Leaders like you – Matthew Carpenter

Matthew Carpenter is a Principal at Baxter College

Start by giving us a brief picture of how you became the headteacher at your school?

It was a straightforward application, interview and appointment. From the first tour of the school I felt I would enjoy leading. I still have the same feeling!


How would you describe the ethos of your school? How do you maintain it?

It is a school built on relationships, with a strong sense of community. In the summer we developed our own set of values that represent who we are. They are simple statements that we can refer to at all times, guiding our decisions, informing processes and maintaining our ethos.


What do you enjoy most about your role?

Working with the whole learning community, the people that make a school. It’s such a rich and exciting experience, with highs and lows.


What’s the biggest challenge you face personally in the role? How do you tackle this?

I found the role really personally intense, there is no hiding in headship. You have to really be strong in yourself, positively affirm your beliefs and values, but also recognise that you won’t be right all the time and that people will understand.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

As a leader your greatest strengths are often your greatest weaknesses.


If you could name one big thing, and one small thing that you have implemented in your school that’s made the greatest difference to your pupils, staff or community, what would they be?

The values are the big thing, they are your framework for everything from decision making to branding. The small thing is sending every member of staff a birthday card, I want everyone to feel they are known and valued.


What strategies have you implemented to get around funding cuts?

Last summer we had an extensive restructure of our staffing. This was a really hard time for the school community, and we should not lose sight of the human cost of funding cuts.

We have started renting our former caretaker’s house to the local football club for players to stay in, which has helped cover the maintenance costs. We are part of a MAT. It’s a small one, but there are some economies of scale, especially when leasing vehicles.


What is your work-life balance like? How do you make sure you have time for yourself and what are your interests outside of school?

Number 1, the most essential one of all – have a work phone that you can turn off. Don’t merge your personal and professional digital lives. I know I work a lot, but that is my choice, my service to the team. I would rather work a lot but properly switch off in the time I do take off. I’ve just bought a camper van too so I can enjoy family adventures.

I cycle during my commute to keep myself fit. Cycling is my interest outside of school. It definitely clears my head on the way home. I picked a headship close to home to stop wasting time in my car.


How are you helping staff to manage workload? How do you encourage them to stay motivated and stay in the profession?

I think the two are closely linked. I don’t think you can ever get the management of workload right without a strong staff voice. Every member of the teaching staff at our school is part of a Staff Forum that then links to the Staff Council. It’s really important that the team feel in control of what is going on around them.