A local education director with no experience as a headteacher has been appointed as the new leader of the Government's National College for School Leadership.
Pressure had been mounting for an existing or recent head to be appointed following the departure of chief executive Heather Du Quesnay. But the Department for Education and Skills this week turned to Steve Munby, who has helped transform schools in the deprived Merseyside borough of Knowsley, to fill the pound;150,000-a-year post.
The 48-year-old, who was an English and history teacher before rising through the ranks of local government, has won supporters within the DfES since being parachuted into Knowsley following a critical Ofsted report in 1999. Under his leadership, the number of pupils leaving school with five good GCSEs has doubled to almost 44 per cent.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it would have been a "huge vote of confidence to school leaders" to appoint a head.
Outlining his early plans for the college Tony Blair said he would have preferred a headteacher to take charge. But, according to heads in Knowsley, Mr Munby's open, hands-on style has been popular with teachers and LEA staff and could be successfully translated to the national college.
A Geordie and keen supporter of Newcastle United, he made a bold entrance to Knowsley by hiring Liverpool FC's Anfield ground for a conference to meet local children and teachers.
Over the past five years he has halved the number of staff in the LEA's school improvement team and has turned to heads to make collective decisions on how to transform school performance.
Despite being out of the classroom for 20 years, he regularly visited schools and has occasionally been known to teach.
Following the publication of the authority's latest exam results in the summer Mr Munby received cards, which he displayed on his desk, from grateful heads thanking him and the LEA for their support.
Mr Munby will further strengthen his links to the teaching profession in August when he marries a secondary school head.
DfES insiders say his appointment reflects the search for a more "on-message" leader of the college following criticism that it was too detached from Whitehall. Mr Munby has been identified as a champion of recent policies.
Last year he unveiled radical plans to close all of Knowsley's secondary schools and replace them with "learning centres", providing community education, sport and healthcare, similar to the extended schools Labour is keen to promote.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "His appointment may come as a surprise but Steve Munby has a big reputation and I don't see any reason why he cannot lead the college at a time of fundamental change."
Mr Munby will face instant challenges, not least streamlining and making the college more accountable, after a review last year said it needed a "more productive" relationship with the DfES.
Mr Munby, who takes up his post in March, said: "There are a lot of challenges ahead. Integration of children's services and extended schools will be a challenge and I think the college can play a major role in that."
Record of achievement
Born August 1956
Educated The Royal Grammar school, Newcastle University of Reading (BA Hons philosophy) University of Birmingham (BEd specialising in English and History)
1978 - 1982 English and history teacher, Fairfax secondary school, Sutton Coldfield
1982 - 1985 English and history teacher, Lord Lawson secondary school, County Durham
1985 - 1986 Adviser to Sunderland technical and vocational educational institute
1986 - 1987 Lecturer in education, Sunderland polytechnic
1987 - 1989 Consultant, Records of Achievement Inset group
1989 - 1997 Head of advisory service, Oldham local education authority
1997 - 1999 Assistant director of education, Blackburn with Darwen LEA
1999 - 2005 Director of education, Knowsley LEA