Meet the Executive Team

The Forward Education Trust is a Multi-Academy Trust, a company without Share Capital. The Board of Trustees (known as Directors) oversees the day to day running of the company and provides strategic management and leadership of the Forward Education Trust.

For more information on the role and work of the Directors, see FET Directors

The Forward Education Trust Executive Team work together to ensure the day to day running of all FET schools, at an individual level and across the family of schools.  Working alongside the Board of Trustees, Central Support Team, Local Academy Councils, school leaders and staff teams to serve their school communities, their focus is to maintain rigorous standards and lead further improvement to make our schools better than they have ever been. 

Our experienced Executive Team bring a wealth of quality, expertise and talent from across the education and other sectors, and share a joint goal to raise standards, continually improve performance and ensure the very best possible education and life chances for the children and young people in our schools. 

Simon Dilkes

Chief Executive Officer

Simon joined Forward Education Trust in September 2021 as Director of Operations and moved up to his current role from January 2022.

Following an early career in finance & banking and owning his own business for over a decade, Simon came into education (school business management) in 2014, joining a Solihull primary school to take them through an academy conversion.  He then joined The Polesworth School, Tamworth (part of Community Academies Trust) as School Business Manager, during that time taking on responsibility for The Wilnecote School which joined the Trust.  Simon moved to Academies Enterprise Trust (one of the largest multi-academy trusts in England) in 2017 as part of their centralisation of functions into clusters of school, looking after schools in Leicestershire, Derbyshire & Staffordshire.  He then joined Equitas Academies Trust, Birmingham as Chief Operations Officer in December 2019.

Simon joined FET to bring his breadth of experience to make a difference for the children and our staff and tremendously enjoys the variety and challenge of his role.

Simon is married, with two grown-up children and loves to play tennis in his spare time.  


Debbie Bailey 

Deputy CEO/Director of Education

Debbie is thrilled to have joined Forward Education Trust as Deputy CEO / Director of Education. She has been the Headteacher of special schools (and alternative provision) for the last fifteen years, working across the Midlands and the South East. In addition, she has recently completed her PhD research exploring how the Headteachers of special schools maintain school effectiveness through periods of change. 

Debbie has particular expertise in leading staff teams through rapid school improvement and in meeting the needs of students with behaviour that challenges us. She has worked with students with moderate, severe and complex learning difficulties, ADHD, ASD and SEMH, from nursery, primary, secondary and post 16 age-groups. Her goal is always to support students towards greater independence.

Debbie grew up in South Birmingham and has a younger sister with complex and severe communication needs. This has given her an insight into how family life is affected by a child with disabilities, with all its joys and challenges. She also understands how a good special school can have a positive impact on the whole family. Debbie continues to support her sister in adulthood, liaising closely with her care providers. 

Debbie is passionate about providing high quality education for students with additional needs. She believes that those students who need extra help are entitled to the very best teaching and learning opportunities and that learning itself can be a therapeutic process. Debbie has experience of managing multi-agency support teams, including therapists and family support workers. Debbie believes that well-led staff teams feel safe and happy – this enables them to create schools where students feel safe and happy too.

Debbie has a very spoilt Staffordshire Bull Terrier who is the apple of her eye. She and the dog love to potter in the garden and wander around the woodlands of Solihull. She is part of an active Pilates community who seem to spend as much time chatting as exercising, but they are an important part of her relaxation strategies. 

Claire Pooni 

Finance Director

Claire was appointed as Finance Director for Forward Education Trust in 2019 with the brief to develop a centralised finance team and develop the finance systems. She works with staff across the Trust to support financial reporting, procurement and the introduction of new schools. She has a mix of audit, investment banking, commercial and public sector experience at senior level. Coming from a family of teachers she feels very at home in education.


Emma Arnott

Director of Governance and Development

Emma has been involved in education in Birmingham throughout her career to date.  After coming to the city to study English at the University of Birmingham, she went on to train to be a Secondary English teacher, and taught and held leadership roles in English in three Secondary Schools across the city.  She then moved to Birmingham Local Authority, initially as a Secondary English Consultant then later a School Improvement Advisor across both the Primary and Secondary phases.   

Emma next went into Teaching School Management and School Improvement roles: in the first Primary Teaching School in Birmingham and a cohort 1 Secondary Teaching School, prior to the role of Manager of City-Wide School Improvement Projects at Birmingham Education Partnership.   

In September 2021, she joined Forward Education Trust as the Director of Quality Assurance and Development, which then became her current role.  She enjoys the wide-ranging nature of the role, and the opportunities it provides to learn more about and get to know the Special Educational Needs sector more generally and the Forward Education Trust family of schools more specifically.   


Wendy Mercer

Director of Operations

Wendy was appointed as Director of Operations for Forward Education Trust in November 2022.  

Wendy spent the early part of her career working in Local and Central Government, initially the Royal Navy, then Cheshire Police and later Warrington Borough Council.

She moved to Birmingham in 2012 from the North when she met her partner. Wendy started her career in Education as a Business Manager.  She then progressed within Education from Business Manager to Strategic Business Manager, then Chief Operating Officer and now Director of Operations.

Wendy is pleased to have joined Forward Education Trust and is looking forward to making a difference for the young people within our schools.

Wendy enjoys spending time with her partner and two stepsons.  They are season ticket holders for Birmingham City Football Club and every now and then she goes with them!  Her youngest stepson plays football and Wendy also enjoys going to support him.

Our Headteachers

Kelly Kulyk
High Point Academy

Paul Donkersloot
Hallmoor School

Melanie Keating
Lea Hall Academy

Joanne Kiernan
Leycroft Academy

Nova Harvey
Brays School

Michelle Goundry
The Bridge School

Nicola Redhead
The Heights Academy

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