The Board


The Trust was formed from the desire to be better than we were yesterday, to be free to make autonomous decisions that remained in the best interest of the young people, staff and service users and the desire to buy into and support the political educational landscape in school improvement.

We have never been shy to change and innovate. We have always wanted to provide a better solution than the last and so leadership, staff and governance interpreted the vision of a better future for all into reality.

Our trustees were invited specifically to lead the change because of their individual expertise and talents, but also because of their strong moral compass. If you would like to join us as a Trustee, please view the video from our CEO Gavin Gracie here.

Annette Benny, the Chair of the Board of Trustees has some answers to a few questions you may have about becoming a Trustee – read here.

Annette Benny – Managing Director (Governance) North East and West Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, responsibilities for information technology, HR and organisational development. Director of shared services company DELT. Experienced in finance and data/management information in order to influence and achieved the desired outcomes

Skills: leadership, finance, business, HR and data handling

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

I would love to see ACE continuing to lead In five years’ time I want ACE to still be focussed on enabling young people to be valued, and to learn grow and develop in our local area to an outstanding standard.  We will give them every chance possible to grow into valued citizens, who can contribute to our community in ways which reflect their strengths.  In addition I want us to be sharing our excellent practice and have increased the numbers of schools in the Multi Academy Trust so that more young people benefit from what we have to offer.  We will be an organisation that continues to put young people at the heart of all that we do and we will have the humility to learn from others as well as share what we have to offer.  We will not rest on our laurels but continually challenge ourselves to be even better and we will be proud of ACE.

Declaration of Interests

Peter William McDonnell BA MSc – Plymouth University International College, College Principal and Director, retired Naval Officer, Commanding Officer of HMS Anglesey and HMS Victorious, Officer Commanding the Royal Naval Submarine School from 2003 – 2006.

Skills: leadership, finance, business, HR and data handling

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

Every young person deserves the chance to succeed in life irrespective of their background or circumstances.  ACE provides its pupils with a safe learning environment and, through the support and guidance of a highly motivated, dedicated and professional staff, the opportunity to enable each individual to develop and achieve the very best that they can.  I would like to see ACE develop and expand its network of schools through the Multi Academy Trust so that a greater number of our young people from across the country can benefit from the same level of support and encouragement as our current pupils here in Plymouth

Declaration of Interests

Denis Parsons – Denis is a commercially-focused senior HR professional with extensive experience in both Public and Private sector matrix organisations up to Board level, with expertise in HR Strategy, Employee Relations, Employment Law, Pay & Reward, Organisational Design & Development, Change Management, Apprenticeships and engagement of young persons through work experience.

Skills: communication, strategy planning, implementation of policy

(appointed by Board) (one of the non-executive only)

Dr Tim Searle BSc PhD – Self employed Engineering consultant. Previously business manager of Plymouth Universities Engineering Centre of Expertise, Church Elder, chaired the Youth and Children’s work at Local Baptist Church, Plymouth

Skills: leadership, finance, business, HR and data handling

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

I would love to see ACE continuing to lead the way with inclusive, caring, learning for the pupils we look after.  It is important to me that we find more innovative and imaginative ways to do things.

Declaration of Interests

Peter has over 35 years’ experience in the NHS with 14 years as a Chief Executive. Prior to this he had held  a number of senior executive roles in the NHS after professionally training and working as an NHS clinician.

He successfully led the Foundation Trust application for an organisation in the North West of England to become the first Mental Health Trust in the region to achieve foundation status. Peter was asked by Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, to lead Broadmoor and West London Mental Health Trust at a time when the Trust and services provided were significantly challenged. Peter led the high-profile turnaround of the Trust, delivering safer services and improved financial and clinical governance. As a result, he succeeded in getting Secretary of State approval for a long-awaited multimillion-pound business case to replace the old Broadmoor hospital.

In 2006/7 with colleagues he led mental health trust collaborative working across the North West mental health providers, an approach which remains currently place.

Peter has a strong clinical & managerial background, operational and strategic management expertise and experience which he uses to provide advice and coaching to senior executives in the Health Service.

Accordion Content

Trust Members

Mrs Michelle Thomas – Director of operations for Livewell Southwest (NHS CIC Primary healthcare, CAMHS and adult social care)

Skills: Governance, leadership, finance, commissioning, HR

For 18 years I worked for Ofsted, initially as a team lay inspector and then a lead inspector. I inspected all sectors of education including special and residential schools. Prior to this I worked for many years in the nuclear industry latterly as a special projects manager. My work involved me with education particularly encouraging the understanding of science and encouraging girls particularly to raise their aspirations and consider science and engineering as a career. Though this was mainly focused within secondary schools role models went into primary schools to start raising aspirations early. Since retiring from Ofsted I have been a trustee of a MAT.

I hold public governships for an acute hospital and also for a mental health and community trust.

I am also Chair of Healthwatch Somerset.

Paul holds an NPQH and is a qualified Ofsted inspector and training to be a lead inspector. Paul is regularly involved in school to school support and lecturing in initial teacher education. Paul started his working life running a number of restaurant businesses, employing large numbers of people and developing their skills. This led him to becoming a science teacher and subsequently putting his highly effective commercial skills to use in leading education.

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