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Senior Leadership Team

Viv Berkeley – Principal

Viv joined Ambitious about Autism in May 2014. She has spent the last 22 years working in the FE sector in various guises - volunteer, lecturer, coordinator, manager and Head of Department. Her experience is cross sector – FE colleges, Local Authorities, universities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). At NIACE Viv worked on the Equalities Team advocating for disabled learners and managing a range of development activities and project work. At LSIS she led on Safeguarding and Learning Support and managed the DfE FE contract supporting providers to consider the implications and impact of the Children and Families Act. Viv is motivated by social justice, social inclusion and equality and always works from this value base.


Linda Looney - Vice Principal, Quality

Linda joined Ambitious about Autism in August 2013. She has worked with people with autism or disabilities for the last 15 years. Linda is a qualified post-16 SEN lecturer and spent the first five years of her career working in FE Colleges. She then moved into the charity sector where she set up and managed a number of services to develop the skills of people with autism and learning disabilities. These services included independent travel training, supported employment and a variety of lifelong learning and social enterprise schemes. Linda is motivated by her belief in the abilities of people with learning disabilities and supporting them to reach their full potential.


Lee Helyer - Vice Principal, Curriculum
Lee joined Ambitious College in September 2018.  He has 15 years experience working with children and young people with SEN.  He is a qualified teacher with a Masters in Education and is currently working on his Doctorate in relation to creative opportunities and identity.  Lee sees learning as a way for all to move to towards being the best selves we can be and applies this in all the work he does.  He is passionate about resilience and how we embed this within learners to support them to manage and thrive in our busy, challenging and complex mordern world.


Brian Fennel - Assistant Principal

Brian earned his PhD from Queen's University Belfast in 2014 with research on school-based interventions for students with autism and challenging behaviour.  Following up on his course of study, Brian earned his PGDip (Distinction) in Applied Behaviour Analysis in 2016, also from Queen's University.

Dr Fennell has most recently worked in higher education in his hometown, Boston, Massachusetts (US) where he was a faculty member in an initial teacher education programme.  He taught SEN modules at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels.  Prior to his experience in higher education, Brian worked as a classroom teacher for students with autism and other complex SEN for more than 20 years.  His experience in the field included work in both the US and Ireland, mainstream and specialist provisions with student groups from 5 to 22 years of age.


Simon Birch - Head of Curriculum

Simon has been working in the education of people with Autism for the last 20 years in various roles.  For the last 12 years he has been teaching in the Post-16 sector and has been involved in the setting up of a number of post-16 provisions for people with Autism in London and Surrey.  As well as curriculum design, Simon is interested in how technology can usefully enhance the education and social inclusion of learners with Autism.  Simon is committed to the continuous development of the curriculum and creating an engaging and enjoyable educational environment for all our learners.  


Nicola Hawkins - Head of Operations

Nicola joined Ambitious About Autism in July 2015. She has worked in the charity sector for the past 11 years supporting, developing and managing services that support individuals with Autism and Learning Disabilities to achieve their goals and aspirations in a variety of settings.  She is experienced in residential services, travel training projects, social enterprise and employment services and most recently community based services.


Bernice Sargent - Business Manager

Bernice joined Ambitious College in November 2014.  Bernice had worked within the education and care sector as a Finance and Operations Manager for 6 years.  Prior to this Bernice worked within the finance sector for a number of financial institutions.  Bernice holds the level 4 Diploma in School Business Management (CSBM) and also an Institute of Leadership and Management Level 3 Certificate in First Line Management. Bernice is motivated and committed to provide assistance and support to enable learners to be able to make choices, achieve their goals towards their desired outcomes and their onward destination.

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