Our Team

Leadership

Mark Lehain

Interim Director

Sigrun Olafsdottir

Director of finance and HR
Interim Director

Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools in the country in September 2012. Bedford Free School has thrived under his tutelage, and they have created the Advantage Schools multi-academy trust with Elstow School, as well as receiving permission to open another free school in September 2018.

Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, an organisation which works to improve state education by encouraging schools to adopt high-expectations behaviour cultures, a knowledge-rich curriculum, rigorous examinations and lots of enrichment opportunities for their students. He was appointed Interim Director of NSN in March 2018. 

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Director of finance and HR

Educated in Iceland, Sweden and England, Sigrun has an extensive background in IT, finance, business management and HR. She graduated from the Commercial College of Iceland in 1993 and started her own .com business which she ran until she moved to England in 2003. Arriving in London, she joined a start-up company that focused on social technology and remained a core member of staff for five years until she decided to focus on starting companies and organisations. During this period, she studied Social Science and was awarded CIMA certifications.

Sigrun joined NSN in early 2011 and since then has looked after the internal operations, finances, HR and IT, as well as acting as the Company Secretary.

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London Office

Kirsty Watt

Head of Academy Ambassadors

Louise Starling

Partnerships Manager

Rahel Kibru

Operations Assistant

Sophie Taylor

Communications and Alumni Officer
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 high-calibre board recruitment programme which recently appointed its 900th non-executive director. Before joining Academy Ambassadors, Kirsty 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 has also worked in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. Prior to this, she worked in a private PR practice with Colman Getty PR on arts campaigns and on social and business issues for clients including Waterstones and the National Portrait Gallery.

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Partnerships Manager

Louise has 10 years’ experience in the charity sector. She spent seven years in various roles at youth charity, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE). She worked with schools and local authorities to deliver the programme to over 10,000 young people each year across London. Her role included managing regional activities, projects and programmes with the aim of increasing the number of young people starting their DofE, double the proportion of young people taking part from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensuring at least half of all young people starting their DofE achieve their Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. Prior to joining the Academy Ambassadors team in February 2016 she worked for Arthritis Research UK in the corporate partnerships team.

She currently leads the Corporate Partnerships strategy at Academy Ambassadors, engaging with companies across England to promote non-executive director roles to their staff. She also supports non-executive director recruitment and trust engagement in three regions.

Louise is a Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Educators and Middle Warden for the Guild of Young Freemen of the City of London.

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Operations Assistant

Rahel graduated with a Law degree from the University of Sussex in 2015. Since then she has worked in international development, most recently in a legal charity focussed on applying the law for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

She has a passion for supporting the most disadvantaged children achieve academic success, and currently also works as a Teaching Assistant at a local supplementary school helping disadvantaged students succeed at the 11+ grammar school entry exam.

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Communications and Alumni Officer

Sophie started out as an events organiser for communications-led charity CharityComms where she developed and managed a wide range of events focussed on the needs of communicators in the charity sector. She moved to South Korea to become an English Language teacher and volunteered for a charity which helps North Korean defectors re-integrate into modern society. After the success and enjoyment of teaching, she went on to teach students of all ages and backgrounds in the UK and eventually in Spain. Sophie joined Academy Ambassadors in October 2017 and now manages the communications, the alumni network and supports with non-executive director recruitment in the South West.

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Manchester Office

David Ardill

Regional Manager

Melanie Carter

Regional Officer
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.

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Regional Officer

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.

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Regional Advisers

Anne Casey

Regional Adviser - North; West Midlands

Sarah Pittam

Regional Adviser - South East and South London

Scott Walker

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

Shelley Whitehead

Regional Adviser – South West
Regional Adviser - North; West Midlands

Anne has over 30 years of education experience as  a teacher, Principal, Local Authority officer and senior civil servant Her career spans education and industry. Anne is Director of her own company ACE limited an educational solutions company supporting MATs, Free schools, Universities and School Boards. She is also a part time DFE Education Adviser. Before taking up her role with Academy Ambassadors, Anne was Deputy Director to the RSC (Lancashire and West Yorkshire) 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.

 

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Regional Adviser - South East and South 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.

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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 (one of the largest national school improvement projects based in 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.

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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 seven school partnership in Wimborne, Dorset, the four school Salisbury Plain Academies partnership and the three school Magna Learning Partnership both in Wiltshire; and she was a founding non-executive 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, 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.

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