Trust Leadership Team
Ben Parnell - CEO
Ben Parnell has a wealth of experience and success in education leadership. He has been leading Athena Learning Trust since 2022 and prior to this, has held positions including Director of Education, Regional Director and Executive Principal. Ben encourages direct inquiries about his capabilities, loyalty, impact, flexibility, working relationships, strengths, and areas for development. His track record for school improvement is long and consistent, with improvements often being sustained even after he leaves a school. Ben believes in promoting great behaviour, structured teaching, high levels of support for students with special educational needs, financial resilience and fantastic governance.
Ben's superpower is his ability to inspire and instil urgency simultaneously, getting his teams fired up about what they can achieve together for the young people in their care.
Joe Kirby - Director of Education
Joe Kirby, leads the school improvement team and has expertise in school culture, curriculum, research, the science of learning and school improvement. He has achieved over 90% 4+ at GCSE as Head of English, Head of Year and Deputy Head of Curriculum and Culture for five years at Michaela School. He has worked with world-leading school leaders and this can be seen in his high standards for children and staff. He is focused on ensuring that 100% of students pass English and Maths. Joe believes that great education combines great teaching, curricula, culture and community to help students learn liberating knowledge and values that let them take part in the great adventures of humanity and contribute to others and the world.
Shirley Si Ahmed - Chief Finance and Operations Officer (CFOO)
Shirley Si Ahmed is our Finance Director and also oversees our operations and is employed on a full time basis. Shirley is a seasoned School Business Leader with extensive experience managing all aspects of school operations and finances, enabling school leaders to focus on teaching and learning, and school improvement. She is well-versed in leading finance, IT, data protection, HR, catering, lettings and derivatives. Recently, Shirley and her family have moved from Croydon to the West Country, and her child is now enrolled in an Athena school.
Amy Coombe - School Improvement Lead
Amy Coombe is one of Athena’s School Improvement Leads and has a focus on driving improvements in reading and teaching across the trust on a 0.8 contract. She has achieved over 91% 4+ at GCSE as Head of English and Assistant Head for five years at Jane Austen College. Amy has developed a new cover system for our trust secondaries, dramatically reducing workload for teachers and supporting senior leaders to manage high levels of staff absence with minimal disruption to student learning. Amy also leads on CPD and line management for the trust, working towards our vision for world-class people development by helping schools to provide high quality CPD and line management for every role in the school.She has written a Key Stage 4 curriculum to support struggling schools, oversees the reading strategy that includes the tutor time reading program and the catch-up program including support and training for Lexonik.
Tegen Thompson - School Improvement Lead
Tegen Thompson, is one of Athena’s School Improvement Leads. Tegen, who hails from and was educated in Cornwall, leads as one of the organisation's two "in-residence" school improvement leaders. She is currently serving as Deputy Headteacher at Launceston College for two years, ensuring that the strategy is fully implemented at the school. Tegen has pioneered this model, which will be expanded to other schools next year. She has achieved 80% 4+ at GCSE as Head of Science before taking on a role in the SLT. Her areas of expertise include attendance, revision and homework, raising achievement, safeguarding, Pupil Premium and Science.
Matt Thompson - School Improvement Lead
Matthew Thompson is one of Athena’s School Improvement Leads. Matthew brings a sense of calm and clear direction to the school improvement team, particularly in areas of high need. He is responsible for overseeing attendance, attainment, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), post-16 education, and mathematics. He has a track record of success, having achieved 91% 4+ in Maths at GCSE within United Learning before becoming a member of the senior leadership team (SLT) at Redruth School. He is an expert in behaviour, assessment, data, timetabling, reporting, maths, statistics, economics, and computing, and holds a first-class degree in economics.
Dr Linda Blackburn - School Improvement Lead
Linda Blackburn is a school improvement leader at Athena Learning Trust, who is
focused on improving culture and standards, specifically KS4 outcomes, at Atlantic Academy on a full time basis. She has been described as a combination of three well-known education figures: Katherine Birbalsingh, Tom Bennett, and Doug Lemov. She has experience leading KS3, GCSE, A-level and IB (HL & SL) Chemistry, KS3 and GCSE Science and A-level Physics. She achieved 98% grade 4+ and 89% grade 7+ at GCSE as Head of Chemistry, and has experience in setting high standards, raising attainment and leading the improvement of teaching. Linda also has experience in leading major change in a Jersey secondary school raising standards, expectations and aspirations, and improved student outcomes from 40% to 65% grade 4+ as Head of Science. She holds a PhD and Master's Degree in Chemistry and has experience as a Manufacturing Chemist at Croda International and a Pharmaceutical Chemist at AstraZeneca. She believes in a knowledge-rich and rigorous science curriculum that is accessible to all pupils regardless of their background and is focused on ensuring that all pupils achieve.
Gemma Kee - Head of People Operations
As the Head of People, Gemma Kee leads our HR and payroll services on a full time basis. She brings a wealth of experience in leadership and management from various private and public sector positions prior to her role in HR at Athena. Her expertise in educational HR was developed through both strategic and operational roles within maintained and academy trust schools and colleges. As a chartered member of the CIPD, her primary focus is to drive people support, personal development, and HR processes within the Trust.
Georgina Fahey - Governance Lead and Executive Assistant to the CEO
Georgina is passionate about working with children and has spent her career leading in primary schools, most recently in Bristol. She currently serves as the trust Governance Lead and CEO's Executive Assistant, and has held this role since September 2022. Georgina was born and educated in Cornwall, holds a Masters Degree in Psychology, and is a qualified SENCO. As the governance lead for the trust, she has restructured governance at the local level, developed a committee structure for trustees, and ensures that the CEO is well-organised, punctual, and effective in communication.
Rosie Broughton - Lettings and Catering Manager
Rosie has the pleasure of looking after the catering provision for the trust across all of our schools and managing a variety of evening/weekend lettings, including the unique Bachelor's Hall bunk house on Dartmoor. She has been with Bideford College and the Trust for 18 years. Starting her career in 4* hotel management, she moved to school catering when her twins were young and really enjoys the challenges it presents, as well as the wonderful staff in the catering teams that make all the food daily for the students. The catering service contributes to good health, improved concentration, and helps the students get the best from their education. Her aim is to provide all students with great food, made on-site, supporting local producers and taking care to preserve the environment. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family, horse riding, walking, and travelling.
Darren Crockford - Head of Estates
Darren is the Head of Estates, leading the Facilities teams across all the sites while managing the role of Head of Health & Safety. He has a wealth of experience in the building trade and site management, gained over a long career in both the private and public sector. Growing up and being educated in Cornwall, he attended one of the schools that is now part of our Trust. After leaving full-time education, he entered the retail trade in a trainee management role, before going on to run his own successful building company for many years. When the opportunity came up, he joined Launceston College as the Site Manager before rising to become Head of Estates for the Trust. His passion lies in improving our facilities and using his skills and experience to lead the very committed Site Teams, playing a part in giving the students the best educational experience possible. When not at work, Darren is a lifelong football fan, enjoys working on his house and garden, and spending time with his family.
Jess Reardon - Marketing Lead
Jess has worked with the Trust for nearly two years, starting as a marketing assistant and progressing further to become the marketing lead. Prior to working for the Trust, she took her A Levels in Media, obtaining a distinction*. Jess is currently undertaking an apprenticeship to obtain her level 3 marketing executive degree. On a daily basis, she manages the social media and websites for the Trust and helps the school's dedicated social media leads. Jess also led the rebrand of the Trust, taking it from Launceston College MAT to Athena Learning Trust. In her spare time, she enjoys going for walks and exploring the local area with friends.
Danny Garfield - Head of Trust IT
Danny has been working in IT in education for just shy of nine years and holds a degree in computing. He leads the IT teams across the trust and supports the Network Managers in maintaining a reliable and secure infrastructure that supports teaching and learning. Danny truly enjoys working in education and believes that it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to positively impact our students, and give them the best possible start in life.