Senior Leadership Team

We have a wealth of knowledge and experience in our staff team. Please see here for staff profiles for our senior leadership team at UTC South Durham.

Staff Profiles

UTC South Durham Prinicpal

Tom Dower - Principal

I graduated from Cambridge University in 1995 with a 2:1 in Engineering (MA Hons) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Computer Science. I then worked for ICI on Teesside for 5 years as a chartered mechanical engineer, project manager and manufacturing consultant.
I then joined Gemini Consulting based in London, leading organisational change projects for 4 years in industry, telecoms and retail for clients such as Corus, Railtrack, Vodafone and Boots.
In 2002, I trained to be a teacher with a PGCE at Goldsmith’s College in London and worked at an outstanding school in south London as Head of Design and Technology. I moved home to Northumberland in 2005 and to Ashington High School, initially and Head of Department and then as a senior leader. I led teaching & learning, safeguarding, curriculum/timetable development and drove a culture change across the school through significant improvements in behaviour, attendance and safety.
I also project managed the design phase of a £3.5m expansion to the school which was excellent preparation for my role in setting up the UTC. I have acted as a leadership consultant with other schools, presented at national conferences and developed materials for the National College of School Leadership middle leadership programme and on-line modules. I completed the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) in 2013.
With a background as an engineer, business consultant and school leader, the opportunity to lead the UTC combines all of my professional interests and passion for the development of young people and supporting businesses in the North East. I now live in Durham with my wife and three boys, enjoy tennis, woodwork, and designing with my children. I am also a governor at Aycliffe Village Primary School.
Catherine Purvis-Mawson - Vice Principal

Catherine Purvis-Mawson - Deputy Principal - Business Engagement, Careers and Marketing

Working with young people has always been the focus of my career. I completed my Undergraduate Degree in English and History from Sunderland University in 2001 and went on to study a Post Graduate Certificate in Gender, Culture and Development in 2002, which allowed me to travel to the Canadian Arctic to study Inuit culture and settlements.
I was then successful gaining a job with an environmental charity, Groundwork North East who supported me to complete my qualifications in youth work. I worked in a number of areas across County Durham and Darlington supporting young people to develop their personal and social skills.
After doing detached youth work for 6 years I then moved to working for Newcastle and Durham Universities on a public engagement project encouraging community and academic staff to co create research together that had the aspiration to create social change. During this time, I gained my Masters in Youth and Community work from Durham University.
Working with young people however was always my motivation, so moved to work in a secondary school in County Durham as their Enterprise and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Enrichment Manager in 2008. Here my role was about inspiring young people to enter into a STEM career. Developing relationships with business and industry to allow students to see what was available to them and gain access to a large variety of career opportunities was key to their personal development.
Here at the UTC, I am able to use all of my knowledge and skills of young people as well as my significant network of business and industry partners to allow our students to gain knowledge from an extensive variety of careers and people to ensure they have the best start to their futures.

Laura McAllister - Vice Principal - Teaching and Learning

Helping and enabling young people to succeed has always been incredibly important to me in my 18 years working in education. In the early part of my career, I spent 7 years as a Teaching Assistant, supporting students with SEND to access the curriculum. During this time, I completed a BA (hons) degree in Literature with the Open University before completing my teacher training in 2011. Since then, I taught English, Media and Drama in three schools across Teesside and Darlington before joining UTC South Durham when we opened our doors for the first time in 2016 as the sole English Teacher.

As we grew as an organisation, I became Head of English in 2017 before taking up the role of Vice Principal in 2021. The UTC model offers an opportunity to have a multi-dimensional impact on the success of young people and I continue to be an advocate of the importance of that in education. I believe passionately in our Student Leaver Profile and see our role as a college, to enable students to become Career and Life ready by achieving excellent academic outcomes; developing the skills that employers and the community require of them and experiencing as much as they can of the career and professional world to equip them with everything they need to make good decisions about their future.

One of my roles as Vice Principal has been to lead the team in implementing our Crew programme which is designed to support students to develop all three aspects of our Student Leaver Profile (SLP). It is a real privilege to witness and be involved in the success stories of students as they have become career and life ready and I often hear from our fabulous alumni of students about how their time at UTC has helped them begin their careers. My main responsibility is the quality of Teaching and Learning across the college and I am passionate about not only ensuring our students get a first class experience in the classroom but that their experience goes beyond teaching them to pass their exams, it must also provide them with the skills and experiences that they need to be Career and Life ready.
Jak Heslop - Vice Principal at UTC South Durham

Jak Heslop - SEN Coordinator

I have been a qualified teacher for 22 years, teaching GCSE Sciences and A Level Chemistry at a variety of schools across the North East. Until moving to UTC South Durham in 2016, I had been Head of Science at a local Ofsted Outstanding school for the previous 12 years, and prior to that, Head of Chemistry, and Head of Science at a local Sixth Form Centre.
Having completed A levels in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 1992 with a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry and then moved on to do some post graduate research for the Ministry of Defence at Cranfield Institute of Technology. I completed my PGCE in Science with Maths at the University of Leicester. Throughout my teaching career, I have worked as an examiner, marking across the age range and have been involved in piloting new GCSE courses.
As Vice Principal, my primary role is to monitor and develop Teaching and Learning strategies across UTC South Durham, coordinating quality assurance to ensure that all students are able to make the progress of which they are capable and organising professional development opportunities for colleagues. I closely monitor the progress of groups of students, coordinating intervention programmes where necessary.
Although a teacher of Chemistry, in my role as Faculty Director for Core and Inclusion, I have been responsible for the quality of provision, and the progress made in Maths, English, PE and PSHE. I have also coordinated the strategic allocation of the Pupil Premium funding, monitoring whether its use has been effective.
I believe passionately in encouraging students, and in particular, girls, to continue their studies of Science past GCSE. I have strong links with the University of Durham and other County Durham schools developing the profile and up take of Physics Post-16. My students and I were early participants in the Science Ambassadors scheme, and I currently enjoy coordinating the UTC Science Magnets, where our Year 10 students share and demonstrate their love of Science to local primary school pupils and at public events.
Leanne Tippey - Student Support Lead

Leanne Tippey - Student Support Lead

I have been working in education since 2006, specifically, dealing with behaviour and SEBD.

Some of the proudest moments for me professionally, have been the impacts I have made. Throughout my career to date, I have successfully helped to change a negative mind set and relationship with both parents and students, which has been instrumental in improvements in both attendance and attainments. I believe that I achieve results, by actively recognising that students can make progress across all areas, once they have established positive relationships and barriers to learning are removed.

I am also a skilled Restorative facilitator, helping students to understand the consequences of their actions and supporting them to overcome confrontations in a safe and inclusive environment. I am also a strong advocate for ‘student voice’ and have experience of leading and developing many student councils.

Prior to working in education, I worked for the Prince’s Trust at Stockton Riverside College, as a Team Leader, delivering the 12-week Personal Development Programme. I was first introduced to the Princes Trust, whilst working for Darlington Building Society and was asked to complete the course as an employed volunteer. During my 2 years working for the Trust, I was fortunate to be chosen to lead two European Projects to Romania. At the age of 19, I was the youngest team leader to run the Programme. My trips included renovating a children’s hospital ward and building a gym within a Special Needs School.

I really do believe strongly in life-long learning and in my role as an educator I feel it is essential that we equip students with the knowledge, skills, morals and attitudes necessary to enable them to be able to live full lives and make positive contributions to society.

Here at UTC, I’ am privileged to lead the incredibly hard working Student Support Team. Student Support is very much the heart of the UTC, with students often referring to us, as their second parents. As a team, we pride ourselves in having fantastic relationships with all of our students, enabling us to identify barriers to learning quickly, so that supportive strategies can be put in to place. The Student Support door is always open and is a place where all students can feel safe and valued.
Head of Engineering - Neil McGrath

Neil McGrath - Head of Engineering

On completion of my secondary education, I started a four-year craft apprenticeship in Toolmaking. This consisted of day-release, at what was then Darlington College of Technology, plus four days of training at work. Over the next eight years, I continued this day-release training to complete my full craft apprenticeship qualification, plus an ONC and HNC in Engineering. Over that period, I worked for a number of engineering companies- manufacturing photocopiers, manual and automated transmissions, televisions and superheaters for offshore companies.
I had by then, developed a real interest in learning, so to continue this I enrolled on a teaching degree and soon successfully completed a BEd at York University. I returned to employment working locally in childcare for two years. This was within a secure unit working with some of the UKs most challenging children, working alongside psychiatrists and psychologists. The knowledge I learnt there has been invaluable in my teaching career.
My teaching took another change in direction, working for two secondary schools in County Durham. One enabled me to work with sixth-form students, both as a tutor and teacher of A level courses. I also held the post of Subject Leader for Technology in one school for six years. Promotion quickly followed to a larger school in Sunderland leading the Technology Faculty, delivering a wide range of GCSE courses.
The opportunity to work at the UTC was a massive attraction to me. It has enabled me to work with well-motivated students who have a real interest in engineering, maths and the sciences. The work based skills and excellent education on offer, will give our students the perfect start to employment or further education.

Mike Donnelly - Director of Technical Specialism

I went to University in York to study Design and Technology with Education (BeD). This gave me the opportunity to have placements in both primary and secondary schools all the way through my higher education. I then went to Nottingham Trent to complete my PGCE teacher qualification with Technology/Engineering. My first teaching job was at St John’s in Bishop Auckland which is close to the UTC.

Before joining the UTC in January 2022 I had spent 17 years teaching at The King’s Academy school in Middlesbrough. 11 years of my service there was as Head of Engineering. In this role I was able to build a curriculum which was designed to engage and stimulate students so that they could share my passion for engineering. I want students to develop engineering skills and technical knowledge to be successful in their studies and beyond.

Along with my passion for Engineering I have also strived to develop my understanding of teaching and learning. I have been externally assessed and awarded Advanced Skills Teacher status. I am also a Specialist Leader of Education (SLE) which means that I can deliver teacher training and be deployed to help build curriculums across a range of subjects in other schools. I also work for an exam board to moderate Engineering coursework and mark examinations.

The UTC Students Leaver Profile shares my belief that school should prepare students for the world of work. I get a huge amount of satisfaction when students choose engineering for their next steps. This includes further study at colleges and universities or into working through apprenticeships and careers in engineering. Learning at the UTC provides the technical skills and knowledge essential to be ready to work. I also find the UTCs core skills just as important. Good employees need to be able to communicate and collaborate with others, organise themselves, persevere with challenging tasks, reflect on their performance and show respect to themselves and the people around them. It is these attributes just as much as qualifications which make excellent employees for the industry.

I live in Middlesbrough with my wife and two young children. I enjoy football, running, gardening and DIY. On a weekend I am a manager for my son’s under 11s Football team. This is a new challenge for me and I certainly have to use the UTCs core skills to help me with my role. Especially Perseverance!

Vanessa Stobart - Chief Financial Officer

With over 25 years’ experience in business and finance, I qualified in 2006 as a Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA CGMA) and have an Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting. With a wide range of skills and experience, having started my career in accounting practice before moving into the commercial sector and working for large multinational companies (fast moving consumer goods and manufacturing, including Europe’s largest manufacturer and distributor of ice cream) as well as small companies.

Moving into the education sector in 2015, I was Director of Business and Finance for a large academy within a large multi academy trust. It was here I developed a passion for working in the education sector. As a member of the Senior Leadership Team I worked with school leaders to ensure financial oversight, stability and value for money. I also volunteered as a school governor and Chair of Finance & Resources for my local primary school.

I was appointed as Chief Financial Officer for UTC South Durham in July 2021. I am a proud to play my part on the senior leadership team, working with such a driven team of people who believe passionately in the Student Leaver Profile and how it will benefit these young people as they prepare for their exciting futures.