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Education: The Rock and Roll Years

Tags: Education, Education Studies

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Education: The Rock and Roll Years

A northern perspective on a lifetime of learning, teaching and leading

AUTHOR : By Les Walton

ISBN : 9781914171321

Edition No : 1

Publication : Sep 13, 2021

Extent : 328 pgs

ISBN : 9781914171338

Edition No : 1

Publication : Sep 13, 2021

Extent : 328 pgs

ISBN : 9781914171345

Edition No : 1

Publication : Sep 13, 2021

Extent : 328 pgs


Les has often described himself as the ‘Forrest Gump of education’, as he seems to have been present at all the major educational developments since World War 2. This book is a very personal retrospective on a life in education over the last three-quarters of a century.

He avoids personal negativity, though much of the narrative comes from a negative view of school and its impact on the lives of children. It is also a book full of hope that the human potential at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualisation, can realistically be achieved.  An optimistic, humorous, self-mocking account, it emphasises the seriousness of the issues covered - corporal punishment, industrial disputes, the impact of bereavement on children and many more - by sleight of hand.  Important educational debates are cunningly illuminated through the reflections of a simple Geordie lad. There are key messages here for all those engaged in the process of life-long learning.

Education: the Rock and Roll Years' is visionary, practical, rebellious, idiosyncratic and beautifully idiomatic.  Its strength is combining personal experience with key principles.  This is an excellent piece of writing.

Professor Andy Hargreaves, Boston College and University of Ottawa

Les Walton has achieved great things at the most senior levels of education. The thing that marks him out is that no matter how senior his post, he has never forgotten that the purpose of education is to give opportunities, excite minds and change things. His reflections, which show how education and learning have done all these things in his life, make good reading and remind everyone why education is one of the most important things if a society is to thrive.

 Former Secretary of State for Education, Baroness Morris of Yardley



  1. The Importance of Humour
  2. Thoughts from the Womb
  3. Born in the UK
  4. Being a Geordie
  5. Red Ellen
  6. Proggy Mat Memories
  7. Chalk and Tawse in the Infant School
  8. Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam
  9. The Playground
  10. Cup Finals and Good Conduct
  11. Sorting the Intelligent
  12. A Weekly Morning of Madness
  13. When Pathways Divide
  14. I Don't Believe in Fairies
  15. Childhood Bereavement
  16. Extra-curricular Antics
  17. Me and Maurice Chevalier
  18. Teenagers
  19. Youth Voice
  20. College
  21. The Sheep
  22. Dublin the Importance of History
  23. The Tale of the Pot
  24. The Staffroom
  25. The Thunderous Whisper in the Dinner Hall
  26. Kahlil Kilbran - 1960s and Custody Battles
  27. The Durham Dispute
  28. Perls of Wisdom
  29. Another Brick in the Wall
  30. The Pastoral Head
  31. Caretakers
  32. Nutty Slack and TV
  33. ROSLA: The Raising of the School Leaving Age
  34. Party Games and the Disco
  35. The Warnock Report
  36. School Assemblies and NAPCE
  37. Religion and Education
  38. Technical and Vocational Education
  39. Corporal Punishment
  40. Vision and the Lead Pipe
  41. Leave some Room for the Dance
  42. Our Children are Priceless
  43. The OFSTED Phenomenon
  44. The Morning after a Terrible Night
  45. Star Singer
  46. Deming the Quality Guru
  47. Deming meets Elsie
  48. The Specialist Schools Movement
  49. Transforming our School
  50. Crossing the Great Divide
  51. Playing the Percentages
  52. School Development Planning
  53. The Death of the Director
  54. A Near-Death Experience
  55. The Bradford Battleground
  56. A Fresh Start
  57. Further Education
  58. Future-proofing our Schools
  59. Developing a Regional Voice: Schools NorthEast
  60. Young People’s Learning Agency
  61. Cancer Care and Capability
  62. Putting the ‘Fun’ into Funding
  63. Northern Education
  64. Rebalancing the System
  65. The Art of Leaving


Les Walton has a unique record of being a successful leader, innovator and government advisor within the education sector, reflecting his unwavering commitment to improving teaching, learning and life chances for all pupils.


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Your Reviews on this book

Education: the Rock and Roll Years' is visionary, practical, rebellious, idiosyncratic and beautifully idiomatic.  Its strength is combining personal experience with key principles.  This is an excellent piece of writing.

Professor Andy Hargreaves, Boston College and University of Ottawa

I loved this book: it’s honest, unpretentious and informative, just like its author. Anyone working with young people today should read, pause and consider the difference that could have been made to the life chances of several generations had the ideas, lessons and experience contained within these pages been absorbed into our nation’s educational bloodstream.

Lord David Puttnam, British film producer and educator

Les Walton is a remarkable man and in this book his personality comes shining through.  We are treated to stories about Elsie and why she didn’t go to school and Jack the caretaker, who ruled the school like a rod of iron.  But there are also stories about the big personalities who walked the corridors of power and the shifts in education policy over many decades.  We read about dealing with the aftermath of riots, moving accounts of brushes with death and a careful analysis of systems thinking.  Not only is the book full of compelling and humorous stories, it also has a poignancy and a depth of insight that only someone with Les’s unique career in education can capture. I loved it.

Steve Munby, former CEO, National College for School Leadership

I have known Les for many years and his knowledge and belief in the power of education has underpinned our relationship throughout this time. His strong sense of moral purpose comes across every time I hear him speak as well as in this well-crafted and comprehensive overview of an educational era that many of us have lived and breathed. The way that Les weaves anecdote and example of how real people responded to real challenge is what makes this book so fascinating. I loved it!

Sir David Carter, former Schools Commissioner for England

Insightful, entertaining and wise.  This is a highly recommended read for anyone inspired by those, such as Les Walton, who have truly made a difference in education. 

Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching

Les is one of the most effective public servants I have ever worked with.  He is a man of deep principle, fully committed to improving the educational opportunities of young people everywhere.  He combines a formidable intellect with a very down-to earth style, which makes him immensely popular.

Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor, University of Sunderland, and former Permanent Secretary and Chief HMI

Les has led an astonishing life in education – from head of Norham High School, which serves the deprived Meadow Well estate in North Shields, to a college principal, director of education in North Tyneside and Chair of the YPLA.  This gives him a unique perspective on the English education system over half a century.  This book is funny, clever and compelling. The personal stories of leadership are often heart-rending and also entirely relevant to our current social and political circumstances.  For example, the riot which surrounded his school and the decisions that the leadership team took the day after to create a sanctuary for children. Part-anecdote and part-analysis, this book charts an extraordinary professional journey.

Leora Cruddas, CEO, Confederation of School Trusts

Les has a unique perspective on the education system and a passion to shape it so that it delivers the best for every single child and young person.  He is also a brilliant Chair, with a deep understanding of the dynamics of good governance and how to inspire board members to draw on their different experiences, listen to each other's perspective and through that to focus on their shared ambition to support the next.

Peter Lauener, former Chief Executive of the Young People's Learning Agency and the Education and Skills Funding Agency

Les is a giant in the education arena.  He has continually strived to make the world of education and schools accessible to all.  For many years he has been a powerful advocate for the voice of children and schools, particularly those who face social and economic hardship.  ‘Education: the Rock and Roll Years’ is a great way for those of us in the world of business and commerce to gain a better insight into the world of education.

James Ramsbotham CBE, CEO of the North East Chambers of Commerce

When first I met Les Walton, his clarity of purpose and talk of the need for integrity instantly made a deep impression on me.  Les had been parachuted into the middle of an acrimonious education revolution taking place in my city.  But he managed to cut through the conflict through sheer force of personality and clear thinking.  He was one of the most impressive people I had ever met.

William Stewart. Editor, Times Educational Supplement News

Education: The Rock and Roll Years is a uniquely humorous and personal in-depth understanding and insight of the political and social influences on education since the birth of our modern education system.

Carl Ward, Executive Chair, Foundation for Education Development

The history of the changing shape of the education system in England and the North East needs to be told, and I can think of no one better placed to do it than Les Walton. Not only has been at the forefront of every education innovation of any worth, he is funny. He can tell a story with wisdom and  humour.

Gill Alexander Chair of Newcastle Diocesan Board and Former CEO Hartlepool MBC

Les Walton has done more than any other single person to promote high educational standards and high professional collaborative standards in schools and among educators in his beloved home region, the North East of England

David Pearmain, Founding Chair of Schools North East

I have worked with many impressive leaders in education, who, through their distinguished careers, have made a big impact. Les fits that bill, but he is one of the most interesting, because he is one of the few who have worked across all of education. That has given him a fascinating perspective which this book eloquently sets out.

David Hughes, CEO, Association of Colleges

Les Walton is one of the leading thinkers and practitioners in developing corporate governance. He has a remarkable record across education, spanning every sector and every level. His stories of governance at school, FE College, multi-academy trust, regional and national level are fascinating: he makes governance entertaining, which is rare.

Emma Knights, CEO, National Governance Association

If education is rock and roll, Les Walton would be in the Hall of Fame for his enduring contribution over so many years.This beautiful book chronicles an extraordinary leadership journey from Les’s working class provenance on Tyneside to becoming a national leader of education in the true sense of the phrase. It is utterly authentic and we see in print the man we know and love. As a polymath, Les has drawn on a wide range of sources that transcend the somewhat utilitarian vogue in education publishing. We read of Kahil Gibran’s wisdom alongside Bill Hayley and the Comets. Mary Warnock is juxtaposed with the Beach Boys. All of this makes for a riotous and disarmingly honest capture of all things education in England since the ’44 Act. You can dip into any chapter and find distilled wisdom. Thoroughly recommended. This truly is ‘Talkin’ ‘bout my generation’.

Prof Colin Diamond CBE University of Birmingham
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