The Devon-based head has suddenly become high-profile as the spokesman for a network of some 250 innovative headteachers challenging ministers with their blue-sky thinking on education.
And he is loving the job. He told delegates at the leadership network's first annual conference this week: "The privilege I have now is that I can carry on being a headteacher and work with you, some of the most inspirational, flexible and creative people in the country."
Mr Tarleton, 52, taught English in Zambia, Kent and Norfolk before becoming head of what was then an 11-16 rural school with 600 pupils. South Dartmoor community college has since almost trebled in size. He has started a sixth-form and led a successful bid to make the school one of the first sports colleges. South Dartmoor is now a training school and has leading-edge status.
The father of two believes the network offers heads the first chance to influence national education policy. But he is anxious for it not to be seen as elitist. "We want any head that can demonstrate innovation to join us," he said.