicles particularly cars and boats. I enjoy spending time with my dad working on his classic car which we largely maintain our selves. I’m also a music lover with an eclectic taste, I play guitar and my wife and daughter also have creative streaks. I also enjoy being outdoors and if the weather is good, you might find me out paddleboarding.
Paul Davis - Head of Development
Unusually I am Swindon born and bred so you could say that I have been in Education in Swindon since the early 70’s! As a child I attended Nythe Infant and Junior Schools before moving on to Dorcan School for my secondary education.
Although I could have considered staying on for post 16, as a teenager in the mid to late 80’s opportunities to work were plentiful and this appealed to me more than studying for A Levels. Although I didn’t have a specific career in mind, I had an interest in numbers so a finance role of some sort seemed the obvious choice. After a few failed interviews I secured a job at Lloyds Bank in Gorse Hill and there I stayed for 4 years working my way through various roles and responsibilities.
As banking became more sales orientated I decided it was time for a change and, via a quick stop at the Membury Services cash office, I joined Swindon Borough Council as a Cashier and subsequently Senior Cashier before moving to the Governor Support Team in 1998 providing support and advice to 1400+ Swindon governors. I stayed with Governor Support until 2012 before moving to the SEN Team to become an SEN Commissioner which incorporated management of the high needs budget.
In 2017 I left SBC to become Business Manager at The Chalet School. In December 2018, The Chalet School converted to an Academy and joined the Brunel. At this point I joined the Central Team and the rest, as they say, is history.
In addition to my Brunel role, I continue to clerk for two local governing bodies, Colebrook Junior School and Eldene Primary School. In my spare time, I enjoy long walks with my Border Terrier, Brody, fitness classes, reading and supporting the National Trust.
Michelle Carter - Head of Governance and CEO's PA
I grew up in Swindon with my family and haven’t moved very far from home. I still live locally with my husband and we have three amazing daughters, and Henry, the dog.
I started my career with mainly administrative roles before taking a break to be a full-time mum to my three children. When my youngest daughter started school, I returned to work as an Admin Officer at Swindon Borough Council, working in the Education Support Services Team. This role gave me many opportunities to work with both mainstream and Special schools across Swindon, including supporting the Disabled Children and Young People’s Partnership Group and other Multi Agency Working Groups, as a clerk.
In 2011, the Education Support Services were transferred out to schools from the Local Authority and my role moved across to Uplands School. This also meant that my career took an exciting change of direction when I became Jackie Fieldwick’s (nee Smith) P.A. I have been privileged to work alongside Jackie for over 10 years, supporting her exciting and ambitious vision, including the establishment of the Brunel Academies Trust, Brunel Education and our partnership charity, Uplands Enterprise Trust.
As part of my Senior Governance Manager Role, I am also the Clerk to the Brunel, Brunel Education and Uplands Enterprise Trust Boards of Trustees and their committees. This part of my role has grown alongside the growth of the organisation and has enabled me to learn and develop my knowledge of all aspects of Governance frameworks and processes.
To support this development, in 2019 I completed a Level 4 Certificate in Corporate Governance qualification through CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), which I then successfully converted to a Level 7 Diploma the following year.
My role as both the CEO’s P.A and Senior Governance Manager is to ensure that the CEO, Executive Leadership Team and Boards of Trustees are supported in all aspects of Strategic Development and Governance. This includes the provision of P.A, clerking and company secretarial services and ensuring compliance with the delegated Governance responsibilities set out in the Scheme of Delegation.
I also provide procedural and policy advice and support to the Brunel, BE and UET Boards and their committees. This includes support with setting meeting schedules, agenda planning, minute taking, managing the policy review process, declarations and conflicts of interest, facilitating Trustee and Governor Training and induction, internal and external governance reviews and maintaining and storing governance records.
It is a busy, challenging and hugely rewarding role and we are extremely lucky as an organisation to have such committed, reliable and enthusiastic volunteer Members, Trustees and Governors, who so willingly give up their time to support us.
In my spare time I enjoy going for long walks in the country with my husband and our dog, which ideally also includes a lovely pub lunch. We love to travel when we can and have a very long list of places to visit when we have the time and the opportunity. I also love spending quality time with my girls and like nothing more than a family get together over Sunday lunch.