The School Leadership Journey

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The School Leadership Journey

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In this outstanding book, John reveals all that he has learned about teaching and leadership over a stellar 40-year career, interweaved with a series of enlightening stories about government education policy over the last 20 years and the way in which successful schools have navigated the changing policy landscape.



John Dunford was general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders from 1998 to 2010. Prior to that, he was a member of the leadership team of three secondary schools in the north-east of England from 1974 to 1998, including 16 years as head of Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, an 11-18 school with 1500 pupils.

In this outstanding book, John reveals all that he has learned about teaching and leadership over a stellar 40-year career, interweaved with a series of enlightening stories about government education policy over the last 20 years and the way in which successful schools have navigated the changing policy landscape.

About the author

John was the government's National Pupil Premium Champion from 2013 to 2015, an independent role in which he worked with schools, trusts, teaching schools and local authorities on the effective use of the pupil premium to raise the educational achievement of disadvantaged pupils, reporting back to the Department for Education on issues raised by school leaders and teachers. In 1994 John was awarded the OBE and in 2014 he received a knighthood for services to education. He has an honorary degree from the University of Nottingham and is an honorary fellow in the School of Education at Durham University.


“There are many books about school and system leadership. John Dunford’s text is distinctive because of its magisterial scope. It ranges across the big policy issues of government and then tracks how these impact on schools. The result is a book of remarkable breadth and depth, a call-to-arms to hold on to our moral purpose as school leaders. It’s as uplifting as it is persuasive. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”– Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds

"Politically astute, highly experienced and strongly principled, John Dunford is one of the most knowledgeable and wise figures in education today.  In The School Leadership Journey he brings together insights from his personal experience, his wide reading and carefully considered reflections to create a commentary on education which is broad in scope and deep in understanding.  With his typical warmth, clarity, humility and strong moral purpose he has much to say to professionals, politicians and policy makers." – Dr Jill Berry, leadership consultant and former head

“A natural story-teller, John Dunford illustrates, through vivid accounts of his leadership story, insights into what it takes to be an enabling leader true to principle and values and restlessly determined to move things on. He sets it against the context of the times and the accelerating changes introduced by politicians. It will be a must-read for school leaders who are near the beginning of their leadership journey and an invaluable compass for experienced leaders too.” – Sir Tim Brighouse, former London Schools Commissioner

“I just love this book. John Dunford weaves an informed narrative about what really matters in schools and will give any school leader both great insight and the confidence to do the very best for their pupils. Reflecting John's huge experience in schools and his interactions with governments, he gives a unique perspective on our educational system. A must-read for any school leader.” – Andy Buck, founder and managing director of Leadership Matters and a former secondary head and director of the National College for School Leadership

"No matter where you are on your leadership journey this book provides invaluable and practical insight into the key ingredients of school leadership. John's experience and expertise are evident throughout – a must read for all current and aspirant school leaders." – Sian Carr, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, 2016-17, and executive principal of the Skinners’ Kent Academy

“John has unrivalled knowledge, understanding and expertise in navigating our system’s opportunities and challenges, drawn from his own leadership journey and his work with so many school and system leaders. He remains optimistic about what school leaders at all levels can achieve if they stay true to their values. He writes with real passion, offering a wide range of practical ideas and strategies. The book provides a route-map for the future and offers ways forward that you instinctively know will help to make a real and lasting difference to the life chances of all.” – David Crossley, Associate Director of Whole Education and author of Sustainable Transformation: an inside-out approach.

“This book is a gift of wisdom to any school leader seeking deeper understanding of the often confusing English system of education. John has successfully navigated the nonsense of continual new initiative and contradictory policy, set by people whose main qualification appears to be that they once went to school. Those new to school leadership particularly will appreciate the perceptive insights synthesised from his vast experience and current voices of evidence-informed sense.” – Stef Edwards, head of Great Bowden Academy and CEO of Learn Academies Trust

“John Dunford brings to this book his boundless passion for education, his commitment to enhancing the life chances of young people and his wealth of experience as a school leader. He fluently summarises and analyses the key developments in education policy during his professional lifetime and uses the learning from his own leadership journey to offer a range of practical advice for school leaders on a whole host of issues. The book will help school leaders to see current developments in a proper context and help them reflect on how best to respond to the challenges of their school and partnership.” – Robert Hill, Visiting Professor, UCL Institute of Education and former policy adviser in No 10 Downing Street and the Department for Education

"There are few people better qualified than John Dunford to reflect on the challenges of school leadership. In his extensive career, John has been a school leader, a leader of school leaders, and finally a senior government education adviser and champion of the ‘gap narrowing’ agenda. This book is both thoughtful and thought provoking. It will help school leaders and all those passionate about education to look beyond the immediate pressures of Ofsted visits and accountability tables, to reflect on what education should be about and how to improve its quality." – Rt Hon David Laws, executive chair of the Education Policy Institute and former minister for schools in the coalition government.

“John Dunford ranks amongst the wisest and most highly respected voices in education whose extensive experience spans many years in schools and at the highest levels of the education system.  As well as providing deep and valuable insights into education policy during recent decades, this book reaches the heart of the key prerequisites for bettering the life chances of our young people. I strongly commend this book as essential reading for every single policymaker upon their appointment, as well as for every school leader.” – Brian Lightman, former general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

“Few people in education have had such a fascinating leadership journey as John Dunford.  In this book he talks with authority, wisdom and, most of all, authenticity about leadership in schools and across the system.  It will resonate with leaders past, present and future.” – Steve Munby, chief executive of the Education Development Trust and former chief executive of the National College for School Leadership

“Navigating the stormy waters of education policy must sometimes feel like crossing the Atlantic using dead reckoning under a cloudy sky. This brilliant book provides a perfect companion for this journey. It draws on John’s extensive experience as a school leader, as well as his remarkable ability to build relationships with teachers and leaders across the education sector, all of which inform this values-driven, practical book. So whether the reader is just stepping out into leadership, an experienced executive head teacher or simply interested in developing a better understanding of the ingredients for effective, calm, authoritative school leadership, this book should be at the top of the list.” – Marc Rowland, deputy director of the National Education Trust

“John Dunford’s book is like a great lesson in school. It has optimism, deep and confident knowledge, a strong narrative and some very practical guidance. John has been at the heart of education for many years and yet his aspiration for all children and for the system overall remains undimmed. It places the education debate in a clear historical sweep and is also up to the minute in terms of the implications of  Brexit and the May Government.  It is at turns a personal history in education but also applicable to all leaders in education and those that aspire to be so. It is a coherent and readable guide to leadership in the education system today. John’s contribution to the education system is vast. Teach First owes him a great deal and this book is a great way to ensure that thousands more teachers and leaders can benefit from his support and wisdom.” – Brett Wigdortz, CEO, Teach First


Additional Information

Author John Dunford
ISBN 9781909717916
No of pages 208
Format Paperback
Publication Date 18 Nov 2016

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