How one manager “loved” a struggling school back to life

Written by Mark Rowland Tuesday 14 November 2023
After inheriting a “shambolic” primary school mired in debt, Dr Victoria Carr CMgr soon questioned whether she’d bitten off more than she could chew. Now Victoria is on the shortlist for CMgr of the Year – here's how she turned things around
Dr Victoria Carr CMgr

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It was during a meeting in January 2019, not long after she’d been appointed as headteacher of Woodlands Primary School in Cheshire, that Dr Victoria Carr CMgr MCMI realised the extent of the challenge.

After months of wrangling to get a view of the school's finances, she was finally given the full picture: the school was £500,000 in debt. “I excused myself from the meeting, went into the toilet, shut myself in a cubicle and put my head in my hands,” she says. “It was the one time where I thought: this might actually be beyond me.”

“I know you’ll fight for that school”

Victoria had already turned around another struggling school, and she was known for being extremely passionate and straight-talking. “I gave the director of education quite a hard time,” she recalls. So she was surprised when that same director brought her in and asked her to take over at Woodlands. “He said: ‘You’re the only one for the job. I know you’ll fight for that school.’”

It became clearer and clearer that the foundations of an effective organisation just weren’t there

When Victoria arrived at Woodlands, its previous head had been absent for two years and teaching staff were in disarray. Many parents had taken their children out of the school. Ofsted had rated it as “Requires Improvement”. “None of the year six pupils were secondary school-ready the previous year without local authority intervention,” says Victoria. “It was quite shambolic.

“Everything was done on paper. There were no data management systems at all. It became clearer and clearer that the foundations of an effective organisation just weren’t there.”

When others in the leadership team kept evading her requests to see the school’s finances, the alarm bells really started ringing. “Integrity and ethical leadership are really important to me, and it became increasingly apparent that we had a big problem,” she says. 

Want to learn more about how Victoria turned her school around?


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