senior leadership team

Head Teacher

Dave Dearsley

Claire Owens
Assistant Head Teacher  Teaching & Learning

Brendan Palmer

Assistant Head Teacher - Pastoral

Karen Hillier
Bridges Lead

Assistant Head Teacher 

 About Dave Dearsley  

Having completed a degree in sport and physical education, Dave started working as a teaching assistant in a specialist provision for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Dave found working with hard to reach children incredibly rewarding and decided that he wanted to complete his teacher training whilst continuing to work in special education.

Dave went on to work in a range of special school settings including pupil referral units, SEMH provisions and independent autism specialist schools fulfilling a range of roles through to his current position of Head Teacher at Churchward School.

As a teacher, Dave specialised in PE and Maths but also taught a range of other subjects including Science and English to a range of students. Throughout his career he has encouraged students to believe in themselves and has used outdoor education as a key part of this using the countryside as a vehicle to build confidence and self-esteem. He has set up and run Forest School programmes and taken students climbing, mountain biking and kayaking as well as completing a residential sailing trip to the Channel Islands.

Whilst in various Senior Leadership positions Dave has been responsible for pastoral, safeguarding, teaching & learning and assessment as well as always taking responsibility for developing an area of the school whether that be introducing a range of therapeutic interventions or supporting the growth of a school and ensuring consistency and high standards.

Always looking to challenge himself and the team around him, Dave has relished the chance to set a new school up from scratch and is looking forward to whatever the future holds for Churchward School.

Outside of school Dave looks forward to spending time with his partner and their new son whilst also continuing with his enjoyment of being outdoors including taking care of their horses.

About Claire Owens 

Following extensive voluntary work with children and young people through schools, special needs play schemes and the National Autistic Society, Claire completed a BSc in Psychology before going on to complete a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.

Since the start of her teaching career, Claire has always worked closely with the schools within the Brunel Academies Trust, having been attracted to her first teaching post as it was an inclusive mainstream school on the soon to be opened North Swindon Learning Campus, working closely with Brimble Hill and Uplands Special Schools.

Claire’s passion and dedication for working with children with additional needs was clear and hence she was privileged to be given the opportunity to set up a Special Resource Provision for children with Complex Learning and Additional Needs and be promoted to the Senior Management Team in her NQT year. Subsequently Claire was key in developing inclusion links across the campus, with children moving freely between the schools as part of their provision, and professional development of staff being supported between all the schools, resulting in the creation of a remarkably inclusive ethos in the mainstream school where she worked. Claire is experienced at creating bespoke timetables and finding creative ways to differentiate to maximise the inclusion of children and young people through innovative, hands on and community-based curriculum opportunities. Claire is a strong advocate for ‘Dyslexia Friendly Schools’ and is experienced in leading on teaching and learning, online safety and safeguarding.

Following the recent reforms of assessment in Special Educational Needs and the Rochford Review (2016), Claire led a Research and Innovation Group across Swindon, funded by Swindon Teaching School, working closely with members of the Rochford Review and working both locally and nationally to undertake research and share good practice, as part of the DfE’s working party for the pre-key stage standards and through collaborative working, articles and conferences.

Having experience of setting up a new provision from scratch, Claire was delighted to be given the opportunity to be involved in the creation of another brand new school within it’s first year, through her role of Teaching and Learning Assistant Head Teacher at Churchward School, as the values and mission of the school were so closely aligned to her own. Claire feels privileged to be working alongside such a strong team who are so committed to Churchward School’s vision. Claire is dedicated to ensuring that the amazing children and young people of Churchward School get the right support every step of the way to help all students overcome challenges and achieve their potential and future goals.

Outside of school Claire enjoys spending time with her family and going on adventures and holidays with them; making memories with her two young children.

About Brendan Palmer

Brendan was set on a path for a career in sport but due to a major injury this came to an abrupt end.  Brendan returned to education, worked hard and was accepted to university to study Sports Science (Physiology) with Maths (Biomechanics). He achieved representative honours in rugby which he only took up at college.  After his degree, Brendan decided a career in teaching seemed the logical choice. 

In his teacher training his special study was on students who struggled to access parts of the curriculum due to their individual needs and this interest has never left him.  His first teaching role was PE specific in a large school in Somerset with 1800 students.  Brendan went on to teach in two other schools before taking the decision to take a teaching post in the south of Spain.  As his career developed, he gained a range of responsible roles such as 6th Form Lead, Key Stage leadership roles and leading a range of departments.  Working with students in an international setting taught Brendan an even wider range of skills in  engaging students into a teaching curriculum. 

Brendan has initiated three Duke of Edinburgh centres as he is always looking at different ways to engage with young people and get them to be the best they can be.  By teaching a range of different subjects his experience and skills continue to develop to offer students a better teaching package.

In his role before joining Churchward School, Brendan was becoming increasingly frustrated with the number of students in his care who needed additional support but not having the time or resources to make the difference to those young people that really needed it.

Churchward School offered Brendan the chance to work directly with students and have an impact on the school running and development to support these young people.  Brendan works hard and is always willing to take advice and improve what he can offer the people around him.  Brendan is a family man, married with one son, and has even been coerced into becoming a rugby coach for his son's age group.