Former St Bees pupil is new Diocesan Director of Education
A former St Bees School pupil has been appointed the new Director of Education for the Diocese of Carlisle – the Church of England in Cumbria.
Vanessa O’Dea will join the Diocese in January 2020 after more than 14 years teaching religious education, latterly at St Teresa’s School in Surrey, where she was also Head of Boarding.
It means a return to the county where she grew up, completing her GCSEs and A Levels at St Bees before gaining an MA at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in Religious Studies and History of Art.
Vanessa said: “I come from Kendal, and my parents still live there. I’m delighted to be moving home and that our children will have the chance to grow up in these beautiful surroundings.
“Although I am sad to be leaving my school and will miss the day-to-day interactions with the young people and staff, I am so excited to take on the challenge of helping the Church realise its vision for education here in Cumbria.”
Confirmation of her appointment comes a month after the current Director of Education, Michael Mill, announced he was to retire at the end of the year after more than 40 years’ working in education.
Vanessa is married to Gerard who is a Training Consultant, with whom she has three young children aged nine, five and three. Over the last 18 months she has also explored ordained ministry and more recently Pioneer ministry and regularly helps run children’s ministry in her local church. The family plans to move up to Cumbria in December 2019.
As Director of Education Vanessa will manage the education team, lead on the implementation of the Board of Education’s Vision and Strategy and ensure continued development of effective networks and partnerships both locally and nationally.
The diocese is responsible for 104 C of E schools across the county, along with 13 academies and two affiliated schools (non-Diocese of Carlisle church schools in The Good Shepherd Multi Academy Trust).
Vanessa added: “As a teacher and a leader I have benefited such a lot from working in schools where the Christian ethos is celebrated and central to our shared life. Supporting schools and the communities they serve as we work together to make the Church of England’s vision for education come to life for children, young people and staff will be such a privilege.”
A number of church school headteachers were closely involved in the recruitment process and have welcomed the appointment.
Shelagh Hughes, Head of St Herbert’s Keswick, said: “I was delighted to see how passionate Vanessa was about the role of DDE and to hear about the things that she would like to develop. Her vision for the role of DDE and the Board of Education, her compassion for the whole team around her and her Christian commitment to the Diocese came through in the interview.
“I am certain that Vanessa’s naturally encouraging style will inspire and support many headteachers in our Church Schools. I am excited to be able to work with her both as member of the board and as a headteacher in the Diocese and I look forward to helping her find her way in her new role if I can.
Vanessa will leave her position at St Teresa’s on December 13, having also previously been Head of Religious Education at a Perthshire school and a teacher of Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies at The Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh.
The Rev Andrew Towner, Chair of the Carlisle Diocesan Board of Education (DBE), said: “It was a real pleasure for me to see Vanessa’s passion and compassion as she undertook the various tasks, discussions and interviews involved in the appointment process. Each headteacher she met with was struck by her warmth and empathy, which sit alongside a clear desire to make a difference in the lives of children and young people across Cumbria.
“Our Vision for Education includes a desire for excellent classroom and academic outcomes, but goes far beyond that too. We’re seeking growth in wisdom alongside knowledge, married with real hope and aspiration, to create a richer community which honours the value and dignity of all.
“In appointing Vanessa we are thrilled to bring into the vital and pressurised schools context someone who will enable our highly-skilled and passionate Heads, Governors, Teachers, and all who work in our schools, to embody that vision of life in all its fullness.”
Welcoming the appointment, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said: “We are delighted to have appointed someone of Vanessa’s calibre and experience, all of which is clearly undergirded by her strong and active faith.
“Our prayer now is that Vanessa, Gerard and their children enjoy as smooth a move as possible up to Cumbria and they continue to flourish when they settle in this wonderful county.”
Pictured from the left Cillian, Vanessa, Oisín, Naoise and Gerard O'Dea enjoying their summer holiday on Lake Geneva.