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 has taken on additional roles such as the Chair of the Devon School Leadership Service and more recently as Interim Director of Education for Devon County Councils whilst remaining the CEO of ELAT.   She has been a governor or Trustee for over 25 years and is currently also a Trustee for First Federation Trust.

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.

Debbie Buckingham – Vice Chair, Chair of Education, Inclusion and Safeguarding Committee and Audit & Risk Committee. (Trustee)

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 – Chair of Finance and Resources Committee (Trustee)

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 Chairs 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!

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.

Dan Jenkins , Headteacher at St Thomas Primary School

I joined St Thomas Primary in September 2016 as a Year 6 teacher, one month before the ELAT was incorporated. My relationship with the school extends as far back as 2000 when the first of my 3 sons joined, what was then, St Thomas First School.

I became a Parent Governor in 2001 and was appointed Chair of Governors in 2006.

In 2012 I resigned from a company Directorship and decided on a career change – to follow my dream to become a primary school teacher!

Having been brought up with many foster brothers and sisters, I have seen how important a quality education is in positive life outcomes. I am driven every day to give every child, no matter their circumstances, the skills and opportunities to thrive in life.

I love working for the ELAT. The support, nurture and opportunities for personal and professional growth have been tremendous.

I went to Exeter University in 1989 and loved the City so much I never left!