Meet the Academy Council

Jennifer Robbins (Chair)

Jennifer has grown up in the North East and has a background in Psychology, completing her MSc in Social Psychology at LJennifer robinnsancaster University in 2012. Jennifer is an experienced leader after a decade long career in the civil service in various policy roles, holding posts in Ministry of Defence and Department for Education. During her time at the Department for Education, Jennifer developed her finance and governance experience after being a team leader within the Education and Skills Funding Agency, focusing on financial management and governance of Academy Trusts. In 2023, Jennifer took up post as Head of Policy and Strategy at The Children’s Homes Association, helping some of our society’s most vulnerable children and young people.




Andrew Buckingham (Vice Chair)

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!)

Kathryn Heljula LLB, PGDL

K heljula

Kate was a student at Polam Hall School from 1987-1994 and she has two children at the School. She went on to study Law with European Law at Nottingham University and forged her career as a Commercial Litigator in a leading Global Law Firm in London. After 15 years in London Kate returned to Darlington. She was appointed as a Parent Governor in 2016 and became Chair of the Academy Council in October 2019.


Kate studied French and German at A-level and spent the third year of her LLB Law Degree in Germany, during which time she became a fluent German speaker. Kate is the Academy Council Link for English and Modern Foreign Languages, with languages being an area of personal interest.


Kate 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 is now embarking on a Masters in International Sports Management at Northumbria University. 


Polam Hall School is a very special place – there is a warmth and strong sense of community which you can feel the moment you walk through the school gates. I am really proud of the journey the school has been on over recent years and where we are today, and I’m proud to lead the Academy Council in supporting and challenging the school in achieving its Vision, fulfilling its Mission and living its Values. We are now building on strong foundations and I am ambitious and excited for the School’s future.”

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.

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.

Edward Pickering

E pickeringEdward is currently the CEO of Citizens Advice County Durham and has worked for both the local and national parts of the Citizens Advice Service over the past 12 years. As well as creating the national Adviceline for Citizens Advice he has campaigned for changes to the benefit systems and championed social justice inequalities. Prior to that Edward worked in IBM's consulting division on complex public sector solutions.

Edward has been previously involved with the strategic development of non-profit organisations, including Credit Unions, Volunteer and Community Centres and Social Care organisations.

Born and bred on a farm in County Durham, Edward now lives in Darlington with his family, who are all involved with Polam as either students or with the Polam Hall Parents Association. Edward's grandmother also attended Polam Hall School.

In his spare time Edward enjoys working out how to be even more energy efficient, at times at the annoyance of everyone he lives with!


Troy Simmons-Turner

Troy joins the Academy Council having previously held a governor position at a local primary school. In that role he was a link for Care and Transition and held the position of Vice Chair.

In addition to his governance experience, Troy has a deep passion for education having himself studied BSc Hons in Microbiology at Teesside university and then his PGCE at Sunderland University, working as a teacher in further education in the field of Food Technology for over 14 years.

Pursuing his love of cooking, Troy has supported Durham County Council with the successful speedy chef project to fast-track learners on a Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cooking. This has enabled local chefs to work for some of the region’s most prestigious hotels, including Rockcliffe Hall.

Troy’s volunteer work has also included the Durham Gateway Academy, an alternative provision free school, where he has supported students with learning difficulties, helping them to achieve their potential and forge their own career paths.

Troy has a child in Senior School at Polam and so has been part of the Polam community for the last past 3 years.  Troy speaks French and creole as part of his native language.

“I am looking forward to starting this amazing journey.”





Jake Burdis

Jake originally hails from North Shields and has been a passionate advocate for education throughout his career. He earned an MSc in Industrial and Commercial Biotechnology from Newcastle University and a PGCE in Secondary Science from Durham University.

Since 2022, Jake has served as the Secondary Partnership Lead and Science Tutor at Durham University. Prior to this, he worked as a science teacher, a role that laid a strong foundation for his current position. At Durham, he helps train aspiring science teachers and conducts research aimed at enhancing educational practices. He is currently working on his PhD on the topic of AI and Education. His extensive visits to schools across the region not only keep him connected with the educational landscape but also ensure he brings valuable insights to his role as an Academy Councillor.

Trish Abott

Details to follow.

Register of Interests

Click here to view the Register of Interests

Attendance Register 2022-23

Academy Council Membership Log

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