Past Pupils


Dr. Matthew Coates M.Eng, Ph.D., MBA

Matthew attended Penketh High School from 1991 to 1996 and enjoyed studying a wide range of subjects. Following an interest he developed in Science and Maths, he studied for A-Levels in Physics, Chemistry and Maths at Priestly College from 1996 to 1998 before going to University to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) from 1998 to 2002. After enjoying the challenging style of Engineering, he conducted post-graduate studies at The University of Sydney, Australia 2003 to 2006 where he completed a PhD in Chemical Engineering focused on pharmaceutical applications.

With his educational base established, he then embarked on a career in the Pharmaceutical industry where he wanted to put all of the topics he had learnt during his education into action and develop new medicines to help improve the lives of patients all around the world.  He started in a research and development position and spent time finding ways to develop new and exciting medicines. Following additional studies in Business Administration (MBA) he then moved into commercial roles to understand how the new medicines are actually used by doctors and physicians in the real world setting. Today he works in Switzerland for a global pharmaceutical company as the Head of Pipeline and Portfolio Planning, Neuroscience where his job is to decide how their large research and development budget should be spent to produce new medicines that solve some of the key healthcare challenges facing the world today, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Laura Keir

Laura Keir is starting work at Warrington and Halton Hospital after her graduation. For one Warrington student, her dream of becoming a physiotherapist has finally come true after years of battling with a serious health condition.

Twenty-two-year-old Laura Keir from Penketh in Warrington, has just completed four years studying for a BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy, and despite battling significant health issues, she has also beaten competition from thousands of students to secure her first job in the industry. Laura had ambitions to be a physiotherapist from the age of 12 and was encouraged by her swimming coach to pursue a future career in physiotherapy. “The support I received from UCLan was great”

However, during her first and second years on the course, Laura was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and spent months in and out of hospital.

“Being diagnosed with an illness is frightening to begin with,” says Laura, “but the support I received from UCLan was great. It was such an emotional time and you have to make some really serious decisions.  I didn’t want to drop out of the course, as being a physiotherapist is all I’ve wanted to do – but the University kept me grounded and suggested I took a year out and returned when I felt stronger.

“Being a physiotherapist is all I’ve wanted to do – but the University kept me grounded. It made me realise that I’d made the right choice in choosing UCLan. I was the first in my family to go to University so we didn’t have any recommendations.  As soon as I came here, I liked the feel of the place and it felt like they wanted me to come here.”

During her course, Laura participated in several placements where she  gained hands on experience, as well as learning theory. Following her placement at Warrington and Halton Hospital, Laura was successful in securing a position at the hospital and is due to commence work in four weeks.

Laura added:  “Not only have I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a physiotherapist I’ve also got my dream job. I’m really happy and excited and now looking forward to the future.”



Mike Collins



Mike Evans

It has been a whirlwind summer for two former Penketh High School pupils who returned from Los Angeles after clocking up more than 15 million hits on YouTube.



James Laithwaite

IF a 12-year-old who had never played rugby league in his life was to tell you he would sign a professional contract in five years time, chances are you’d view their remark as childish arrogance. Some people would possibly even laugh at such a statement. Well, try laughing at former Penketh High School pupil James Laithwaite who has managed to do just that.

Standing at over six feet and weighing over 15 and a half stone, it wouldn’t be a good idea to laugh at the teenager who has been lauded by the Warrington Guardian and the websites and for his ferocious displays. But James certainly has no time for complacency as he already set himself two targets; to get into the Warrington Wolves first team, with whom he signed a two-year contract last year, and to play international rugby.

After finishing his GCSE year at Penketh High School James had a tough schedule as he balanced continuing his education with training and playing in games for the Warrington Wolves Under-18s, made his first team debut in a friendly defeat to Wigan Warriors, and put in a man of the match performance in the 2-0 Test victory for the England Academy against their Australian counterparts last month. James also played in the 48-18 thrashing of the Widnes Vikings earlier this month, a game in which fellow ex-pupil Chris Riley bagged a try.

Mr S Foster, his former PE teacher, expressed his delight at James’ progress since leaving Penketh High School in 2007. He said: “James has been one of the stand-out players in the England Academy set-up this season. He won the man of the match award against France in June and followed this up with another award in the first test [against Australia].”

“It’s great to see another former Penketh pupil representing England at academy level and beating the Australian Academy boys 2-0 in the series. Our own Steve Pickersgill was part of the last England team to do just that in 2004.” “He used to be in the school football team so he can kick a ball very well when he needs to put kick pressure on opponents. James has very good stamina and an excellent work ethic on the pitch so he can last the full game whilst keeping his skill levels high. James is also a good passer of the ball.”

“Probably his best quality though is his excellent personality. He has a fantastic attitude so that he learn quicker and can get on well with others in a team environment. He will be a player who others can rely on and has good leadership qualities.”Mr Foster went on to predict that James will be a first team player over his next ten years at the club with 2012 being his breakthrough.



Curtis Jobling

A FORMER Penketh High School pupil has been celebrating after the release of his second novel.

Acclaimed animator and Bob The Builder creator Curtis Jobling saw his latest offering, called Wereworld: Rage Of Lions, hit bookstores across the country in July.The novel is a sequel to his 2010 success Wereworld: Rise Of The Wolf, which was shortlisted for Waterstone’s Children’s Book prize, and is the second story in a planned quadrilogy.



Tara Jones


IN CHRIS Riley, James Laithwaite and Steve Pickersgill, Penketh High School has made big contributions to the rugby league world as each ex-pupil has helped make sports history. With Warrington Wolves Chris has won two successive Challenge Cups, James inspired the England Academy to a 2-0 Test victory over their Australian counterparts last year and Steve assisted in Widnes Vikings’ successful promotion bid. And now another Penketh High School pupil is looking to make her mark on the record books by becoming Super League’s first female referee.

Despite her young age Tara Jones already knows about the hard work that goes into refereeing after completing a course and spending two and a half years officiating at youth level, for which she was rewarded by being selected to oversee this year’s Under-12s Lancashire Cup Final clash between Orrell St James and Wigan St Judes at Leigh Sport Village.

Her commitment and drive to succeed are clear as she made an unbiased analysis of the decisions she made during the game.Speaking to the rugby league magazine Bulletin she said: “There were obviously a few points where I could improve but hopefully I’ll look at that and improve as much as I can. “Hopefully now I can move up to officiating other age groups and move further up from there.”

One big advantage that Tara has over her refereeing rivals is that she has also played the game. Until the age of twelve she was at Crosfields ARLFC, but had to leave the club as rugby league rules state boys and girls cannot play in mixed teams after the end of their under-11s season. Tara said: “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to carry on with my rugby, so I went into refereeing.”Fortunately Tara did not have to stop playing her sport, meaning she can gain even more experience, as she is now at Warrington Girls and has been selected to play for the North West.

For Tara though, it’s the refereeing that drives her. Speaking to Bulletin magazine, Tara’s mum Lynnda said: “She loves it. She’s always had a passion for it and she’s done it all off her own back, we haven’t pushed her into any of it.“She has had to give up other commitments to continue her officiating but for her that’s fine.” With female officials becoming more common in British sports, it looks as if Tara could well turn out to be Super League’s first female referee. Watch this space.


Chris Riley

EX-PENKETH High School pupil Chris Riley starred in Warrington Wolves’ record breaking victory over Swinton Lions.

Chris ran in a hat-trick of tries in the 112-0 win over the Greater Manchester side as the Wires smashed their previous record of an 84-1 defeat of York City Knights in 2000.


Dr Karen Syres

Dr Karen Syres, who left the Heath Road school 11 years ago, started her career in science in 2006 after graduating with a first class Master of Physics degree from the University of Manchester. Earlier this year, Dr Syres celebrated completing her PhD in physics – also from the University of Manchester – with her thesis which was aimed at developing scientific understandings of issues such as solar cells, which could lead to the production of cheaper, more efficient electricity.

Research for her PhD took her to Sweden, Italy and to Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington where she conducted experiments with x-rays and computer modelling to interpret her results. Dr Syres’ has also produced research that could have an impact on cancer treatment and dental care.

Last year, her work was nominated for the Springer Best Thesis in Physics prize and she landed the runner-up award. Along with her findings been published and receiving funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Dr Syres spoke at this year’s European Materials Research Society conference in France.

Dr Syres has also taken part in much outreach work across Cheshire and Greater Manchester to inform people about research and alternative energy.


Matthew Bird

Matthew Bird, a former Penketh High School pupil has scooped a place at the prestigious Oxford university after gaining two A* and three A’s in his A-levels. His parents Allan and Susan said: “Many thanks to the inspirational teachers along the way at Penketh High School and Westbrook Old Hall Primary School.”


Sophie Cowap


A BIG thank you to ex pupil Sophie Johnson (previously Cowap), who came in to school to speak to Year Ten OCR Nationals Level 2 Science students. Students have made their own bath bombs in lessons and have been studying a company who also make bath bombs. Sophie who is a supervisor at the Golden Square Warrington branch of LUSH was eager to come into school to share information with students about the company and its impact on the environment.

The ingredients for LUSH products are sourced from all over the world in the most environmentally friendly way possible, Sophie explained the company’s commitment to helping them develop their communities by building schools and water irrigation systems as a payback for their contributions to the LUSH company, they also ensure as many of the factories as possible are cooperatives to ensure all employees get a share of the profits the factory makes.