Valley Road Academy, Corporation Road, Hendon, Sunderland, SR2 8PL

01915 002999

  1. IRIS Learning Trust
  2. Statutory Information
  3. ILT Board of Trustees

IRIS Learning Trust Board of Trustees



The Board is composed of  7 Trustees, with 3 vacancies from September 2022 in the IRIS Learning Trust.

The Trustees are appointment by the members. The CEO is currently a  Trustee , however, some internal changes from September mean the CEO will no longer be on the Board . There are no other employed representatives within the Trustees, and the Trustees will not exceed the 33% ‘employed within the Trust’ limitation at any time. There will also be no more than 19.9% of the Trustees associated with a Local Authority.

Debra Walker


Debra’s first headship was in 1998 at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Darlington. During this time, she achieved a successful Ofsted outcome with a reputation for high standards and an inclusive culture. She led one of the founding schools of the High Force SCITT. Debra moved into Darlington local authority in 2004 becoming an adviser to Primary Schools in the Borough.

Debra then moved on to Redcar and Cleveland local authority in 2006 as a Senior Adviser and promoted to Principal Adviser in 2008. During this time, she trained as an Ofsted Inspector and completed a number of Inspections acting as an additional Inspector.

Debra returned to headship, joining Valley Road Community Primary in 2012 leading the school through a difficult time to achieve improving standards across all key stages receiving recognition from Nick Gibb in 2015 and a Pupil Premium award in the previous year. Debra led on the development of a data service, which supports school performance data across more than 100 schools in the region.  Prior to conversion  she supported two other primary schools in an Executive Head role , following a request for support from the Local Authority to support.

She is passionate about all aspects of Primary education and is known for her common - sense practical approach to leading and managing successful organisations




Darren Andrews

(Chair of Trustees)

Darren specialises within the working environment in instrumentation and control from design stage through to installation and commissioning. He is used to working within tight budgets and limited time frames.

Darren is enthusiastic and passionate and strives to ensure that the ethos and aspirations of Valley Road Academy are carried through to the IRIS Learning Trust  and into the future. Darren will endeavour to utilise the experiences, skills and qualities gained during his12 years on the governing body at Valley Road to provide challenge and support to the Heads in raising standards across the Trust and  keeping pupils safe and engaged. Darren champions high achievement for all pupils and is able to monitor school performance with priority and integrity whilst seeking to optimise value for money across the trust.  Darren has good analytical skills and good communication skills. Darren also has drive and energy and able to take tough and decisive actions where needed for the benefit of the trust. 





David Walker MBE


David Walker has over 45 years of experience in the education sector and this includes extensive headship experience, a range of senior management roles in local government, a national advisory role for the DfE and consultancy and leadership roles in the private sector. He has also worked with the Ministry of Defence in support of the movement of pupils as part of drawdown from abroad. .He has Qualified Teacher Status and is a graduate of the University of Warwick. David retired in 2021 from his role as governance Lead for the Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Learning Trust. but, since September 2023, he has taken on the interim role of Director of Governance for the Bath and Wells Diocesan Academies Trust. David is also Chair of Trustees at Horizons Specialist Academy Trust and Chair of Trustees at Barnes Academy Trust. 







James Nicol


James specialises in the day to day finance management, particularly in the third sector. Financial accounting and taxation work for sole traders and small limited companies. Also charity accounts using SORP. Good working knowledge of accounting and payroll software, relational databases, spreadsheets and business software.

James is the treasurer of Sunderland Lions Club and is heavily involved with the annual Boxing Day Dip, a substantial fund raising event with many hundreds of entrants; a large administrative task for the club.

After he gained his degree James was self-employed doing accountancy work and then moved into, mainly, the third sector as a finance manager or finance officer.

James also worked for NECC in Durham to oversee the closure of the META ERDF/UKTI funded programme to encourage and assist SME’s to enter the export market. This involved dealing with GONE, UKTI and ONE and finally DCLG when the project was audited by the UK government.

He has often been connected with young peoples’ projects and has been a school governor for many years. James reasons for this involvement is a strong belief that education in whatever form it takes is the primary means to develop the maximum potential in children and young people. Helping this process is a means of breaking the continuing cycle of deprivation which blights our society and perpetuates many of the social issues, which never seem to be solved using existing processes. 





Tony Kemp  


Tony is retired .

He has had a very successful career in education. He has a string of qualifications associated with his role as headteacher, as an Oftsed inspector both home and abroad.

He is Chair of the Standards , Performance and Outcomes Committee. 






Wes English



Wes is Development Manager at Esh Developments

Wes specialises in the following:

  • Business Development
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Project/Commercial Management
  • Land Acquisition

Before being approached by the Learning Trust Wes had always wanted to get involved with something of this nature but until now the right opportunity had never came along. He felt that a different insight and responsibility within another sector would broaden his knowledge and experience which will benefit him both professionally and personally. As someone who has worked hard and benefited from the education system Wes is keen to give something back and hopefully make a difference. He knows that it is an exciting time for the Learning Trust and his main motivation would be to ensure that working as team we deliver annual successful whilst maintaining a sustainable future.

As well as His time, commitment and dedication to the role Wes would like to think that his 17 years within the private sector can positively add to the dynamics and diversity of the Learning Trust. 

His working environment and experience has always revolved around a profit making, results driven industry where continuous improvement and efficiency are always high up on the agenda. Wes believes is business development, sales and marketing knowledge can be utilised to help towards the Learning Trust’s student intake targets by looking at things from a private sector angle. His project/commercial management experience will also be useful as the Learning Trust goes through elements of change both operationally and commercially.  

As well as his professional knowledge and experience Wes can also offer insight as a parent with two young children, one of which is currently in primary education. His wife is also a primary school teacher and Head of Key Stage 1 so he has a good understanding of the challenges and responsibility of the teaching staff. His ability to relate to both types of pressures surrounding the sustainability of the Learning Trust as well as the current demands of staff will be very beneficial.  




 Anthony Conlin


Anthony is currently Director of The School data Company .

He is a governor at Governor at Bankfields Primary, Caedmon Primary & St Patrick’s RC Primary.

He qualified with a BA ( Hons) in Business Information Systems , Advanced skills in programming, excel and other

software systems. He specialises in Data Analysis Programming System Creation.