About Us

Supporting you to plan, grow and thrive…

Forum Strategy is a strategy and membership organisation for CEOs – with an emphasis on executive leadership training and coaching; organisational development and strategic planning; and leadership development networks. We support leaders and organisations to plan, grow and thrive.

Forum’s reach is national. We run six 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 media publications.

Our Team

Michael Pain, LLB (Hons), Barrister at Law

Michael Pain, LLB (Hons), Barrister at Law


Michael Pain is a strategic adviser to CEOs and Chairs, entrepreneur and author. Michael’s career has been dedicated to advising CEOs and boards on strategy and organisational growth and development. He presently coaches a small number of CEOs.

Since 2017, Michael has established six regional leadership networks across the UK for CEOs, 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 is a trained lawyer, having been Called to the Bar in 2007.

Sarah Ginns, MSc

Sarah Ginns, MSc

Consultancy & Research Manager

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.

Rachael Gacs, MA

Rachael Gacs, MA

Marketing & Resources Manager

Rachael is Forum Strategy’s Marketing and Resources 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.

Sarah Ray

Sarah Ray

National CEO Networks Director

Sarah Ray has worked in the private, public and third sector leading, managing and delivering educational projects for over 30 years. After 10 years in sales and marketing management for an educational supply company, she worked in marketing for Age UK. During her 14 years at the DfE’s National College for School Leadership (NCSL), she held various roles in the Research, Policy and Programmes teams. Sarah led the design and delivery of the new DfE Governor and Clerking training programmes, and the National Leader of Governance role.

Since leaving DfE in 2014, she has worked in consultancy at FASNA, Birmingham Education Partnership and the Spencer Academy Trust. In 2016 she joined ISBL (previously NASBM) as their Professional Development Specialist, developing programmes for school business professionals; apprenticeships, training, qualifications, clerking and School Resource Management Advisers.

She was the Chair of Governors at a Primary School for 5 years and has been a Governor in the Spencer Academy Trust since 2015.

James Hirst

James Hirst

Operations & Digital 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.

Lesley Pain

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. 

Forum Strategy: Our commitments to clients are:

  • 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.

What We Do

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 six 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.

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.

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.