The Senior Leadership Team consists of the following members of staff. Below you can find out about them and their teams.

Simon Charleton – CEO


I began teaching in South London in 1978 and have worked in mainstream, alternative provision and special schools/colleges in West Sussex, Surrey and Brighton. In these placements I have also worked in residential settings and children’s home settings.  Recently I was working for East Sussex monitoring the quality of independent and non-maintained special schools and colleges, locally and regionally. I have worked as a classroom Teacher and as a Pastoral Leader and Head of Department.  Before starting at St. John’s I had been a Head Teacher of two schools and also a Vice-Principal. I have a special interest  in  developing and validating the professional skills which our multi-disciplinary teams possess and developing evidence-based research practice.  I believe in  partnership working with families, local authorities and other professionals and that investment in young people is an investment in all our futures.   My family and I live locally to St. John’s. I am also a Magistrate.

You can follow me on Twitter here @CharletonSimon

Karen Grist – Principal


I began my career in education in 1981 having qualified with a Bachelor of Education from Sussex University.  I worked initially within the state secondary school system teaching Physical Education in schools within Surrey, and Formby and Ormskirk, West Lancashire.

After six years I moved into Further Education and taught vocational and academic studies to young people aged 16 to 22 yrs.  Having completed a Diploma in Management Studies I then acquired posts in different colleges which held increasing responsibility enabling me to focus more on making a real difference to the learner experience.  Also at that time I developed a particular interest in special needs and in 2006 I commenced work at St Piers College, Young Epilepsy, as a Vocational and Work Based Learning Co-ordinator as part of the Senior Management Team.  As Deputy Principal, then Head of College, I have worked with a large multidisciplinary staff team who have the same passion and vision as I to ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved for our annual cohort of very special young people.

I am married and together we have 4 young adults and a range of wildlife collectively labelled as pets!

Lou Harman – Positive Behaviour Support Leader


I joined St. John’s as a Care Worker in 1998. Since then I have undertaken various roles within the Care Department such as Team Leader, Senior Care Worker, Deputy Care Manager and Care Manager. For the last 6 years, I have been the Head of Care, overseeing, developing, planning for and managing both the pre and post 19 services. I have gained my NVQ level 3 in Caring for Children & Young People, NVQ 4 in Management and LMC level 4 (Registered Managers award). I’m am currently studying a level 5 in Positive Behaviour Support and act as the Designated Safeguarding Lead for the organisation.

I am further supported by a team of 5 Care Managers who take responsibility for the day to day running of specific houses.

Our passion is to offer each individual residential learner the best experience of being at St. John’s, we are constantly seeking new ways to enrich the lives of our young people, offer opportunities, encourage independence as well as seeking new ways in which to improve our department and the outcomes for individuals.

Janet Potter – Head of Wellbeing

Janet head of wellbeing


I took up the role as Head of Wellbeing in November 2017. Prior to St John’s I undertook a range of leadership roles in the Specialist Education field as well as working as an educational consultant. Previously, as the Assistant Principal of another specialist college, I developed a particular interest and enthusiasm in the emotional and mental well-being of learners, focusing on enabling them to be in the best possible position to engage effectively in their own learning. As a qualified therapist, I manage the therapy services at the college, including Psychology, Positive Behaviour Support, Nursing, OT and Salt. Throughout my career, I have always worked in teaching or as a therapist with young people whose lives have been challenging due to disability, mental health, and complex educational or social need.

Zoe Willis – Head of care


I have worked within the social care setting for the majority of my career. Ranging from education, social care and social services this has given me a broad knowledge base to support me in the role of Head of Care. The roles have included working with children, young people and their families and have been predominately focused on those with learning disabilities. While working in a special school as Head of ILA (Independent Living Area) I started my NVQ Level 5 in Managing Residential Care for Children and Young People. I continued this training as I moved to be a service manager within a supported living environment. I joined St John’s in January 2016 as a Care Manager looking after two of the adult homes as a registered manager. From this, I became Head of Care from July 2018 where I oversee the 11 homes within St John’s for all learners.

I am supported by five care managers who, with the support of their teams, manage the houses to enable them to meet a high standard of care and develop life skills for the learners through the Waking Day Curriculum which will benefit them for the next chapter of their lives.

Liz Dollin – Head of HR & Staff Development


I joined St. John’s in January 2012 to head up the HR and Staff Development function.  I’ve been working in HR for nearly 20 years in a variety of sectors and settings.

My team are predominantly there to ensure that each and every colleague works to the best of their ability to support our learners and to ensure that every part of St. John’s is outstanding. So that means we take recruitment incredibly seriously and then support (via training and development) employees right through their career at St. John’s until they are ready to move on to their next exciting venture.

Mark Ryan – Employability Leader


I have worked at St. John’s for fifteen years, both as a teacher and senior manager. From 2003 I taught with a specific focus on employability, careers programmes and co-ordinated work experience placements. For five years at St. John’s I held a TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility) for Quality Assurance and later took up a post of Quality Manager. Since 2017 I have been in the post of Employability Manager, an area I am particularly passionate about. Prior to my life at St. John’s, I taught in adult mental health and learning disability services. Before completing teacher training at Greenwich University in 2001, I also worked as a volunteer for a SCOPE run service.

Nick Allen – Estates and Grounds Manager


I originally studied landscape management and design, gaining a BSc and a diploma in design and innovation. After gaining experience I ran a landscaping business for fifteen years, during which time I designed and built award-winning gardens at both the Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows.

I took on the role of Grounds Manager at St John’s in 2013 but had been working as a contractor since 2003. I have now been asked to extend this role to Head of Estates. As well as the grounds team, I am responsible for the maintenance teams, the domestic teams, and the health and safety and fleet officers, across all sites.

My role is wide-ranging, but I’m passionate about the reason I originally arrived at St John’s; to help improve the environment for all users, staff as well as learners. I remain a firm believer in the highly positive effect that well designed, built and maintained places have on the people who use them.

Melanie Muir – Head of Finance and Director of Operations

I started my career in finance when I joined The Body Shop International PLC as Junior Accounts Clerk. On leaving, I had progressed to Assistant Financial Accountant and had achieved a BTEC in Business and Finance as well as the foundation stage of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ professional syllabus. I completed the syllabus in December 1998, and have been a fellow member of the association since 2005. I have worked in a number of industries including retail, telecoms, and travel & tourism, however prior to St. John’s my career has predominantly been in manufacturing. In this sector, I held roles including Management Accountant, Financial Controller, and most recently Finance Director. I also enjoyed a brief spell in an accountancy practice, whilst completing a Master of Science (MSc) in Operations and Supply Chain Management.

I joined St. John’s in April 2017 as Head of Finance, to lead the finance function and bring financial expertise to the leadership team. In Autumn 2017, I also assumed leadership of the IT function. My remit at St. John’s is to improve cash flow, financial control and stewardship, and reporting accuracy. Moreover, I was selected to positively influence the financial culture of the organisation, to ensure the service we provide to our learners is value for money. In 2018 I will be embarking on a MSc in Charity Accounting and Financial Management with CASS Business School to build my awareness of the sector’s strategic issues and challenges, best practice strategies
and approaches.