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.

Board of Trustees

(appointed on 2 March 2016 unless stated otherwise, term of office four years)

Tim Searle


(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.

Peter McDonnel

Vice Chair

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,

Annette Benny

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.

Sarah Gillett

Sarah Gillett – Executive Head Teacher (CEO) Sarah holds a post graduate diploma in special education, a Master’s degree in education studies, a specialist leader in behaviour and attendance qualification and the national professional qualification for headship (NPQH) as well as qualified Lead Ofsted inspector. She has also completed the SSAT executive Heads course. Sarah has worked in senior leadership for the last 12 years. Prior to her teaching career Sarah worked in commerce in London and the Middle East, managing a property portfolio of over £200 million on behalf of a variety of UK and international based clientele.

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

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

A major player on the national stage.  I believe we do what we do outstandingly well and in a sustained fashion.  I would like every young person in every local authority across the UK to have the support and chances that this organisation gives.

Joan Watkins

Chair of Local Governing Body

Joan Watkins – ACE Governor / community leader / retired City Councillor: Chair Health & Scrutiny Panel, Chair Joint Negotiating Committee, Member Corporate Parenting Group and Foster Panel Cabinet Member for Childrens Services. Retired Nurse /Midwife

Skills: leadership, finance, business, HR and community engagement

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

Continuing to provide first class education in a supportive and nurturing environment not just for the children in Plymouth but through the MAT (multi-academy trust) for children in need of this provision elsewhere.

Chair of Local Governing Body

Sue Bickle – Board of Directors, Chair of LGB Courtlands Special School.

Born and raised in Plymouth I held a number of different Jobs before taking on the role of director for the family business.  We did this for 26 years until the time came for my parents to retire at which point we bought the business to a close.  I am a wife and mother of 2 children, one of whom has special needs.  It was in the early years of learning to deal with my youngest daughter’s needs that I started to see some of the struggles and battles that many parents and carers were dealing with daily.  I became a Governor at Courtlands Special School mainly because I wanted to give something in return for the amazing care my daughter was given there but also as I quickly realised that many of the pupils had no-one in their corner fighting for them and that bothered me deeply.  Since then I have gone on to become Chair of the Governing body and am now looking forward to the new and exciting role as Trustee with Ace.  My husband is now a TA specializing in Behaviour support so together we are constantly striving to understand the difficulties faced by our young students and find strategies to help them access the education they so deserve.  I love being in School, working with the Children and supporting the Staff and do my best to always be approachable.  These are new and exciting times for us as a School joining the Ace Multi Academy Trust but I am confident that our similarities in vision and values will mean that we can only help each other to be better versions of ourselves.

Appointed by Members on 15 February 2017

Where would you like ACE to be in five years?

Trust Members

(all appointed on 2 March 2016)

Anne-Marie, Jocelyne, Leone Singer – Retired Local Government Officer, previous Chair of the ACE Management Committee, Annie held a variety of teaching and leadership posts in schools between 1981 and 1992 and advisory and leadership posts in councils between 1992 and 2015. As a senior advisor she gave challenge and support to Senior Leaders as well as Governors to bring about school improvement in Secondary Schools and the Virtual School in Plymouth.

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

Mr Adrian Douglas Kemp MBE – Youth work and community leader, chaired National School Sailing Association, Directed the National Youth Regatta in 2012 (just prior to the Olympic Games), Plymouth Children and Young Peoples Trust Board, set-up and run a number of Community Youth organisations.

Skills: Governance, leadership, finance, community engagement, vulnerable children

Wendy Hannon BA – Operations Manager Hamoaze House Charity, charitable trust management experience / youth and family involvement, 10 years Joint Commissioning Manager for Public Health, experience of finance and data reporting.

Skills: Governance, leadership, finance, commissioning, HR

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

Skills: Governance, leadership, finance, commissioning, HR