About us

Rachel Shaw, Chief Executive Officer

Rachel Shaw joined Exeter Learning Academy Trust (ELAT) as the CEO in September 2019.

She was raised, educated and trained to be a teacher in Devon and is committed to supporting children and families within the county.

Rachel has spent her professional career as a teacher working in primary education and more than 20 years in senior leadership roles. She has been a Headteacher, Executive Principal and CEO across a number of schools in Devon covering education from 2-19. She has improved schools in challenging circumstances both within and beyond the organisations she has worked in and strongly believes in the strength of collaborative work across the education sector.

Rachel is also the chair of the Devon School Leadership Service which supports and provides training for school leaders working in schools and Trusts across Devon. She has been a governor or Trustee for over 25 years and is currently also a Trustee for First Federation and a member of the Devon Education Forum.

As well as providing the strategic direction and being responsible for the day to day operation of the Trust, Rachel is also the Accounting Officer. She is responsible to Parliament and the Secretary of State for ensuring that ELAT uses public funds appropriately to advance education for the public benefit. More details about this role can be found in the Academies Handbook.

Rachel believes passionately that education provides choices and opportunities for our children and young people and that we must ensure all achieve their potential regardless of their starting point in life. Ensuring that the adults working with our children are experts in their field and also strive to always be the best they can be is an essential element of this.

If you wish to find out more about the Trust then please contact info@elatschools.com.

Suzannah Curtis – Chair of the Trust Board

Suzannah spent just under 20 years as a logistics officer in the Royal Navy and has a broad range of experience which includes operational and contingency planning, strategy development and implementation, risk management, information management and exploitation. She also has a particular interest in applying insights from history to develop informed and innovative solutions to today’s problems. She is a Chartered Member of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, Member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, and Member of the Chartered Management Institute.

She continues to work part-time, mainly in the wider Defence logistics and support sector, but now relishes having the time and the opportunity to use her skills and experience in the service of the wider community here in Devon, which she has been lucky enough to call home since 2000.

Brian Cook M.Sc, B.A(Hons), A.C.I.B., Dip.F.S. Chair of the Finance Committee

It’s a privilege to contribute to the work of ELAT. I joined the Board because I have a strong family interest in primary education, a desire to give something back to a local community and a wish to challenge myself in new areas.

My professional background is in finance and after a career working with commercial and corporate businesses all around the UK, I returned to the West Country and now live on the edge of Dartmoor. I want to bring to ELAT not only my financial and business experience but also an objective, commonsense support and challenge to our leadership, to help to optimise the opportunities for our children. We need to make sure that we make the most of all of our resources to support the quality of our teaching and learning.

As well as serving on the ELAT Board I am also a director of a multi-academy trust in Cornwall and I chair the governing body of a small maintained primary school. Both of these roles help to bring a hands-on understanding of the issues facing our schools.

My relaxation comes from my ongoing interest in sport (sadly less and less active!), walking my dogs and trying to keep my large garden under control.

I really look forward to continuing to work with a talented and committed leadership team as we build the future of the ELAT schools.

Amanda Whittaker – Chair of Audit and Risk Committee

I have spent the majority of my career working as a business adviser and programme leader and have had the privilege to work across the globe, in a range of industries, helping companies to deliver their service operations strategies. Throughout my career, I have championed people development as an important part of organisational success. I am excited to be working with all of the talented people at ELAT striving to provide the best possible opportunities for our children.

Having moved to the South West over 10 years ago I now split my time between Plymouth and the South East with two young teenagers and an energetic dog to keep me fit and busy.

Barry Cole – Trustee

Barry has vast experience of management in a wide range of businesses such as hotels, restaurants, conference and events and leisure facilities, as well as retail.

He currently advises on leadership skills and business development, usually as a non-executive director if not always in the title but certainly in the role he performs as a critical friend to MDs, CEO and owners of small to medium enterprises. He sees himself as the Resultant rather than a Consultant. He has clients in a wide range of business sectors from AV to software design and from retail to manufacturing.

Barry has been recognised both for his contribution to the Hospitality industry as well as his delivery of Service Excellence in business.
Until recently he was Vice-Chair of Devon Air Ambulance Trust, Chair of Play Torbay, and Chair of Dartington Hall Accommodation and Catering Company. He was a business mentor for the Prince’s Trust, and Chair of Friends of South Devon College.

He is Chair of Creative Interpartners, an advertising, brand development and graphic design agency in London and Chair of Tubers Academy, Exeter and Torquay.

Barry is a Master Innholder and has the Freedom of the City of London.

Dominic Wells – Trustee

Being a west country person, I have a great fondness for the area. I am a strong believer in giving young people every opportunity possible and that is why I’m delighted to accept this opportunity to be a Trustee of the Exeter Learning Academy Trust. My wife and I have three children all of whom had attained degrees.

My background is within construction consultancy and specifically in Project Management; I am a Chartered Surveyor by profession. I reached Board Director level of the largest Architect practice in the South West.

I enjoy walking and gardening under my wife’s expert instruction. I am passionate about restoring classic motorcycles.

Debbie Buckingham

Beginning her teaching career in Birmingham in 1983, Debbie settled in Devon in 1983. After teaching across all key stages in various schools across the County Debbie was appointed Headteacher in 2000 and has led several primary schools before retiring from Alphington Primary School in 2018. She has supported schools in challenging circumstances as a Local Leader throughout her career and was seconded to a school in special measures for a year.

As well as looking after her grandchildren Debbie currently works part-time for a Local Trust as school improvement support which complements her work as a Director Of ELAT. She is passionate about ‘Equality for all’ and aspirational outcomes for all children. As a professional, she is committed to the development of talented and ambitious staff to make a difference at every level.

Paul Walker

Paul has worked within the education sector in Devon over the last twenty years. He has held many leadership positions including Assistant Head, Headteacher at several schools, and most recently is the CEO of a large primary multi-academy trust in Devon. Paul also serves on the executive committee of Devon School Leadership Services and is a serving Ofsted inspector.

In his spare time. Paul enjoys spending time with Alison, his wife, and their two children often out and about for walks. Paul also enjoys keeping fit and running. Paul is currently studying for an MBA in education management.

Trust Leadership Team

Sharon Tarr, Headteacher at Alphington Primary School

I started my career as a teaching assistant at a local school and quickly realised that I wanted to take the next step so I began my teaching training. I have been fortunate enough to love my job at every stage and progressed from teaching into the assistant head and, as I currently am, head at Alphington Primary School.

I became Headteacher at Alphington in September 2018 and am very proud of our school. I strongly believe that school should be a place that develops children as a whole and we offer a curriculum and environment that enthuses and motivates children.

I am excited by the opportunities open to our children that being part of Exeter Learning Academy Trust offers.

I was born and raised in Exeter and as it is such an amazing place to live and work I have never ventured very far for it!

Jo Dentith , Headteacher at Bowhill Primary School

Jo joined Bowhill Primary School as its Headteacher in January 2021.  She has spent all of her 20 year teaching career in Devon, working in a variety of different schools and multi-academy trusts. She started teaching initially in the Early Years, followed by developing a specialism within special needs before moving into school leadership. Jo will maintain that the primary years are not just about academic achievement but one whereby the children should be nurtured to succeed and thrive into well- rounded individuals, whatever their starting points. Jo’s vision for Bowhill is to create a happy, caring and aspirational atmosphere where all of the community care for its future together. Jo is proud to be working for ELAT – a primary trust, meeting the needs of is local children through collaborative working principles.

Alice Purcell , Headteacher at Ide Primary School

Being a headteacher as part of Exeter Learning Academy Trust is a huge privilege and I enjoy every day working together with the school community and the trust to provide the best possible education for our children. Having worked at a diverse range of schools across Devon as a teaching assistant, teacher, assistant head and now headteacher, I have found that one thing is common for all children across our county- they love to learn!

At school in Brighton, I was lucky to benefit from some amazing experiences, including performing at Glyndebourne Opera House in ‘La Boheme’ and touring around the country subsequently with that production. Working with professional singers and actors really inspired me and opened my eyes to what can be achieved and enjoyed in life, if we are given the right opportunities and guidance. I hold this memory closely with me when designing the curriculum for children at our school.

It has been fantastic to see the impact that performing as part of the National School’s Shakespeare Festival and having work displayed at the National Gallery in London has had on our pupils over the last couple of years and I am looking forward to taking our curriculum further forward and offering more exciting opportunities for children in future years. We have recently become a ‘Heritage School’ and our children are currently working on creating a digital collection of oral, written and photo memories from the locality together with Historic England and Local Learning, based in Bristol. This collection will be available to view on our website in 2022.