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Senior Staff and Governors

Who's who at Varndean School?

Senior Leadership Team 

The Senior Leadership Team comprises the following staff:
Shelley Baker Headteacher
Gareth Hughes Deputy Headteacher
Lynn Hill Director of Finance and Operations
Laura Fairbank Assistant Headteacher
Judith Ford Assistant Headteacher
Andy Roberts Assistant Headteacher
Elise James Assistant Headteacher
John Lamb Assistant Headteacher
Sandra Knights  Assistant Headteacher
Abi Holder Assistant Headteacher
Sam Whiteman Assistant Headteacher
Sara Connolly Assistant Headteacher

For a full list of staff and their contact details please see the complete staff list.



Varndean is a truly exciting school to be involved in as a governor. Our aim is that all our students should leave us equipped to achieve their full potential – in whatever field they choose. Underpinning this vision is our rich and varied curriculum; our stimulating range of out-of-school activities; and our unique schools-within-a-school structure. This structure creates a caring community in which students can thrive, and is frequently mentioned by parents as one of the key reasons they choose Varndean.Our governors have a wide range of experience, but we all share a commitment to helping the school’s leadership team and dedicated staff deliver this vision. Ian Rodgers, Chair of Governors

Alison Ali

Parent Governor appointed on 26th April 2022


Elected by Parent Body
Shelley Baker

Ex Officio Governor as Headteacher of the school

Photograph of Julian Benkel
Julian Benkel





First appointed as Community Governor on 5th April 2004, currently a Co-opted Governor Appointed by the Governing Body
 Jon Dee




First Appointed as Community Governor on 2nd October 2005 currently a Co-opted Governor

Responsible Area - Governance Development

Appointed by the Governing Body
Judith Ford


Elected as Staff Governor on 10th March 2015 and re elected on 10th March 2019

Responsible Area - Curriculum

Elected by staff
Giovanni Franceschi





Appointed as Local Authority Governor on 15th September 2014, reappointed on 15th September 2018.

Responsible Area - SEND

Nominated by the Local Authority and appointed by the Governing Body

Dulani Kulasinghe

Appointed as Parent Governor 1st September 2021

Responsible Area - Equalities

Elected by Parent Body


Alex Marsh






Appointed as Co-opted Governor on 25th April 2016

Responsible Area - Pastoral

Appointed by the Governing Body

Emma McCrea

Vice Chair of Governors Appointed as Co-opted Governor on 2nd October 2019

Responsible Area - Quality of Teaching

Appointed by the Governing Body
Ian Rodgers


Chair of Governors

Appointed as Co-opted Governor on 1st December 2016, reappointed on 1st December 2020

Responsible Area - Health & Safety & Premises  

Appointed by the Governing Body
Emma Warde-Robinson

Vice Chair of Governors

Co-opted Governor from 4th March 2021 previously a Parent Governor from 24th March 2017

Responsible Area - Safeguarding

Appointed by the Governing Body


Appointed as Clerk to Governors 1st September 2008

Responsible Area - Governance procedure and compliance

To contact Governors please email:



Governors' Personal Statements

Julian Benkel

I have been connected to the school since 1995, having seen three of my children pass through Varndean.  I am currently serving my sixth term as a Governor and have witnessed all the changes over decades and continue to be a strong advocate of the school and its young people.

By profession I am a chartered accountant with specific specialisation in compliance and corporate governance and I am a partner in a consultancy providing services to the Higher Education sector, particularly those institutions involved in residential student accommodation in the UK. I bring experiences as a parent and as businessman to the governing body.

As well as being a keen follower of Brighton and Hove Albion, I have both younger and older children and many grandchildren to keep me active.

Jon Dee

I have been a governor at the school for over 15 years now.  I was the Chair of Governors from 2013-2017, and I am currently Chair of the School’s Finance Group. I am a Partner within BDO a leading accountancy firm and a qualified Chartered Accountant with over 30 years’ experience in providing assurance and consultancy services across both the public and private sectors. I also have considerable experience in the voluntary sector. I have also been a trustee and the Treasurer of a national charity for over 12 years, chairing its Finance and Investment Committees.

Giovanni Franceschi

I have worked for Brighton & Hove Schools since 1998. I have been a deputy head and head of three junior schools during that period. I have been a Local Leader in Education working alongside colleagues in other schools in need of additional support. As a deputy and a head teacher, I have been a governor for the last 16 years and I fully aware of the importance that governors can have on the strategic direction of a school and the ultimate positive impact on pupils’ educational experience.

I continue to enjoy the role and a being more involved in the secondary sector as this gives me further insight as to how pupils progress after leaving primary.


Dulani Kulasinghe

I have lived in Brighton for nearly 20 years. I trained and worked as a teacher in the US but on moving to the UK worked in immigration law and retrained as a lawyer. After having children I returned to teaching and now work at a local infant school, where I am part of an anti-racism working group which includes staff and leaders from local junior and secondary schools.  Our older daughter is currently a Varndean student.  

Given my background in law and education I am particularly interested in equalities and inclusion and have been impressed by the school’s respect for students as citizens, particularly in its acknowledgement of the persistence of gender-based violence and its active participation in anti-racist work. From what I have seen, Varndean’s small school structure and dedicated staff and leadership team nurture the kindness and confidence that can lead to lasting positive change. As parent governor I look forward to supporting this important work.

Alex Marsh

My wife and I both grew up in Brighton and after spending over 10 years in London, we returned to Brighton with our two young children to be closer to our families. As part of this move I was keen to get actively involved in our local community and in particular education, which has been a long-standing passion of mine influenced by my own state school experience. I feel very fortunate to have been appointed a co-opted governor of Varndean School in April 2016 - with the aim to work collaboratively with the other members of the Governing Body and the School Senior Leadership Team, towards delivering a world-class education for all children in our school. In my working life, I head up the UK business of Klarna, the Swedish bank and global payments provider, having trained professionally as a Chartered Accountant. I also volunteer for a number of charities and initiatives that encourage business links with schools to provide young people with inspiration, motivation, knowledge, skills and opportunities to help achieve their potential

Emma McCrea

My background is in education having worked in the sector for almost 20 years. I currently lead Oak National Academy's curriculum and pedagogical development as their Head of Curriculum and am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton where I train new teachers. I recently gained a Fellowship in Teacher Education.
Beyond these roles I am an author of a book on maths education and work with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), the Sussex and North East Hants & Surrey Maths Hubs and is the founder director of an EdTech start-up.
I began my professional life as a maths teacher at an innovative local secondary school, and have worked as a head of maths, qualified as an Advanced Skills Teacher and led on teaching and learning and teacher professional development in schools.
With this experience, I hope to bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise in education to the governing board.

Ian Rodgers

Following my retirement, I became a governor as a way of getting more closely involved in my community after a lifetime of commuting.  I live close to Varndean, and have done for over 40 years.
For the last ten years of my career I ran a national membership-based organisation. Amongst other things, this gave me extensive expertise in stakeholder engagement, governance and government & media relations, as well as general management.  I was also a non-executive director of a number of not-for-profit companies, a role very similar to that of a school governor.

Emma Warde-Robinson

I feel strongly that school should be a happy and safe place to learn. To achieve this, the school and its staff need to be supported in turn by its governors, acting in their role as both sounding board and critical friend. 
I believe in supporting my local community through contributing skills and experience. I am a Public Health Doctor and have significant management experience at senior level in the NHS and more recently local government. I have a deep understanding of how good governance can enable an organisation to achieve better outcomes. I also have experience of governance in other local schools and believe strongly in the benefits of a school having a strong and diverse board of governors.

Having reached the end of my first four-year term as parent governor, I am fortunate to now be a co-opted governor and recently appointed as one of the vice chairs. I am the lead governor for safeguarding, behaviour and equality. 

Past Governors,

Hope McAdam was a Co-opted Governor from 7th June 2018 to 6th June 2022.

Simon Bowes was a parent governor from 8th March 2018 to 7th March 2022.

There were no further governors that have served at Varndean School in the past 12 months that have since stepped down.

Varndean School Governing Body Declarations of Interest 2020/21

Name of Governor

Date of Declaration

Name of Business/Organisation

Nature of Business

Nature of Interest

Shelley Baker 11/05/22 The Learning Rooms, Brighton Private Company Partner is the Director
Shelley Baker 15/09/21 Balfour Primary School School Co-opted Governor
Shelley Baker 15/09/21 Varndean School School Parent of Year 7 & 11 students
Julian Benkel 21/07/21 Seraphic Assist Ltd Company Business Consultancy Owner
Julian Benkel 21/07/21 YabbleHub Ltd Company Higher Education Consultancy Partner
Jon Dee 20/05/21 BDO LLP

Limited Liability Partnership-


Jon Dee 20/05/21 Hospitality Action Charity Director & Trustee
Jon Dee 20/05/21 Varndean School School Husband of employee
Giovanni Franceschi 19/11/20 Downs Junior School School Employee - Headteacher
Dulani Kulasinghe 03/08/21 Varndean School School Parent
Dulani Kulasinghe 03/08/21 Patcham Infant School School Staff Member
Dulani Kulasinghe 03/08/21 Brighton & Hove Educators of Colour Collective Network Member
Alex Marsh 10/01/22 Varndean Development Trust Trust Trustee
Alex Marsh 10/01/22 Klarna Bank AB (publ) Bank Employee
Hope McAdam 30/09/21 University of Sussex University Employee - Widening Participation
Emma McCrea 29/09/21 Oak National Academy Online Classroom


Emma McCrea 29/09/21 Self employed education consultant    
Emma McCrea 29/09/21 Author of Making Every Maths Lesson Count    
Emma Warde -Robinson 21/09/21 Varndean School School Parent of year 8 boy
Emma Warde-Robinson 21/09/21 Brighton University University


Emma Warde-Robinson 21/09/21 Previous Public Health Doctor     
Emma Warde-Robinson 21/9/21 Sussex Community Trust NHS Foundation Trust COVID vaccinator




Governance Structure

Full Governing Body
  • Nominations Committee
  • Pay Panel
  • Headteacher Review Panel
  • Finance Group
  • Individual Lead Governors


Full Governing Body Meetings 2021/22

Meeting Dates

30th September 2021

Exam Results - Outcomes

25th November 2021


24th February 2022


12th May 2022

Student Progress

30th June 2022 Quality of Education

Attendance Register of the Governing Body

1st September 2020 to 31st August 2021

During the academic year there were six scheduled Full Governing Body Meetings.

Overall FGB attendance was at 79% for the year.

Governor Meetings Attended Notes

Shelley Baker


Appointed Headteacher Governor after meeting 4

Julian Benkel



Simon Bowes



Jon Dee



William Deighan


Retired as Headteacher/Governor after meeting 4

Judith Ford



Giovanni Franceschi



Gareth Hughes


Acting Headteacher at start of year for first meeting

Alex Marsh



Hope McAdam



Emma McCrea



Ian Rodgers



Emma Warde-Robinson





Thinking of Becoming a Governor?

Categories of Governors

Parent Governors

Parents including carers of pupils are eligible to stand for election as governors. Other parents at the school elect parent governors. If insufficient parents stand for election the governing body may appoint parent governors. There are two positions for elected parent governors at Varndean School.

Staff Governors

Shelley Baker the Headteacher is a staff governor by virtue of her office. Other staff both teaching and support may become a staff governor as long as they are paid (volunteers do not qualify). The school staff elects one staff governor to the Governing Body.

Local Authority Governors

The Local Authority appoint highly skilled and experienced governors to schools to provide support to schools irrespective of any political affiliation or preference. The Local Authority recommend appointment of one Local Authority to the Governing Body.

Co-opted Governors

The Full Governing Body appoint a number of governors based on the skills and experience that they can bring to support Varndean School.

If you are interested in becoming a Governor at Varndean please contact the Clerk to the Governors at

Why become a governor?

  • You care about the education children receive
  • You want to make an important contribution to your local community
  • You enjoy a challenging and rewarding role
  • You are keen to help all children do better at school
  • You want to help strengthen the link between schools and the communities.

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What do governors do? 

Governing Body Core Functions

Extract from Governors Handbook January 2015

“The Department of Education has high expectations of governing bodies. They are the strategic leaders of our schools and have a vital role to play in making sure every child gets the best possible education. For maintained schools this is reflected in law, which states that the purpose of maintained school governing bodies is to conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement for all.

In all types of schools, governing bodies should have a strong focus on three core strategic functions:

  • Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction.
  • Holding the Headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils, and the performance management of all staff.
  • Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure its money is well spent."

Governors play an important part in overseeing the running of the school in the interests of the community it serves. Individual governors have no power or responsibility. It is only the Full Governing Body, which has legal duties and powers. All governors share in that corporate responsibility.

The day-to-day management of the school is the responsibility of the Headteacher and staff.

Governors govern rather than manage.

They are there to give direction and focus by performing a vital strategic role. Governors work with the Headteacher making decisions about:

  • Standards – ensuring a strategic and systematic approach to promoting high standards of educational achievement.
  • Curriculum – ensuring that the curriculum is balanced and broadly based, and that the National Curriculum is taught.
  • Policies – deciding how, in broad strategic terms the school should be run.
  • Finance – determining how to spend the budget allocated to the school.
  • Staffing – deciding the number of staff, the pay policy and making decisions on staff pay.
  • Appointments – appointing the Headteacher and assisting with the appointment of Deputy Headteachers and other senior staff.
  • Discipline – agreeing procedures for staff and student conduct and discipline. 

Term of office

The usual term of office is four years. However, governors are volunteers who can leave at any time and can similarly be re-appointed or re-elected.

If you are interested in becoming a Governor at Varndean please contact the Clerk to Governors: 

Minutes of Governors Meetings and Other Useful Information