Our associates bring to One Education a wealth of different experiences and skillsets, with clients seeing first hand the benefits from the diversity in school development expertise.

Please read below as they reflect on their career journeys in education.

A teacher smiling at a pupil.
Helen McGrath

Hello and welcome to the One Education family - it’s a pleasure to have you with us! Where did you start your journey in education?

Thank you! I’m very much looking forward to working with such a fantastic team and exploring all the opportunities our partnership will bring.

My career in teaching began 32 years ago; for 15 of these, I have taken on leadership roles in primary education. This has given me wide-ranging knowledge and experience, from improving early reading, phonics, and curriculum design, to managing all aspects of HR and staffing. This has allowed me to make a lasting, positive impact on schools in some of the most challenging and deprived local areas.

I have now retired as a headteacher and enjoy working in my role as a licensed inspector for Catholic School’s Inspection of Diocese across England and Wales, after working for many years in schools across the Catholic sector.

Sounds like we can learn a lot from your expertise! What has been one of the highlights of your career?

Absolutely, I can’t wait to start sharing ideas with the rest of the team!

There are too many to mention, but one thing I am particularly proud of is the work I achieved as headteacher in my last school in Bolton. Together with the rest of the staff, we worked tirelessly to transform the school from ‘Requires Improvement’ to secure a ‘Good’ in our last two Ofsted inspections.

That’s a very impressive achievement. What did you learn from that experience?

I have learned a lot about the inspection process, including what to expect from an Ofsted deep dive and how staff can best prepare themselves. Ultimately, however, my priority as a school leader is not just about preparing for inspection, but delivering the best possible outcomes for children. So, my aim has always been to deliver effective, quality first teaching, achieved through CPD support, coaching, mentoring, and monitoring.

With this in mind, I have learned how to make clear judgements about the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, endlessly seeking new ways to develop teams and leadership across the school, including robust self-evaluation and headteacher appraisal. My experience has taught me that this is the key to long-term and sustainable progress.

It sounds like you put a lot of investment into your staff. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, I’m incredibly passionate about developing people - they are education’s most valuable asset, so it’s important to make the most of their full potential! In particular, I’ve worked closely with middle and senior leadership, and I’m very proud of the strides we’ve made together.

Leadership is often a highly demanding role, especially when people have risen to the position through their expertise and proficiency in teaching, but lack experience in managing a team and making strategic decisions. So through motivational leadership, I have created and implemented dynamic strategies to develop staff, ensuring excellent growth and achievement.

That’s a very interesting point. Sometimes, those who are responsible for supporting others can struggle to find support for themselves.

Exactly - and you can’t pour from an empty cup. So, I’m also very mindful of the physical and emotional toll of leadership and ensuring measures are in place to prevent burnout. That’s why I work hard to provide wellbeing and emotional support for senior leaders, especially during these challenging times. Of course, CPD and training is a huge part of that as well, reminding staff that they are valued and capable of achieving even greater success.

Would you say that relationships are central to your leadership approach?

Yes, my leadership style is values-driven and I pride myself on my ability to build professional relationships based on empathy and rapport. This not only helps me to work with senior leaders and support them through the challenges we currently face in education, but it also allows me to form productive relationships with key stakeholders including parents, governors and LA. I have also supported other schools as a member of a school’s partnership alliance.

Through these relationships, I have developed a sense of community that has helped me throughout my career, as I have worked hard towards my mission to create nurturing, high-quality, and successful school environments. 

With this in mind, I’m incredibly excited to join the team at One Education. Through our collective efforts and collaboration, I believe we can empower school leaders to drive positive change in education and secure the future success of every pupil.

Thanks for sharing your career in education with us; it sounds extraordinary and we’re very excited to join you on the next step of your journey! It’s our pleasure to welcome you to the One Education team.

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Helen McGrath has extensive leadership skills with 32 years teaching experience, 15 of these in leadership roles in a variety of primary schools.

Nerys Hitchcock

Welcome to One Education! We’re so glad to have you with us. Could you tell us a bit about your background?

Thank you very much, I’m feeling at home already! I have 28 years of teaching experience - 13 of these as a headteacher in two different primary schools. I’m very proud of the work I achieved as school leader in both schools, skilfully creating highly effective and happy teams, who focus on relentlessly improving provision and outcomes for children.

For a number of years, I have also successfully worked in partnership with school leaders in Trafford and Stockport. As an Associate School Improvement Adviser, I have built close, effective working relationships with schools across the region in order to support their self-evaluation processes and plans for improvement.

That’s fantastic - investing in relationships is a crucial part of strong leadership. What else have you learned from your experience as headteacher?

Yes, I completely agree! It’s through these professional relationships we can promote positivity, engagement, and trust in the workplace, which ultimately allows schools and their staff to benefit from mutual support.

I have also gained a great deal of experience reviewing and transforming teaching and learning; developing the curriculum and curriculum leaders to lead to whole school improvement.

What does your approach to the curriculum look like?

My approach to the curriculum, as with everything, is driven by my passion to create schools that provide every child with the support they need to succeed. To this end, I have worked hard to put inclusion at the heart of my school’s vision and values, ensuring that this ethos is reflected in the curriculum.

Both schools I have led have had a Resource Provision for SEND learners within the mainstream school. I therefore have a wealth of experience in developing a consistent, robust curriculum that meets the needs of all learners in school.

This has led to consistently outstanding results in both my schools. In my last headship, I successfully led the school team on a seven-year journey from ‘Satisfactory’ on arrival, to “Good” and then ‘’Outstanding” in all areas by OFSTED.

What a wonderful achievement! I’m sure we’ll have a lot to learn from your experience.

I’m excited to see what we can learn from each other! I believe that leadership is really a process of lifelong learning as we continuously take on new challenges, both within the contexts of our individual schools and the broader challenges we face as a sector. This is a phenomenon I’m very familiar with, as a headteacher who is currently preparing my school for our next Ofsted inspection under the latest framework!

But, ultimately, it’s these experiences that allow us to grow and enrich our understanding. By drawing on my experiences, I can support schools to make accurate judgements about standards within their school, in addition to providing wellbeing and emotional support for senior leaders in challenging times.

What drew you to work with One Education?

One Education has a fantastic reputation for its breadth of expertise and quality support. I’m excited to work alongside a team of dedicated professionals who share my passion for ensuring every child receives the best possible start in life and the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

With experience in all aspects of school leadership, from inclusion and curriculum design to people management and staff development, I feel I have lots of insights to share with the team and other school leaders who are working towards outstanding.

Thanks for sharing your story with us. It’s been wonderful chatting with you, we’re very excited to welcome you to the One Education family and we can’t wait to see what opportunities lie in store!

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Nerys is a serving Headteacher who has a proven track record of outstanding leadership. She has twenty eight years of teaching experience; twelve of these as a Headteacher in two different primary schools.

Jayne O'Grady

Welcome to the One Education family Jayne, could you tell us about your background?

Thank you, I am looking forward to working with a company with such great expertise, having worked in education for 30 years. During this time, I’ve worked in schools across a wide demographic, including those in very challenging circumstances. I have taken on many roles, including the role of headteacher, curriculum deputy, assistant head and serving as governor and chair of governors in schools and a pupil referral unit.

What a brilliant career you’ve had. How did you start your career in education?

I started my education journey in a large, diverse three site school in central London. From there, I moved to Brixton to become leader of English and English as an Additional Language in a large and very successful comprehensive whilst completing a MSc in Gender, Society and Culture at University of London. My dissertation was on the school-based experience of Moroccan young women and the intersectionality of race, class, gender and language in affecting their outcomes.

And then you relocated to Manchester?

Yes! After relocating to Manchester I led English teams in schools, supporting staff to deliver high-quality teaching and inspire a love of learning amongst our pupils. I also worked in school-based teacher training through the Graduate Training Programme and Teach First and built extensive links in working with the university ITT sector.

How did your career progress from there?

Everything I do in the classroom has always been informed by best practice and pedagogical research, so I was eager to carry out my own analysis to continue fine-tuning my teaching strategies. With this in mind, I completed a best practice scholarship investigating the impact of embedding a formative assessment programme across a whole school through utilising student voice. Both myself and a group of students were invited to speak at the national SSAT conference in Birmingham about the experience and findings - a momentous and exciting occasion!

I continued to lead on training and CPD in my school and offered training across Greater Manchester, developing practice with regard to embedding formative assessment, developing literacy and also engaging classroom practice. Then I progressed into deputy and pastoral leader roles, gaining expertise in a wide variety of pastoral, attendance and behavioural issues as I worked with both pupils and their families to meet a diversity of complex needs. I learned a lot through this experience, working alongside a wide range of other professionals and agencies supporting young people, as well as my colleagues in school, before eventually becoming a headteacher.

Sounds like you enjoy a challenge! Did you encounter any challenges as a school leader?

Certainly, but I’ve always been driven by my passion for education and its potential to transform the lives of our students! One of my proudest achievements has been overseeing the growth of an undersubscribed school with a deficit budget to a school that is oversubscribed and has an expanding staff. Of course, this was a huge challenge to take on, but it was worth it to build a flourishing community in which every member of our school felt that all-important sense of belonging that empowers them to excel in whatever they’re doing.

Similarly, I have participated in rebuilding programmes, both under the Building Schools for the Future programme in Manchester and through a successful application to the DfE under the current Rebuilding Schools funding. It’s genuinely rewarding to see a school take shape as it transforms into the nurturing, high-quality learning environment that our young people can thrive in.

That’s why I remain deeply committed to school improvement, engaging stakeholders and ultimately embedding change for improved outcomes.

That sounds amazing. Did you learn anything new from this experience?

Lots of things! But perhaps most importantly, serving as a school leader has given me a wealth of experience and insight into managing the day to day of school life, including all the small, yet significant, triumphs this entails. In this role, I developed an understanding of the importance of investing in staff and supporting teams with the stress and challenges of leading complex organisations. Among other things, this has led me to also volunteer as a school governor.

Tell us more about your role in school governance?

I have chaired many different governing boards and groups - for example, independent admissions appeal committees, independent review of suspensions, and so on. This includes my role as a chair of governors in a PRU/Medical Education Provision, which has helped to improve my understanding of support and challenge in the alternative provision sector. I am also the chair of the NW1 Maths hub, which is great! I really enjoy my role in supporting the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths.

These opportunities have allowed me to develop my knowledge and understanding of school leadership, whilst also enhancing my own communication, interpersonal and leadership skills, which means I can be a better colleague and mentor to others.

So, this led you towards coaching and mentorship?

Absolutely, drawing on my own experience I’m able to coach headteachers who are new to the role, or mentor leaders who are facing particular challenges. It’s a privilege to work with colleagues and support school leaders in holding up a mirror to them in their work.

As well as coaching and mentoring, I have led reviews through the EEF Peer Review Project, supporting development in a wide range of schools. I am also a Quality Assurance Professional for Manchester Education Authority, undertaking QA visits and reviews in 8 secondary schools and academies across the borough. I love this aspect of my work and the support and challenge I can offer to school leaders.

What’s the best bit about working with One Education?

I’m very excited to work with others who share my unwavering belief in providing the best possible education to children and young people. I wholeheartedly believe that education is a force with the power to change lives. And given that, as professionals we deserve to be supported in being the very best we can be so we can provide the very best to the communities we serve.

I feel I have gained many insights and expertise over the years, from curriculum, pedagogy, and designing and delivering whole school training to the complexity of HR, staffing and managing school budgets. I look forward to sharing this knowledge with others and continuing to draw on the evidence-based practice and pedagogical research that has supported me throughout my career.

Thanks so much for talking with us! It sounds like you have had an excellent career in education and we can’t wait to see what we will achieve with all the skills and expertise you bring to the One Education team.

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Jayne O'Grady has worked in the education sector for 30 years, succeeding in a wide variety of leadership roles including headteacher, curriculum deputy and chair of governors in schools and a pupil referral unit.

Alison Drayton

Welcome to One Education! We’re thrilled to have you as a member of the team. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thank you very much, I’m excited to be here! Of course - I’m currently proud to be headteacher of an “Outstanding” primary school in Greater Manchester. Overall, I have been in senior leadership as a deputy and head for more than 25 years.

I am also a qualified coach with seven years of coaching experience, supporting leaders at all stages of their career in education. I’ve really enjoyed my role as a coach; my experience has taught me that coaching has not only many benefits for the individual involved, but also for the whole school community.

We can see how passionate you are about the power of coaching! Does that come into play in your role as a school leader?

Absolutely, I lead a values-based school, where we seek to create a positive learning environment through the positive values that are shared by the whole school community. Naturally, these values must be modelled by staff throughout the school. The success of this approach therefore relies on having a strong, committed team with a shared vision and an understanding of how to work towards it.

So, as headteacher, I have worked hard to ensure that every member of staff is supported to fulfil their true potential. I have taken great pride in fostering and nurturing leadership at all levels. I’m proud to say that Ofsted noted my thoughtful approach and clear development of a collaborative team. I believe this was a crucial factor that ultimately led to our school’s success in becoming one of the top 10% in the country under the current framework.

What a fantastic achievement! So, is it fair to say that qualifying as a coach felt like a natural progression?

Absolutely! After so many years in senior leadership, coaching felt like the next step in my professional development journey. It aligned seamlessly with my passion and motivation to act as an advocate for leaders in the education sector, creating further opportunities for their support and development. With this in mind, I became ICF ACC trained and now hold an ILM7 coaching qualification at Masters level.

How would you describe your style of coaching?

As a coach, I offer a unique blend of coaching, mentoring and supervision depending on the need - whether it’s supporting individuals through the early days of leadership, or helping longstanding school leaders navigate the challenges of their role.

I aim to follow the Nancy Kline principles of listening: ‘the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’ This approach recognises that our actions are ultimately shaped by our thoughts, beliefs and values - whether we are conscious of them or not. So when

working with school leaders, I try to create a confidential and open space for individuals to give voice to these thoughts and talk through the different aspects of their role. I believe this allows us to explore new perspectives, solve problems creatively, and manage the changes that are inevitable in any leadership role.

We agree the art of coaching often lies in our ability to listen. How has your experience as a school leader informed your approach?

Well, as a school leader myself, I know that it can be tempting to try to take on the responsibility of resolving challenges alone. But obviously, that’s not good for our sense of wellbeing and motivation - and often, it’s not conducive to the success of the school.

It’s important to recognise that sometimes we don’t know all the answers and, in fact, we can achieve so much more by drawing on the skills and expertise of our staff. So I think coaching works best when it is implemented as part of a whole school approach; bringing people together through a culture of trust, respect and mutual support.

What’s your favourite part about working with One Education?

Above all, I think it’s wonderful to work within a team of passionate and experienced professionals who are experts in their field. We each understand the value of the coaching space as the key to leadership excellence and it’s fantastic to be able to share insights with each other. I’m excited to continue working with school leaders to continually raise the quality of their practice, ultimately improving outcomes for our children and young people.

Thanks so much for talking with us. We feel very lucky to have you at One Education! It sounds like you have had a fascinating career and we can’t wait to embark on the next step of your journey together.

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Alison is currently a Headteacher of a primary school and has held senior leadership roles for more than 25 years.

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