Exam results in hundreds of poor-performing or coasting secondaries have improved by five times the national average through a school by school mentoring scheme.
The 350 secondaries have gained an average 7 percentage points a year in the number of pupils gaining five good GCSEs since the scheme was launched two years ago. The national average increase in the past two years was 1.4 per cent.
Each of the schools, identified by the Government as in the bottom quarter for value-added results, has been given pound;9,000 and is working with one or more of 60 mentor schools.
The scheme is run by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and David Crossley, its director of achievement, said: "Schools say it is some of the best professional development they have had. This is an empowering model not a 'done to' model. It is by schools for schools."
Many of the first schools to receive help have now gone on to mentor others and Mr Crossley said: "I call it a virus model of school improvement."
Stephen Munday, head of Comberton Village college, Cambridgeshire, mentors three schools and is a consultant head on the programme.
Between 10 and 12 of his staff offer help for five to 20 days a year in areas ranging from improving performance in core subjects to programmes for gifted and talented pupils. Mentor schools receive funding from the scheme to pay for staff cover.
"It is worth doing because of the powerful staff development it provides,"
said Mr Munday. If he is unable to help he puts the school in touch with another mentor that has the expertise.
Steve Rogers has had help from almost the start of his first headship at Headlands school, Bridlington, in 2004. Presentations by his mentor Michael Wilkins, head of Outwood Grange school, Wakefield, have inspired changes to the key stage 4 curriculum with more vocational options designed for the disaffected and less able pupils.
Another idea has been to offer staff rewards for good performance. "Paying for something like a massage isn't very expensive but gives a massive boost to morale," he said. "It is the sort of thing I hadn't thought of before."
Mr Wilkins mentors nine schools and, alongside teaching and curriculum development, offers help in monitoring pupil performance and using strategies such as evening classes to catch up when they fall behind.
"This is not one-way traffic," he said. "We learn an awful lot from them because it is very rare that I find a school that has got no significant strengths."