Meet our Trustees


Sarah Armitage (Chair of Trustees and HR Committee)

Sarah has been a school governor for 12 years, a chair for 6 years and a National Leader of Governance for 3 years. She also has held the position of NLG Coordinator for Derby and Derbyshire since September 2017.  This involves supporting the work of the (currently) 11 NLGs across the county and liaising with commissioners of this work, including Teaching School Alliances, MATs and Local Authorities.

Professionally she specialises in leadership, team and cultural development and is dedicated to helping people work more effectively and collaboratively together.  She feels this is crucial for excellent governance and a productive, high-trust working relationship between school leaders, staff and governors.

Sarah has worked with over 20 schools and colleges in her capacity as an NLG and as a professional facilitator/development consultant and carried out many external reviews of governance. Her mission is to help schools/MATs/federations develop a high-performance culture and organisation built on a clear shared vision, values and a team-driven approach.

She has a degree in Educational Psychology and has worked at a senior level in Human Resources in the chemical industry (originally Courtaulds), contributing to significant organisational and cultural change.

Having established Work Vitality in 2007, Sarah now has a wide range of clients including Tarmac, the Vaillant Group, the University of Derby, Lafarge, Vinci Energies and the Volvo Group.

With a background in Human Resources, coaching qualifications and extensive experience of coaching senior leaders, Sarah brings a sharp understanding of how to develop an engaged and performing workplace to her governance system-leadership role.

Sarah’s two daughters both attended Richardson Endowed Primary school in Smalley (now within Embark Federation) and being Derby born and bred, Sarah is passionate about improving the education and life-chances for all children and young people in her home county.



Ian Paxton

Ian has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, picking up and utilising technical, project, operational management and sales skills. Ian worked previously for IBM and Hewlett Packard and now for DXC Technology. His current job role is that of a Solution Architect working in the defence sector. 

Ian has over 7 years of experience working within School Governing Bodies, ranging from being a Parent Governor, chairing Finance Committees and assisting schools in delivering a Good Ofsted report. He has also participated in the Embark Strategy Group, effectively steering the direction the Embark Federation. 

On a personal level, Ian is married, with two children and lives locally to schools in the Embark Federation. He enjoys keeping fit, by running, playing competitive tennis, golf and in the warmer weather, water-skiing!

Eleanor Hedley

As a leader, Eleanor strongly believes in the fundamental core purpose of education and the importance of the collaboration in a shared vision to the benefit of children. She offers a variety of skills and experience to the Embark trust board providing balance and passion to support school objectives and those of the community.

Originally from Canada, Eleanor offers a diverse background in a career spanning over 25 years across three business sectors in the areas of product and programme development, business administration and operations, training, customer service, safeguarding, performance management and human resources. She has been fortunate to be able to practice her knowledge across the community at local and regional level.

Eleanor holds degrees in Law and Sociology and International Management, certification in multidisciplinary rehabilitation and qualifications in education and training. Trained with the National College and as an experienced integrated centre leader she has demonstrated practice in Early Years to post 16 and beyond. Eleanor is currently a tutor in family learning and has been a coach to many professionals.


David King

David is an ambitious leader of business transformation and ongoing operational delivery, with over 30 years’ experience gained through a multi-disciplined career in FTSE100Plc, private equity/ownership and public sector environments. An MBA graduate, with procurement, operations, facilities management, commercial fleet, retail pharmacy and change management expertise, strong commercial acumen and a history in delivering significant value improvement to organisations.

David is currently a senior management consultant for Go M.A.D. (Make A Difference) Thinking, a business improvement consultancy working with individuals, teams and organisations, supporting them to deliver transformative results and enabling change.

David enjoys playing sport in his spare time; golf, tennis, badminton and spinning, as well as relaxing with yoga and hiking.

On a personal level, David has been married to Dawn for over 30 years, living in Derby for the majority of that time. Their two sons attended Derby schools, enjoying their academic, musical and sporting experiences. Having graduated as dentists they now work in the NHS and privately in Manchester and Halifax.  


Peter Ricketts

Peter has worked in a variety of positions in finance in both public and private sector for over thirty years. He currently works for the Ministry of Defence in procurement for CAAS (Cost Assurance and Analysis Service) producing reports to aid decision making for buying defence equipment and platforms. He has also worked for the Surgeon General as a Financial Controller for the Defence Medical Services and as a Resource Manager for Prime Contracting in Defence Estates. Earlier in his career, Peter worked as a Brewery and Distribution Accountant for Bass Brewers and at British Rail Engineering in Derby.

Peter was awarded an MBA in 2005, studying part-time through the Open University. He also has a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language and has worked in Japan and Indonesia including two years of working with Voluntary Service Overseas.

It was inevitable that Peter should end up working with schools in some capacity as he has a wife who was Headteacher of two schools and worked latterly for the Derbyshire Education Improvement Service as a Senior Advisor. His daughter is a teacher at an Infant school in Sandiacre. As a result, educational issues are in integral part of dinnertime conversation in the Ricketts’ household.

Outside of work Peter enjoys running and cycling. He has recently started doing parkruns – shorter distances being better in old age. He recently achieved a significant milestone by coming first at Rosliston Forestry Parkrun, albeit in the 60-64 age group.


Mark James

Professionally Mark currently works in Engagement for a large retailer. Previously he worked for 3 years with an on-line retailer covering the communications and culture in their new fulfilment centre in the East Midlands. He also has worked for 19 years within John Lewis and Waitrose covering a range of assurance and human resource roles. This included thought leadership work on future strategies, chairing consultation programmes and working with leaders to develop the culture in their business areas. He is a member of the CIPD and a qualified ACAS mediator.

Mark was a Scout Leader for 20 years supporting young people in inner City Nottingham. He ran a Scout Troop with his wife as well as holding District roles for Scouts and Training and enjoyed planning and delivering the annual summer camps. Mark then moved to a parent governor role at Ladywood Primary School and  became Vice-Chair supporting the school to maintain their 'good' Ofsted rating at inspection as well as implementing a wellbeing survey for the staff team. Mark worked with the Head and Chair of Governors to strategically review the school's future which ultimately led to Ladywood joining the Embark Federation Trust.

 He joined the Trust Board in 2011 with particular passions for all areas of culture and communications and sits on the School Performance Sub-Committee.

 Mark has lived locally for 15 years, is married to Heather and has two sons who have both attended a now Embark school.


Mike Firbank 

My name is Mike Firbank. I began my working life as a Secondary School Teacher in mainstream education. However, that changed over time as I realised that I had a passion for supporting young lives that were broken and in danger of exclusion from school and society. My last teaching post, in Nottingham City, was overseeing both internal therapeutic alternative provision and SEND support. 

In 2003 I left teaching and retrained as an Anglican Priest. I spent the next 9 years in Cornwall as a Vicar using much of what I had learned in education. Using a multi-agency approach we set up a day centre for addicts, Foodbank centres and teams to support vulnerable teenagers out late at night. 

We moved back to 'England' in 2014 and I began to support and grow chaplaincy teams in the workplace. I'm currently supporting 30+ the churches across South Derbyshire, working with the volunteer sector across Derbyshire, a Chaplain in two Secondary schools and a local Pioneer Vicar in the town of Swadlincote. 

It's a privilege to be a Trustee.  I especially love the value-based vision, practice, and dynamism at the heart of Embark Federation.


Dr Lindsey Smethem 

Lindsey’s professional life has consisted of teaching and learning, for over 35 years.   She has 15 years’ teaching and leadership experience in a comprehensive setting, teaching modern languages to all levels and ages 11-18 and mentoring beginning teachers.  She was subsequently appointed to the University of Nottingham School of Education where for 24 years she engaged in educational research and teaching and supervision at postgraduate level.  She has considerable experience of working in schools, with newly qualified and experienced teachers and school leaders in a wide range of settings.  Her role in research-informed teacher education broadened quickly from a focus on modern languages to joint certification programmes with Austria and France, the full range of secondary initial teacher education courses and an increasing involvement with primary education.  As an associate professor she worked with teachers overseas; in Nottingham she developed and led innovative initial teacher education programmes that were rated outstanding by Ofsted.  She initiated and led bespoke academic programmes at Masters level to complement school-centred teacher training programmes, where beginning teachers engaged in a professional learning community across the primary and secondary phases, and across curriculum subjects. 

Lindsey’s doctoral research explored career trajectories for beginning teachers and their experiences of induction into the profession. Her research has focussed on beginning teachers, mentoring, professional development of teachers, school leadership, Teaching Schools and Research Schools. 

Lindsey has a deep-rooted interest in teaching and learning and research-informed practice; she has a passion for comprehensive education at the heart of the community and a commitment to developmental approaches to school improvement. 


Claire Leitheiser 

Claire has over twenty years' experience in education and currently works as an Education Director responsible for the Quality of Education across the secondary phase. She also has responsibility for the Literacy, English and Science networks, as well as oversight over five secondary academies. Claire is also experienced in strategically developing post 16 provision and supporting the most disadvantaged and is a qualified Pupil Premium reviewer.

Claire has extensive experience working in Service Children's Education, having been a school improvement advisor and executive senior leader across 22 schools (based in Germany, Cyprus, and Gibraltar). At the time of moving post, all 22 schools were deemed to be 'Good'.

She has also been Deputy Principal in a special measures school in Guernsey which was subsequently graded as 'Good' by Ofsted. She was also Senior Deputy then Principal of an academy in Nottinghamshire which she also moved to 'Good' and with results 'significantly above the national'.  

Claire has a master’s in educational leadership, NPQH, NPQEL and has been a 'PiXL' associate. 

Claire has three children, Charlie, Emily and Beth. And a dog called 'Rudi'.

Rosie Harrison 

Rosie has worked in generalist HR and Industrial/Employee Relations within industry for over 25 years with Cadbury Schweppes and Royal Doulton plc where she was HR Director of the UK Sales division with 250 shops and outlets and 1500 employees. In this role she was a trained Hay Job Evaluation specialist and ‘competency based’ recruiter, before joining Eversheds LLP as a fee earner in Employment Law and HR consultancy. Here she specialised in disciplinary hearings,  grievances, appeal hearings,  TUPE, collective consultations, restructuring, redundancies, investigations and senior management training and mentoring. Rosie is a qualified mediator and trained in the use of psychometric testing including Myers Briggs and Saville and Holdsworth. Clients included HSBC, Volvo, the London Clinic, Morgan Stanley, Greencore, Mission Foods, Gap and Fujitsu.


Rosie went on to set up her own HR consultancy business working with major clients including schools, colleges and universities within the education sector and Interflora.

She lives in Carsington and loves walking in the hills, yoga, Pilates, and the performing arts.

Rosie has been a Governor in the past with Anthony Gell School for 12 years and the Anthony Gell Foundation (a charitable trust).


Jane Amanda Johnson (Amanda)

Amanda has enjoyed a long career in education, initially in teaching progressing to a leadership role in a secondary school.  She moved into an advisory role in first Leicestershire and then Derbyshire Local Authorities where she supported both primary and secondary schools.  As a Senior Adviser Amanda's advisory work entailed working with schools on teaching and learning as well as leadership and management.  As an Ofsted accredited inspector, Amanda also ensured schools were updated on the Ofsted process and expectations.

Since retiring from this position, Amanda has enjoyed a volunteer role for a children's charity "Go Beyond" which provides residential breaks for disadvantaged children.  My long career in education has been well guided by being mindful that children only get one chance, so let's make it the best it can be.

In her spare time, Amanda and her husband enjoy getting to know the world a bit better by travelling internationally, as well as more local outdoor activities including walking and cycling, and our current leisure challenge is to summit all the Wainwright Fells in the Lake District.

Congratulations Sarah Armitage MBE

01 Feb 2024

Embark Federation are delighted to inform you that our fabulous Chair of Trustees Sarah Armitage has been recognised in the New Years Honours...

Ladywood Visit

07 Sep 2023

Our Trust Leader Matthew Crawford paid a visit to Ladywood Primary School to take a look around their wonderful Art Exhibition. There were so...

Waingroves Primary visit

07 Sep 2023

Matthew Crawford our Trust Leader paid a visit to Waingroves Primary School to present the children with their Embark Awards in a special assembly.

Riddings Junior School

07 Sep 2023

Riddings Junior School had their very own Tough Mudder this year and it was a huge success!
Pupils, staff and families all took part...

Year 6 Performances

07 Sep 2023

Our Trust Leader Matthew Crawford visited the Embark Schools over the last few weeks of term and managed to watch a range of different performances...

Embark Conference 2023

07 Sep 2023

The Embark Conference was held at the Derby Arena this year and focused on our core purpose of Love Learning, Love Life. We had over 700 staff...

Derby Kids Camp Embark Week

07 Sep 2023

Some of our pupils embarked on a new adventure in the summer holidays.  They spent 6 nights on a remote location in the Derbyshire countryside....

Embark Football Tournament

06 Sep 2023

Our four secondary schools came together to take part in our first secondary football tournament which was organised and delivered by EFD Sport...

25 year anniversary celebrations!

06 Sep 2023

It was lovely to celebrate the work of some very special staff members with a beautiful afternoon tea at Horsley Lodge Golf Club.
Embark staff...

Embark Holiday

06 Sep 2023

A group of children from Kilburn Juniors, Chaucer Juniors and Ladywood Primary School all had the chance to experience a holiday in rural Derbyshire...