Penny has had a varied career in the private and public sectors. Over the past 20 years she has held several specialist and policy posts in the former employment and current education departments, before retiring in 2013. In recent years she managed the registration and regulation of independent schools, independent/state school partnerships, British Schools Overseas, school governance, school transport and school organisation.

Before entering the civil service, Penny spent several years in academia and then worked as a chartered accountant. She is Chair of Governors at a large secondary Academy in the north east of England, and volunteers with a charity organising cultural activities for children.