Executive Leadership Team

Gary Chown

Chief Executive Officer

Gary is one of the founding members of Ventrus (formerly The Primary Academies Trust). Gary is committed to Partnership working and prior to his current role he led the Devon Association of Primary Headteachers whilst also developing his own partnership of improving and successful schools. He has extensive school leadership experience and a strong, proven track record of school improvement. As an Executive Headteacher Gary has led five different schools through seven full inspections. At every one of those inspections the schools grading improved from its previous inspection grade. Ofsted have described Gary as an “exceptional Headteacher”. Gary has been commissioned on many occasions by the Local Authority to support and lead schools that are under-performing. Gary also has a great deal of multi-agency experience and his work as the strategic Lead for a cluster of children centres has been described as “inspirational” by the Chief Executive of Barnados. Gary has a passion for teacher training and development and he still finds time to act as a visiting lecturer on PGCE and BEd programmes for the University of Plymouth.

Lynne Hyland

Director of Finance

Lynne is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants, qualifying in 2002. Lynne is a strong believer in delivering high quality business partnering to non-finance colleagues for effective financial management, alongside effective supplier contract management to ensure the highest impact when funds are limited, delivering improved outcomes for pupils. Lynne and her team will be working to ensure that Ventrus is a financially sustainable environment to both learn and work.

Lynne has held a number of senior financial roles, including Head of Finance for the Business and Research section of Plymouth University, Finance Director for environmental charity the Westcountry Rivers Trust and finance advisor to the national charity, The Rivers Trust and most recently Interim Finance Director for Delt Shared Services, a spinout company jointly owned by Plymouth City Council and NHS N.E.W. Devon Clinical Commissioning Group where she implemented all the finance systems and procedures for this new start-up company to enable them to trade commercially and facilitation £1m of savings in their first full year of trading.

Simon Levi

Director of Human Resources

Simon is our first Head of HR. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development and has extensive HR and business experience across a number of sectors. Simon has extensive experience of improving performance through effective people management practices. Simon firmly believes that good HR policies and practices leads to improved outcomes for pupils and it is his ambition that the Trust continually evolves in its ongoing quest to be a great place to work.

Simon’s role involves the strategic oversight of HR which includes key areas such as recruitment, advice, HR policies, attendance, diversity and employee engagement. Simon has experience in both generalist and specialist areas of HR. In his earlier career Simon provided strategic HR oversight for a growing company in the automotive industry leading them to secure Investors in People recognition. More recently Simon was accountable for building capability and improving the skills base of large areas of the civil service. Before joining the Trust Simon was accountable for reward, payroll and the provision of HR services for the Rural Payments Agency. This wide ranging experience in all key areas of HR places Simon is a strong position to enable the Trust continually improve in its aspiration to be an employer of choice.

Claire Baillie

Director of School Improvement

Claire was Headteacher of The Duchy School, Bradninch from 2007 - 2017. She had previously taught Modern Foreign Languages in a large Comprehensive School in Nottinghamshire, before moving to Devon and transferring into the Primary Sector. Under her leadership the standards attained by pupils at the end of KS2 rose considerably and in 2010 the school was placed 17th out of all schools nationally for improvement over a three year period. The quality of her leadership in setting clear direction leading to improvement was judged to be ‘outstanding’ at the OFSTED inspection in 2009. Claire has worked with the National Strategies team as part of the Maximising Pupil Progress Initiative and was invited to be guest speaker at the National Conference. Claire has also worked for 4 years as a senior commercial underwriter for one of the principal national insurance companies. In this role she was responsible for evaluation of the risks faced by significant local businesses. These skills will be easily transferable to the risk evaluation and management within Ventrus.

Ashley Leeson

Director of School Improvement

Following a varied career in banking and a family business, where she managed the finance and accounts systems, Ashley moved into teaching with a specialism in early childhood development. She has a passion for developing a practical and engaging curriculum, accessible to all children, across the primary age phase and is driven by a commitment to keeping children’s wellbeing at the heart of school practice. Prior to becoming the deputy headteacher of a large primary school, where she led on assessment and curriculum development, she was a special educational needs co-ordinator and Primary Link Teacher for PE in Torbay. In this she worked collaboratively with colleagues in local secondary and special schools to develop a network of inclusive after school sport clubs and was nominated for the Torbay Primary PE Co-ordinator of the year award. Ashley joined Ventrus in 2013, when she was appointed as the first Head of School of Woodwater Academy and strategic lead of the Ventrus SEND Best Practice Network. She has particular strengths in system leadership, assessment and school improvement and she and her team have provided support to several local schools. During Woodwater‘s first inspection, Ofsted judged Ashley's leadership to be outstanding. Ashley is currently an associate member of the Devon Association of Primary Headteachers.