Rosie Phillips
Posted on 11 Dec 2016

Head to Head with Martyn Boxall, Executive Headteacher of Exeter Children’s Federation

Your current title / role:

I am the Executive Headteacher of Exeter Children’s Federation.

Brief career background: 

I moved to Devon 25 years ago to begin my teaching career at Shaldon Primary School. Since then I have worked in a number of schools across Devon and for the past 14 years I have been the Headteacher at several schools in Torquay, Dawlish and Exeter. We merged the governing bodies of Montgomery, Wynstream and Chestnut Nursery Schools into a Federation in 2015, which I now lead as the Executive Head.

I am a National Leader of Education with significant experience in supporting teachers and leaders in other schools to professionally develop. I have taught every year group in primary schools, successfully worked with schools both locally and internationally, local authority officers and many other organisations. I am experienced in curriculum design, assessment, leadership development and working with and supporting families.

I have worked on the Executive Group of the Devon Association of Primary Heads for ten years, representing schools at the Devon Education Forum and it’s sub groups. Education Finance, Safeguarding and Headteacher Support Service have been key pieces of work. I also take a lead role in planning the association’s conferences and business development. 

In addition I play a lead role in Exeter’s Teaching School Alliance; where we coordinate school improvement activities across the city, support schools in difficulty and providing initial teacher training. Since April I have been leading on the development of a Cooperative Trust, formalizing successful working relationships between a number of schools.

What does a typical working day look like?

As an Executive Head my daily work centres on strategic tasks such as financial planning, reviewing commissioned services and engaging in strategic school improvement activities.

I spend a large amount of each day coaching heads, working closely with them to create solutions to a wide variety of challenges that we face daily. I also work with heads from outside our federation through commissioned work to support rapid school improvement. 

The majority of the issues I deal with relate to supporting teachers to develop their practice, creating solutions to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils and dealing with HR issues. I do miss the operational work in schools and the direct contact with pupils and families, however with responsibility for the three schools, the work of the Teaching School, representing Heads in strategic work with Devon and building a Cooperative Trust there isn’t the time for this any more.

I also spend time each day keeping up to date with current DFE and NCTL vision and reading education issues on Twitter. Keeping up to date with thinking and work in education is vital in developing strategic solutions for our schools.

What did you have for dinner last night?

Steak, at a dinner party held by our friends.

What was the last piece of music you listened to?

Troubled Mind by Seven Cities; a new band based in Devon. They have recently been signed by Elton John and are producing some great music. I am also very biased as the lead singer is one of my ex-pupils!

What was your favourite and most hated subject when you were at school?

My favourite subjects were Art and Music, I loved anything creative. I really struggled with English when I was at Primary School, so this would have to be my most hated subject. I spent most of my early days in the corridor receiving individual tuition. I recall being consoled by my headteacher at the age of seven with a pat on the head and being told 'Don’t’ worry, you’ll be able to get a job where you wont need to read or write a lot'.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is being in a position to look at the bigger picture in education and hopefully help all primary colleagues to have a voice and provide them with quality services and support. I love meeting up with everyone and finding out what they need. The other key piece that makes my job so worthwhile is a brilliant team at the office who make so many ideas happen.

If you could change one thing about the current education system what would it be?

I would remove standardised testing and league tables throughout the primary stages completely. While I agree that Literacy and Numeracy skills are vital to develop, it is also vital that our pupils receive an equal high quality education in the arts, humanities and sports.

The focus on testing narrows the curriculum and disengages a significant number of pupils. I have seen so many children crushed because they see themselves as failures. Ironically with this increase and focus on testing and league tables we are also spending more and more money on mental health and well being for our pupils. I think it is shameful that we are treating our children like products from a factory and standardising them!

If our economy is to flourish and adapt to compete on an ever-evolving global platform, we will need our pupils to learn be creative, collaborate and solve problems together.

If you're interested in taking part in our Head to Head feature please get in touch with Rosie Phillips at or 01392 687774