senior Leadership Team Biographies
Sarah McCombe - Chief Finance Officer (CFO)
Having graduated from Bournemouth university in 2004 with BA (hons) I had the typical enthusiasm, hope and naivety of a young graduate, I genuinely believed the ‘Professional working world’ really was as it had been described at university. I quickly learned that to be given opportunities and to make my way up the career ladder I had to use drive, determination and be willing to go that extra mile.
My first degree was in Tourism Studies, I intended to ‘Change the world’ using Tourism (In particular Business Tourism) as a major driver for Sustainable living and travel. When I left college and university I decided against jumping on the first plane to follow the usual gap year trend and instead wanted to focus upon developing networks in my local area, Swindon a place close to my heart that seemed to have so much potential in terms of Business Tourism. I quickly established links with Business leaders and Swindon Borough Council and used Swindon as the basis for my dissertation, little did I know the work I completed with Swindon Council would set the foundations for a change in career plan. As part of the Business degree I had the opportunity to study accounting & economics, two areas that quickly became my specialist areas.
I often doubted whether choosing a vocational degree would mean there were subjects covered that I would not need in my career, how wrong was I, not a week goes by where I don’t draw upon the experience, skills and knowledge of all areas of business. Above all I the degree taught me confidence in myself through knowing my limits.
At my graduation ceremony I was pulled aside by a lecturer who very kindly advised me to ‘stick to Finance’ for my next career move, not knowing where this was just because he knew I ‘waffled’ a lot or whether he saw genuine talent I managed to secure employment at Swindon Borough Council in the cashiers office. I spent the next year to 18mths split between working in the public facing cash office doing anything from supporting members of the public with their weekly/ monthly Council payments to completing the daily cash management processes. The second part of the role allowed me to work with the Directors and management teams, I sat quietly in the corner completing a range of finance admin tasks and took every opportunity to understand how the Council worked and how finance played a part in all areas of activity. I was soon offered the opportunity to join the graduate accounting programme and it was then I joined the Chartered institute of Public finance accountants, 3 years later in 2008 I graduated and became a fully signed up member of CIPFA.
Since completing this qualification I have maintained my professional CPD portfolio and am a full member of CIPFA, additional formal training includes Finance Business Partner, Academy Accounting, CIPFA Leadership Academy.
Having been at Swindon Borough Council for nearly 10 years I knew it was time for my next step and with a new passion for supporting education and a desire to remain in the public sector, I was honoured to be given the opportunity to work with Uplands School, a well established SEN school with Jackie Smith at the lead, I did not go into the role blind, I knew I would need to apply all of the financial management & leadership skills to support Jackie and the team and knew that the only direction was growth, Jackie wasn’t standing still. It was an interesting shift from being in the commissioner/ Steward role to the client and it was interesting to be in the unique position to understand the education and social issues and frustrations from both the Council and school view. As expected Jackie and the team did not disappoint, within 3 months of joining Uplands School, Horizons College was opened in its basic form, the application to become an academy converter was submitted and Jackie increased the capacity of UET and its buildings within quick succession.
During my time at Uplands School, now part of the Brunel SEN MAT, I have not looked back, I am grateful to be part of something so special and am humbled by the achievements of our Children and Young People every day. My driver and determination are mirrored by all who join the BSM family and I continue to work with Jackie and other public sector departments to ensure the opportunities that I was so lucky to be given over the years become a reality for someone else.
I have been fortunate enough to head up the Business areas of BSM and am well aware we would not be where we are today without the commitment, positive energy and resilience of the Business team. Whilst some members may have moved on to pastures new, the roles played by current and ex- employees with setting up BSM/ BE/ UET and the current ongoing support are not forgotten and to them I am grateful.
Throughout my career I have supported small businesses in the private sector with payroll, financial administration and company set up.
I grew up in Shrivenham and live there today. My non work time is spent with my family, I am a mother of boys and a Labrador which means coming to terms with a life of supporting my son play rugby & football and I volunteer as an assistant treasurer and admin for the minis section of rugby (it was that or face the pitch!), when not supporting from the side line we love open water swimming and triathlon.
My own relaxation comes in the form of attending HiiT classes and running, I take part in several charity runs a year mainly raising funds for CLEFT palate or Cancer research, two charities that are very special to me.
Noel Gibb - Director of Education
I have significant expertise across a range of disabilities; Autism, SEMH, PMLD, sight loss, Epilepsy and other learning and physical disabilities.
I have worked in several SEND schools, colleges, residentials in the voluntary, public, private and charity sectors in England and Wales i.e. National Autistic Society, Royal National Institute for the Blind, Westminster LA PRU, Young Epilepsy, Garwood Foundation, Ruskin Mill Trust
I have considerable senior leadership and management experience as a Co-Chief Executive, Director of Education, Executive Head teacher, Principal and Head Teacher.
I have been Chair of my local Mencap Trustees Board for over 10 years. I have worked with the Executive Director and Trustees to help re-shape the charity and ensure its long-term future and maintain its unique presence in people with learning difficulties the North West London community
I have my own business since 2009 which helps to develop autism provision and support people with disabilities and autism both in the UK and abroad. I have worked in Cyprus, Italy, Jamaica, Qatar and Zimbabwe.
I have worked as a volunteer since 2003 as an advocate for a man with autism and learning difficulties in supported living in West London.
I currently volunteer for Mutual Aid supporting people isolated due to the pandemic and who are victims of food poverty.
I attend regular fitness training and “combat & bootcamp” classes. I also enjoy reading, visiting museums and galleries and watch films. I organise and participate in Fun runs and cinema outings for a local charity for people with learning difficulties.
I live with my partner in London
Fiona Clark - Deputy Director of Education
My route into teaching was via 8 years in the Navy as a Supply Officer and a degree in Politics and Sociology from Exeter University. During my time in the Navy I was given the opportunity to teach English to those who had not gained a formal qualification in school, and much to my surprise I found I both loved it and those who were subject to my extremely poor lessons initially somehow seemed to pass their exams.
In 1995, with the arrival of our first child I left the Navy and decided to pursue a career in teaching. I joined an FE college in Fareham and started my teaching qualifications. I subsequently moved to South Downs College in Portsmouth and took on a part-time teaching role teaching adults on the Skills for Life programmes who were working towards functional skills qualifications in English and Maths. I also supported young people on full-time programmes of study, who had an additional learning need with study skills and pastoral help. I quickly realised that this was where my real interest and passion lay and I developed an keen interest in supporting students with autism in particular. After 8 years and 2 Ofsted inspections at South Downs I moved with my husband to Northwood and was lucky enough to get a role at St Luke’s Special School in Redbourn. I was employed as a specialist intervener for 2 siblings with autism, dual sensory impairment and epilepsy. I learned Makaton to communicate with them and worked with the family and the school to provide them with the support they needed and to work with other teachers and TAs to upskill us as a team.
Although St Luke’s was an MLD secondary school, it had a small Key Stage 2 class which provided an early transition programme for children in years 5 and 6 most of whom attending mainstream provisions which were increasingly unable to meet their needs. Moving early to St Lukes made sense and was in the best interests of these children. The provision was growing and at the same time the school was changing its designation from an MLD to a SLD school. The lead for the primary unit moved on and I was appointed into that role which enabled me to develop my skills in offering a thematic curriculum offer that worked across Key stage 2 and 3.
In 2013 we moved to Shrivenham as my husband was posted there and at this point I was lucky enough to be recruited by Jackie Smith, then the Headteacher, to a middle leadership role, combining being class lead to a KS4 class in Avebury House (ASD) and looking after community inclusion and work related learning. I became an Assistant Headteacher at Uplands in 2015 and this role also included a secondment to support the Autism Advisory Service as an Advisory Teacher for KS3/4 and as Project Lead for the Churchward Free School project. In 2017 I took over the role of Headteacher in 2017 I have therefore been part of the Brunel Multi-Academy Trust from the start and am fully committed to its vision of providing the very best education and support to the children and families we serve. As the Assistant Director of Education, is a privilege to be working alongside Noel Gibb, the Director, with all the leaders and staff of our 6 fantastic provisions and to support them in their endeavours.
In my leisure time, I enjoy walking our dogs on the ridgeway and in the local countryside and kayaking on the Thames. As well as being part of a long-standing book club that meets monthly I enjoy cinema and theatre and going to exhibitions. We try to see our 3 grown-up children whenever they have time for us and have a lovely set of local friends.
David West - Director of People & Culture (Interim)
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 SEN Multi Academy Trust (BSM). As an Executive Leadership Team (ELT) member of BSM, 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 BSM 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.
Matt Garland - Senior ICT Manager
I have lived in Swindon most of my life. After leaving secondary school, I took up a four year engineering apprenticeship in Rover Group/BMW which gave me many of the skills, tools and knowledge that I now rely on at BSM and in everyday life.
I worked at BMW for a further 4 years after the apprenticeship and decided to go travelling for 18 months. I started off travelling to the USA to work in a children’s summer camp as a camp councillor for 10 weeks which was one of the best things I have ever done and made amazing friends, most of whom I am still in contact with today. Shortly after, I travelled to the east coast of the USA and then travelled to Australia with a few days’ stopover in Singapore.
I spent nearly 12 months in Australia, travelling around the country, going to some amazing places, doing some amazing things and meeting people from all over the world. Once I finished travelling round Australia, I went to Thailand for four weeks traveling round the mainland and islands before returning home.
Shortly after returning from my travels, I decided to have a change of career and further development my I.T knowledge as I love all things to do with Technology. I’ve been working in education for the past 15 years in mainstream schools and SEN and I’ve been working for BSM for nearly 5 years and enjoy making a difference to children and young people’s lives and education.
I’m married with two children and as a family we try to visit as many places both at home and abroad as we can. My interests include watching and playing sport, keeping fit by going to the gym and swimming, watching movies and I love socialising with friends and family. I also love to attend music festivals, live music concerts and going on holiday with my family.
Rob Reeve - Senior Estates & Facilities Manager
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 10years 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 BSM 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.
Paul Davis - Senior Development & Data Manager
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 SEN MAT. At this point I joined the Central Team and the rest, as they say, is history.
In addition to my BSM 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 - Senior Governance Manager 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 Smith’s 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 SEN Multi Academy 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 SEN MAT, 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 BSM, 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.