When Matthew Judd visited Leighton Park School for the first time in 2014, it was as an ISI school inspector.
“I have a distinct memory when driving away: I thought to myself what an amazing school, I’m sorry not to have worked in a place like that.”
Little did he know that one day he would lead the Quaker school in Reading, where he has now been headteacher since 2018.
He says: “I’m really interested in a project, managerially, and I saw in Leighton Park fine wine that wasn’t bottled.
“I felt that I could take that school to national prominence and make it a school that was recognised for its brilliant values work based on its Quaker heritage.”
“The Quaker values that we work on are not just pieces of paper on a wall.”
And the draw of the task must have been strong. He left his “exciting and invigorating” post as second master and executive head of prep at Haberdashers’ Boys’ School in Elstree to take on the role.
Prior to his eight years in leadership at Haberdashers’ he led Mander Portman Woodward sixth form college in London. The first 12 years of his career were also spent at Haberdashers’.
He is now “determined” to make Leighton Park the “number one school of choice in the region”. And the signs are good: The 550-pupil co-ed school recently won the ISA Senior School of the Year Award and was also shortlisted for the TES Independent Senior School of the Year Award this year.
The University of Swansea-educated geographer describes what the school is now doing as “completely zeitgeisty”: “It’s absolutely what 21st century education should be. It’s about achievement, about values, about character, about community”, he says.
“The Quaker values that we work on are not just pieces of paper on a wall, they’re things that are lived out every day and make a huge difference.”
The school calls its core values “The Stripes”, including simplicity, truth, respect, integrity, peace, equality and sustainability.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of the Quaker influence on the school is the appreciation of silence. Students have five to 10 minutes of silence at the end of each assembly to reflect.
He says: “That’s about deep meta-cognition, it’s about thinking about your place in the world, who you are, just being, just taking stock, noticing who you are and what you do.”
Every Thursday there is a session of worship in the Quaker tradition “which is effectively a 25 minute silent assembly”, says Judd.
Everyone at the school is also on first name terms (“all the students call me Matthew”), reflecting the Quaker value of equality.
“We want them to become genuine changemakers, social entrepreneurs in their life beyond school.”
The values drive the curriculum too. All students study the IGCSE in Global Perspectives ensuring students understand issues such as equality and sustainability.
“We want them to become genuine changemakers, genuine social entrepreneurs in their life beyond school.
“Everyone talks about academics but I’m really interested in making great employers, great mums, great dads, great friends. Those are qualities that we have to make sure that the students understand.”
In addition to offering A-levels and the IB, the school has developed its own life skills based Oak Leaf Diploma which began with a question to staff: “What is it that students ought to be able to do by the time they leave school?”
The idea is that students use the qualification to develop both practical and soft skills and the ability to “deal with life’s highs and lows”. Judd believes every young person should have mastered everything from sewing on a button and cooking a decent meal to basic public speaking and study skills.
“PRU students develop skills as part of a joint allotment project.”
Judd says the school is also “blazing a trail on the DEI agenda and sustainability”, and they are the “pivotal pillars” in the development of the school over the next few years, he says.
A partnership with a local Pupil Referral Unit has been a success with activities ranging from borrowing facilities to learning music with Leighton Park students.
PRU students have also had the opportunity to develop skills as part of a joint allotment project.
But Judd is at pains to say he doesn’t want “to sound pious” about the overtly good works. He serves as a magistrate in the family court, describing it as a “privilege” that helps him put any problems at Leighton Park into perspective.
Another key strand of his headship has been developing the school buildings. A new £5m sixth form centre and library – created from a Victorian former boarding house – are a statement about the importance of “scholarship at the highest level”, he says.
“Clever Classrooms is a really inspirational piece of work.”
His personal interest in the ability of school buildings to influence learning (he entered “the foothills” of a PhD in the subject) is also evident, and he recommends heads read Peter Barrett’s “Clever Classrooms” report on the topic. “It’s a really inspirational piece of work,” he says.
In his personal life, too, Judd says he is “probably” blazing a trail as an HMC headmaster in a same-sex marriage.
He and husband Ian live on-site and Judd says he “couldn’t do my job without him”.
“When I get over-excited about things he can dial me down, if I get worried about something he’ll tell me not to worry about it,” he says.
“He’s very good at understanding the school and guiding me about it and he’s brilliant at spreadsheets.”
He also tolerates Judd’s “terrible” harpsicord and piano playing, suggesting gently when it may be time to stop.