The education secretary's plans to set up a nationally coordinated programme of partner schools to drive up attainment have been greeted with a warning that they will not succeed if some schools are treated as junior partners to more successful ones.
Michael Russell's comments on BBC Radio Scotland last week, that some Scottish schools in affluent areas were "coasting" and needed to raise their game, have provoked an angry response from heads of the EIS union and School Leaders Scotland.
Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, warned that such language "got people's hackles up". By basing the benchmarking of schools on qualifications and exam passes as opposed to sustained destinations, Mr Russell was ignoring a bigger issue around Curriculum for Excellence, he said.
School partnerships needed to be a two-way learning process, rather than one school being seen to support the other, said Mr Flanagan.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, cautioned that schools should not be coerced into partnerships.
"It's really about working together and learning together and supporting each other. If it's serving that common cause and not seen to be part of a hyper-critical blame culture that we have seen elsewhere, they should produce good results. But this is not a quick fix. It's about changing a culture which cuts across everything - not just schools," he said.
Mr Russell last week told an invited audience at a University of Glasgow lecture, entitled From good to great: building equity and success in Scottish education: "It is a compelling fact that, when it comes to educational attainment, for some children where you live in Scotland still determines your prospects more than your abilities or even your hard work.
"There are some very effective schools in disadvantaged areas - but none has ever matched the performance of schools in our more affluent areas. Clearly, there is a problem. To be the nation we want to be, we have to tackle it. And to be fair, all administrations since devolution have tried."
Only an independent Scotland could raise attainment of all young people, said Mr Russell, because only then could its government have the necessary control of tax, benefits and welfare systems to deal with social inequalities.
His plan for a national programme of school partnerships - inspired by work in Ontario - would see links developed between cross-authority schools which outwardly have very similar characteristics but which perform very differently and can learn from each other.
"We also want to see more links between schools with a strong track record of success and those that have experienced difficulties and are aspiring to bring about change," he said.
Smaller class sizes, particularly in the early years and in areas of deprivation, did make a difference, insisted Mr Russell, although he acknowledged that others did not share his conviction.
Good, timely and relevant information about schools should also be used to drive up attainment - and the development of a "senior phase benchmarking tool" would assist in this goal (see box).
Additional measures include plans for Education Scotland to bring together information about schools, inspection reports, local school plans and national policies into an easily understood, one-click website; making use of the most effective and experienced school leaders beyond their own establishments; and holding a "roundtable" event with local authorities to explore innovation in education.
The senior phase benchmarking tool, due to be launched in August, 2014, will help local authorities and secondary schools to analyse, compare and improve the performance of students in Secondary 4-6 of Curriculum for Excellence.
It will replace the current STACs (Standard Tables and Charts) of SQA exam results and include information on a greater number of qualifications credit-rated by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework as well as post-school destinations.
By asking schools to compare their performance with that of an ideal, or virtual, school with similar characteristics, it is intended to avoid the creation of a league-table approach.
Photo credit: Glasgow University
Original headline: Call for `two-way' street in school partners plan