Our team

Academy Ambassadors Core Team:
Kirsty Watt

Head of Academy Ambassadors

Kirsty Watt has been Head of Academy Ambassadors since October 2014 and has been responsible for the growth of the organisation into a national board recruitment programme. Kirsty has led board recruitment for new and growing multi-academy trusts as well as a number of the large system level trusts. Before joining Academy Ambassador was head of the academies and funding policy project team at the Department for Education and was responsible for scope and delivery of Ministerial priority reforms. Kirsty worked on a range of issues at the Department, including academies, a review of research in education with Dr Ben Goldacre, curriculum and teaching reforms. Kirsty has also worked in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. Before 2001, Kirsty worked in private PR practice with Colman Getty PR on arts campaigns and on social and business issues for clients including Waterstone’s and the National Portrait Gallery.

Louise Starling

Partnerships Manager 

Louise graduated in 2008 and spent seven years in various roles at youth charity, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE). She worked directly with schools and local authorities to deliver the programme across London. Her role included managing regional activities, projects and programmes with the aim of increasing the number of young people starting their DofE to 30,000 each year, double the proportion of young people taking part from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensuring at least half of all young people starting their DofE achieve Bronze, Silver or Gold Awards. Prior to joining the Academy Ambassadors team in February 2016 she worked for Arthritis Research UK in the corporate partnerships team.  Outside of work Louise is a Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Educators and Renter Warden for the Guild of Young Freemen of the City of London. 

David Ardill

Regional Manager

Since graduating from the University of Chester in 2009, David has worked across a range of sectors, including education, agency, local authority and latterly sports with British Cycling, as Partner Marketing Manager for the ‘Sky Ride’ recreational cycling campaign, in conjunction with Sky and Sport England. This was the biggest sports participation campaign the UK had ever seen, aimed at getting people on bikes for fun and recreation; it received a prestigious ‘Partnership Marketing’ award from The Chartered Institute of Marketing in 2015. With a strong communication thread running through his career, engagement and communication forms a central part of his approach to projects. Having previously worked with large stakeholders including Hewlett Packard, Vodafone, The British Heart Foundation, Ordnance Survey and Transport for London across various roles, David has enjoyed success in delivering high-value campaigns. David maintains a strong interest in and passion for volunteering, holding roles with parkrun UK, formerly as an Area Ambassador for the North West, as well as with local social enterprises with an environmental focus near his home in the North West. 

Shireen Riley 

Operations Officer

Since graduating from university, Shireen has worked passionately to improve the life chances of vulnerable children and young people.  She spent the previous 7 years in various roles working for the advocacy charity, Coram Voice.  Her most recent role was as a project coordinator recruiting local authorities to participate in a programme to improve the well-being and care experience of looked after children and care leavers.  In this role Shireen worked closely with children and young people through focus groups to incorporate their views into the delivery of the programme.  In 2013 Shireen volunteered as a weekend support worker to provide food, showers and laundry services for homeless and vulnerable young people in London.

Zoe Ferris

Communications Assistant

Since graduating from Cardiff University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in European Politics and International Relations and a Masters in International Relations, Zoe has worked for several organisations in client facing and customer support roles. Prior to starting at Academy Ambassadors, Zoe worked in the Welsh Conservative Group Office in the National Assembly for Wales, as a Research and Communications Support Officer. In this role she assisted with the delivery of the communications strategy and supported the media and research opportunities for a range of portfolios, including education, strengthening her interest in improving the educational opportunities and life chances of young people.

Cerys Williams

Partnership Assistant

Cerys graduated in 2016 from the University of Bristol with a 2:1 in Psychology. She then went on to perform the role of account manager in the UK’s fastest growing financial technology company, managing business to business relationships with a portfolio of UK SME’s. She brings with her experience of working with Teach First on their STEM Insight Program, along with voluntary work at the Pyramid Project – an educational charity based in Cardiff which was set up to help primary school children with low self-esteem. Education is something that matters a great deal to Cerys and she is committed to improving the lives of young people through her work with Academy Ambassadors. 

Melanie Carter

Regional Assistant

Melanie graduated in 2014 with an honours degree in Law and Business Studies from Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick. Since then, she has worked as a marketing assistant in the legal sector – producing creative marketing copy, conducting in-depth research and analysis of target markets, and organising large-scale projects and events. Melanie has worked with children, as a volunteer, from a young age, and enjoys using her professional skills and experience to engage with qualified business people, and develop academy boards, in order to improve the quality of education throughout the UK’s Northern regions.

Academy Ambassadors Regional Advisers:

Sarah Pittam

Regional Adviser - South East and South London; East of England and North East London 

Sarah has 10 years' experience in the maintained and academies education sector following a successful career in management consultancy and was most recently the Director of Operations of Creative Education Trust. Sarah specialises in advising private sector organisations and charities on their strategy regarding the evolving academies and free schools landscape.

Sarah joined the West London Free School Academy Trust, the first to sign its funding agreement with the Secretary of State, as a trustee in April 2011. She was involved in the growth of the trust from writing bids for new schools to project managing the pre-opening phase. Sarah was subsequently appointed as the trust's Operations Director and took on a broad portfolio of responsibilities across the trust. In September 2012, Sarah ran The Free Schools Conference: Roadmap to Opening for those groups in the third wave of approvals. 

Before working in the education sector Sarah worked in management consulting, beginning her career at the Boston Consulting Group and progressing to become a partner of BMG Strategy, a consulting practice specialising in data analytics.

Felicity Gillespie

Regional Adviser - South Central and North West London; West Midlands 

Felicity Gillespie has over 20 years experience in vocational and school education in the UK during which time she has worked as an advisor to Ministers and senior officials in both Labour and under the coalition administration, the Department for Education (DfE), Confederation of British Industry, major British companies and has sat on European Union training programme boards.  

Appointments have included: as the Secretary of State’s personal representative on the Davies’ Review of Enterprise Education, as an Associate of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, Associate of the National College of School Leadership (advisor on Models of Leadership), Director and Trustee of the National Teaching Awards, and Trustee of Business Educators Trust for the DfE. Felicity has recently completed a review of strategy covering technical, higher and schools education in North Africa and the Middle East for the British Council and is currently an education advisor at the DfE.

Scott Walker

Regional Adviser - Lancashire and West Yorkshire; East Midlands and Humber

Scott Walker taught maths and ICT in secondary schools for 20 years before working as a school improvement advisor for an LA and then the DfE.  He lead the national programme to mainstream the work of Excellence in Cities (possibly the largest national school improvement project based on the inner cities) and then became one of the national advisers to the academies programme.  He left the DfE for a while to work for a private school improvement company and specialised in the set-up of academies and free schools. He continues to work part-time for the DfE as an education adviser on the academies free school programme.

Shelley Whitehead

Regional Adviser - South West

Shelley specialises in partnership development, stakeholder engagement and strategic change leadership within Education, the Public sector and the Not-for-Profit sector. Most recently she has been personally responsible for shaping a range of significant and innovative academy partnerships - such as:- initiating the academy partnership between the Diocese of Salisbury and Mott MacDonald; leading the successful development of a number of mixed age and mixed category multi-academy-trusts - the 7 school partnership in Wimborne Dorset, the 4 school Salisbury Plain Academies partnership and the 3 school Magna Learning Partnership both in Wiltshire; and she was a founding non-exec director and member of the Excalibur Academies Trust.

As well as a Regional Adviser to Academy Ambassadors, Shelley advises the DfE on academy sponsor development. She has over 10 years experience in education leadership as an organisation leadership consultant and project manager, a leading Governor and winner of Governor of the Year for the West region (2009) and a national finalist for the October 2009 Teaching Awards. Additionally, Shelley has over 25 years commercial business experience in leading successful business change and development.

Shelley is also an advocate for children and young people's mental health where she supports a number of local and national organisations such as YoungMinds in raising awareness and challenging improvements in the systems and services.

Anne Casey 

Regional Adviser - North

Before taking up her role with Academy Ambassadors, Anne was Deputy Director to the RSC (LWY) developing the education landscape of the region, challenging underperformance, assessing free school capacity and working with academies and trusts on Governance and growth strategies. From 2013-2016, Anne was the Principal for the UTC In Media City UK taking it from vision to oversubscribed reality. 

Prior to 2013 she was Head of ICT at the Education Funding Agency (EFA), part of the Department for Education. Anne managed a national team of ICT Advisers providing expert ICT educational procurement support to all capital programmes. She advised free schools, UTCs, academies and Studio Schools on the development of the ICT aspects of their school development, and ensured that the first free schools, UTCs and Studio Schools opened with ICT partners in place.

Prior to working in the EFA Anne was Education ICT Adviser for the South of England at Partnerships for Schools where she worked supporting and challenging local authorities and schools as they developed their aspirations for educational transformation through ICT investment. Anne has organised major DfE exhibitions at the BETT show, and developed ICT network events in London.