Meet the Academy Council

Click on each of our Academy Council members to find out more:

Clare Curran – MBA, Chartered FCIPD – Chair of Academy Council

Clare curranClare has spent her professional career working within the Human Resources Management field, having worked in both the Public and Private Sectors.


Clare has held roles in the Higher Education Sector, and NHS where she has also held positions that combined Human Resources and Governance.  Clare’s experience has spanned a number of other public sector bodies, including NDPB’s, Higher Education Institutions, Local authority, Hospitals and Retail.  Her areas of responsibility have included: staff management, development and leadership, employment law, corporate governance; assurance; communications and marketing; annual accounts and reports; reward and recognition; development including leadership; staff management and development; and also held a Board role and has been responsible for leading many organisational change projects and mergers, establishing new organisations.   Clare has led many National Committees and Activities for both the Higher Education Sector and the NHS.


The skills Clare brings will support the work of Polam Hall and fully understands the journey that Polam Hall has gone through to become part of WAT, and is looking forward to working with WAT, Council Members, Parents and Pupils to develop Polam Hall to be a successful school.


Outside of work Clare is married and has a son who joined Polam Hall for his A-Levels, he went to University, and achieved success at both under-graduate and post-graduate levels, and Polam Hall was a very important part of that journey.  Clare is an active member of All Saints and Salutation Church, being a member of the Parish Council, Deanery Synod, and the Management Leadership Group plus some committees.  Clare has always shared her passion to support Charities, and has in the past been a member of the boards of: St Oswalds Hospice; Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form; Sir E D Walker Homes.


Clare was a Governor and Director at Polam Hall School from February 2015; a Governor of Polam Hall Free School from September 2015 to March 2017 and became an Academy Council Member of Polam Hall at its transfer to WAT in April 2017.  Clare became Vice Chair on 1 September 2017 and took over as Chair on 1 October 2017.  Clare chaired the HR Committee and led the TUPE transfer to WAT.


Clare holds an MBA and also is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Kathryn Heljula – LLB, PGDL

Kathryn heljula

Kathryn was a student at Polam Hall from 1987-1994 and went on to study Law with European Law at Nottingham University. She spent her third year in Germany, during which time she became a fluent German speaker. She worked for 15 years in private practice as a commercial litigator in London law firms (CMS Cameron McKenna, Pritchard Englefield and DLA Piper), as well as in-house on secondment to Barclays Bank. She has a wide experience of commercial disputes, both national and international, having worked in places as varied as Turkey, Belgium and Zambia.


Kathryn has always been a keen sportswoman which led her to become involved as company secretary to the charity Women Win (2011-2015), an organisation which aims to support and encourage girls to reach their full potential through sport. She also has a real passion for travelling, having travelled extensively during and after university. She returned with her family to Darlington in August 2015, and has two children at the school.


Kathryn was appointed as a Parent Governor on 25th May 2016 and then Academy Council member on 1st April 2017. She is additionally Safeguarding Governor with effect from 6th December 2016 and Vice-Chair with effect from 3rd November 2017.


Declaration of interests December 2017:-

Shareholder in Peak Indicators Limited

Mary Atkins – BSc (Hons)

Mary atkins

Mary is a local businesswoman, who has owned and run a successful independent retail business based in Darlington since 2002. Before that she spent 10 years working in the chemical industry with the Courtaulds Group in both line management and head office roles. Her experience spans a range of different functions including Research, Marketing, Graduate Recruitment and Human Resources.


During her career Mary has held a number of positions with external organisations including the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the National Childbirth Trust and the North York Moors National Park Authority as a Secretary of State Appointed Member.


Interests declared October 2015

Business: Cooks & Kitchens, Director; Little Known Ltd., Company Secretary
Family: Cooks and Kitchens, Director (Husband), Little Known Ltd., Director (Husband)

Catherine Hart

Catherine hart

Catherine is a couture milliner and has had her own business since 2001. She is also a partner in the family farming enterprise.

She started her career in New York and after returning to the UK spent the next few years studying fashion and design, which led to a profession in theatre. Her passion for design brought her back to the North East where she started her family and began a career in millinery. She has three children, all of whom have attended Polam Hall School.

John Holliday

John holliday

John is now retired but worked in the Construction Industry for all his working life.  His career started working for a local construction company in Darlington then moved to another in the Yorkshire Dales and during this time studied for the MCIOB (Member of the Chartered Institute of Builders) professional qualification in Construction.


In 1999 he moved back to Darlington to run a construction company dealing with all aspects of the business including marketing, HR, training, development and negotiating contracts.  Some of the high-profile companies consisted of Wharburtons Bakery, 3Ms International and various companies associated with the motor trade.


John is very much a family man, married with two adult children one grandchild and another on the way.  As such when the Chenoble disaster happened he was more than happy to take students from that area for respite care and raised considerable funds to provide medical equipment to take back to Russia.  He also likes to keep active playing squash on a weekly basis.

Alasdair MacConachie

AlasdairChairman of Sherwoods Motor Group.  Former Chairman of Durham School and Darlington College.  Chairman of the Independent Advisory Panel for the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick.  Member of Darlington Rotary Club and Chairman of Darlington Partnership.

Faye Levi

Faye Levi is a marketing consultant and owner of Faye Levi Marketing.

She has over ten Faye Leviyears’ experience providing marketing and communications support to a range of global, national and local organisations across various sectors, including education, not-for-profit, arts, financial services, professional services and local government.

Faye is a Chartered Marketer and is Vice Chair of the Yorkshire Board of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She is also a PRINCE 2 Practitioner and is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses.

Kathryn Bury

Kathryn began her career in University administration before
completing a PGCEKathryn Bury course in Primary Education with curriculum leadership in English. She is also a Guildhall School of Music and Drama trained teacher of Speech and Drama, and poetry speaking. After teaching in state and independent schools in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Kathryn became a teacher at Polam Hall Junior School in September 2003. A few years later, she served as a teacher representative on the Polam Hall School Governing Body.

Her daughter attended both the Junior and Senior schools at Polam Hall and went on to study at the University of York.

Kathryn has a strong affinity with Polam Hall School and its rich heritage, values and ethos, and is looking forward to her role as teacher representative on the Academy Council.

Ally Sanderson

Ally AndersonAlly has been a professional registered nurse since 1990, working in predominantly the speciality of Ophthalmology, as well as emergency care, paediatrics, minor injuries and non medical prescribing. Within this time, she has travelled extensively to work and live in the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, before settling down in Darlington in 2000, marrying and having her children. Both sons attend Polam hall in the senior school.

Ally has experience in working at strategic level within NHS and Higher education, as she has lead on numerous service improvements and is currently working on curriculum standards; as programme leader, with the General Optical Council (GOC) to finalise a three year BSc (Hons) Clinical Optometry programme at Teesside University (TU). Ally currently holds the post of Senior lecturer in Nursing at TU, and is completing a nursing text book for care of the adult patient, focusing on ophthalmology and sight impairment.

In her spare time, she enjoys family time, travelling, running, socialising, reading and volunteers for community events, being part of the Darlington Community Carnival team organising the parade and park events. Ally was fortunate to work with the charity Transform Healthcare Cambodia in early 2018 and travelled to Battanbang, Cambodia to undertake eye clinics and education for nursing/ medical staff. Many glasses were kindly donated by the school, thank you!

Ally is delighted to be recently elected into this parent councillor role, and is looking forward to being involved with Polam Hall School, as part of the Woodard Academy, in its ever evolving journey within the national educational forum.

Andrew Buckingham

Andrew is an IT professional with a background in physics and
engineering, who Andrew Buckinghamsettled in the North East after graduating from Durham University. His son joined Reception in the year that Polam became a free school.

Based on his experience of managing IT teams across both infrastructure and software development, Andrew offers his skills to the School to assist with its IT requirements and provision.

Andrew also has a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) which he actively pursues in his spare time. He has also been responsible for recruiting STEM graduates into analytical roles, and therefore has an understanding of the challenges associated with inspiring the next generation into these fields.

Outside of work Andrew enjoys spending time with his wife and son, often involving badminton and cycling (although not at the same time!)

Jane Thompson Smith BSc FCA

Jane was a student at Polam Hall between 1972 and 1983 where
she forged manyJane Thompson Smith long term friendships which remain to this day.  She maintained her links with the school being President of the Old Scholars Association for a year in 1994, and continuing to support the Association as a Trustee until its closure. 

Jane went on to study Psychology at the University of York and then decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and train as an accountant.  Qualifying with Price Waterhouse in 1994 she has gained a wealth of experience in blue chip and venture capital backed business across a wide variety of market sectors, currently leading a large finance team as Head of Shared Services for Four Seasons Health Care based in Darlington.

Register of Interests

Click here to view the Register of Interests

Attendance Register

Click here to view the Academy Council attendance records

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