About Forum Strategy


Who We Are

We support leaders & organisations to plan, grow and thrive

Forum Strategy is a strategy and organisational development consultancy – with an emphasis on executive leadership training and coaching; organisational development and strategic planning; and marketing and resources development. 

Forum’s reach is national. We run five regional CEO leadership development networks across England and have provided highly-valued strategic consultancy support for many dozens of organisations, including academy trusts. Our Being The CEO programme (which includes executive coaching) is fully subscribed, and our book of the same name has received critical acclaim from experienced CEOs. Our work and thought leadership has been covered in a wide range of education sector publications.

Who We Are

Our Team


Michael Pain, LLB (Hons), Barrister at Law,

Michael Pain, LLB (Hons), Barrister at Law,

Founder & CEO

Michael Pain is a strategic adviser to CEOs and Chairs, leadership trainer, entrepreneur and author. Michael’s career has been dedicated to advising CEOs and boards on how to plan ahead – anticipating and managing change with success; and to develop vision, strategy and communications that ensure their organisations thrive. 

Since 2017, Michael has established six regional leadership networks across the UK for CEOs of trusts and charities, and is passionate about supporting leaders to succeed in a rapidly changing world. 

Michael’s career and work is now also grounded in his unique experience as an entrepreneur, having taken Forum Strategy – in five years – from a start-up business to a national consultancy and training organisation that is highly respected by hundreds of CEOs. He was formerly Special Advisor to the CEO and Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the National College for Leadership and, before that, Assistant to the Minister for Europe. He is a trained lawyer, having been Called to the Bar in 2007.

Michael regularly speaks at conferences on visioning, context and strategic planning; recruitment and retention; and improvement and organisational change. His writing and thinking has featured in a range of national publications including TES, Schools Week, Governance Matters, and Academies Magazine. His interests include sailing, motorsport, and playing the guitar. 

Sarah Ginns

Sarah Ginns

Research Manager; MSc; PRINCE II Qualified Practitioner

Sarah Ginns is responsible for Forum Strategy’s briefing services, as well as a range of consultancy projects – including bid writing support and research projects.

Sarah has strong background in policy and research in the education sector, having spent over ten years working at the National College for Teaching and Leadership. During this time she provided strategic and policy support to successive Chief Executives and their leadership teams, including leading the College’s first major policy review during 2004. From 2011-13 she was Manager for Policy and Public Affairs, providing regular policy updates and advice to colleagues, as well as developing a policy briefing service for the College’s membership website. She has also managed a number of seminal research projects, successfully commissioning world-renowned research teams and individuals.

Previously, Sarah was Policy Adviser at the major biomedical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, where she was responsible for identifying and developing the Trust’s position statements and consultation responses regarding major developments in biomedical research and policy.

James Hirst

James Hirst

Digital & Operations Manager

James has been working in marketing for the last 15 years. During that time, he has been worked on PR, design, event management, social media campaigns and web development.

In 2009 he set up a full-service agency with a partner, dealing with a range of companies, from small businesses, trade associations and large multinationals.

At the beginning of 2016 he set up his own businesses focusing on digital marketing and web development. He has built websites and provided digital marketing solutions for business, charities NGOs and schools.

Rachael Gacs, MA

Rachael Gacs, MA

Marketing & Resources Manager

Rachael is Forum Strategy’s Training and Development Manager, and is responsible for the delivery of our leadership training events and for overseeing our marketing projects working with a small team of associates including graphic designers and social media experts. Rachael also oversees the resources and materials that we produce to support the learning and development of leaders and organisations, including publications and case studies for CPD providers. She has edited and written editions of Inspiring Leaders Magazine – a publication for leaders across the East Midlands.

Rachael is a trained teacher, and formerly taught Religious Education and Humanities subjects for seven years, with experience in both the state sector and independent sector. She held the pastoral role of Head of House for several years, and is well acquainted from first-hand experience with the everyday issues and pressures effecting schools and children in the current educational climate.

Rachael holds a first-class degree in Philosophy and Theology, and an MA in Philosophy, Theology and Literature, from the University of Nottingham.

Lesley Pain

Office Manager

Lesley Pain is our Office Manager and ensures the smooth day to day running of the Forum office, as well as liaising with our #TrustLeaders members and providing events management.

Lesley is a former Senior Manager in the NHS and a consultant adviser to hospital trusts on the leadership of employee health and wellbeing. She has a degree in Occupational Health. 

Who We Are


David Strudley CBE

After a successful career in the British Army spanning thirty years as a professional soldier,  David left Northern Ireland in 2003 to join the children’s hospice movement.  Initially fulfilling the role of CEO of Naomi House in Winchester, David moved to become the CEO of Acorns Children’s Hospice in the West Midlands in 2006. In February 2017 he was asked to provide consultancy support to Rainbows Hospice in the East Midlands a task that soon led to his becoming the full-time interim CEO, a role he has recently relinquished.

In 2012, David was appointed Chair of the Together for Short Lives UK Transition Taskforce to support older children in moving from children’s to adult services.  The Taskforce brings together organisations from health and social care, education and vocational development, housing and employment in the private and public sectors, as well as voluntary organisations to provide education, training and coordinated life skills support.

Qualified as a Leadership and Professional Development Coach at the Tavistock Institute, David has over ten years’ experience as a business mentor and executive coach, across a range of sectors, focusing on the importance of personal and professional development, vision and values based undertakings, the development and implementation of strategy, governance and execution, and the leadership and management of change.

Ros McMullen

Jane Creasy

Jane Creasy brings experience of educational and public sector leadership at local and national level. She works with leaders across public, private and third sectors on leadership; on innovation and improvement; and on strategic development.

She is known as a designer and facilitator of large-scale conferences and smaller strategic events, across a range of sectors both here and abroad. She has worked with leaders in several countries on reform, innovation, and leadership challenges.

Formerly an Operational Director at the National College for School Leadership for five years and a successful headteacher for ten years, she has led the design and delivery of some major leadership programmes for educational leaders. She is currently working with the UCL Institute of Education and Deloitte on a programme for MAT leadership teams.

In addition to her associate work for Forum Education, Jane is a senior associate of the Innovation Unit and an associate with the Education Development Trust.

Diane Heritage

Diane has experience of educational leadership at school, regional and national level. She specialises in leadership learning, collaboration and school improvement. She is an educational innovator and creative thinker committed to building capacity for a school led system.

Formerly Lead Associate for the National College for School Leadership and a successful headteacher, Diane has worked with system leaders to inspire and facilitate local solutions with a relentless focus on children’s learning and well-being. She is currently working with the Education Endowment Foundation to bring the use of evidence based practice closer to schools.  Diane is Chair of the New Collaborative Learning Trust a family of 16-19 colleges located in areas of historical and persistent underachievement across Yorkshire and the Humber.

Phil Crompton

Phil led schools in Nottinghamshire for 20 years and for 6 years was a member of the Department for Education’s Headteachers’ Reference Group. He guided one 11-18 school from special measures to ‘good’, and another from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’.

Phil then set up Trent Academies Group, where he was CEO. He recently managed the merger of the trust with a larger neighbour.

Phil works with Forum Strategy as a coach and adviser to CEOs and executive leaders, and is committed to helping leaders maximise their potential. You can read Phil’s recent article, ‘View from the other side’, here: View from the other side: reflections of a retired MAT CEO

Consultancy and organisational development

Forum Strategy provides organisations with insight, expertise and advice around organisational development and change management. We have provided research, advice, strategic planning and associated training to numerous local authorities, businesses, and academy trusts across the country as they plan ahead and seek to grow and develop successfully.

We provide support on visioning and strategic planning, business planning, board reviews, stakeholder engagement and consultation, recruitment and retention, bid writing (see below), and much more.

Forum’s work is grounded in our continuous research and monitoring of policy and change issues and our extensive work providing support and leadership development to CEOs.

Training and development

Forum Strategy provides a wide range of training and development support for CEOs, board members and leadership teams. Our five regional CEO networks provide high quality opportunities for learning and reflection on key areas of successful organisational development. Our annual CEO conference has developed a strong reputation for cutting edge leadership thinking and insight, and our suite of provision for academy trustees is ensuring that this important group are well supported as their organisations grow rapidly.

We provide bespoke training for trustees and executives teams and regularly design and deliver programmes and resources on behalf of teaching school alliances and government agencies.

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Marketing and communications

We believe that the development of a strong brand and clear, engaging communications is a key factor in the success of all organisations. By developing and delivering an exceptional marketing and communication strategy, organisations are able to attract the very best candidates to apply for vacancies and to develop relationships with clients based on confidence and trust.

Our approach to marketing and communications is grounded in our ongoing research into marketing and communications, our deep understanding of the policy and change, and our credibility which has been developed through working with so many organisations on these issues over the years.

We design and deliver marketing and communications strategies, consultations, prospectuses and job application packs, marketing of back office services (including CPD), websites and social media strategy.

Bid writing

Forum provides bid writing services to organisations that are seeking to grow, secure new business or access additional funds. We have successfully supported our clients in undertaking the necessary planning, project management, research, consultation, and writing associated with bids. These projects include successful bids for free schools and new provision, growth funding, school improvement funding, and to embark on new and exciting initiatives such as research schools. We also support our clients to stay ahead of new funding opportunities as and when they emerge.

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Recruitment and retention strategy

Forum Strategy has undertaken extensive research and provided support to organisations on recruitment and retention strategy, including developing reputations as ’employers of choice’. We also provide a recruitment and headhunting service

Monitoring and analysis

Forum Strategy provides a weekly leadership  briefing service, covering key developments in research, policy, strategy, development opportunities and more. A number of MATs and other providers subscribe to our briefing service which can be accessed at an ‘individual’, SLT, or ‘MAT wide’ level.

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Forum Strategy: Our commitments to clients include:

  • Supporting improvement wherever possible;
  • Staying informed on the key & emerging issues;
  • Producing high quality research & communications;
  • Ensuring our integrity & maintaining client confidentiality at all times;
  • Being responsive & professional in all that we do.

We work with a range of clients, from local authorities and academy trusts, to small-, medium- and large- businesses and enterprises.