Inter-school collaborations are often complex, sometimes controversial and always time-consuming. With so much to occupy us in our day-to-day roles, it is understandable that some headteachers shy away from them. I am, however, a fervent advocate. There is nothing like a well-managed collaborative project to excite pupils, revivify teachers and destroy misconceptions.
Latin is a victim of the latter, suffering from the perception that it is elitist. It's certainly not the first subject that springs to mind for a collaboration spanning the independent and state sectors - and two very different continents.
Nevertheless, at St Gabriel's - an independent girls' school in Berkshire - Latin is the subject around which our highly successful inter-school collaboration currently revolves. We have been working with Park House, a nearby co-educational academy, for 11 years, and our latest project with our neighbour demonstrates that an "elitist" subject like Latin can break down barriers. Add to the mix a pupil joining the project via Skype from Mumbai and you have a truly cross-cultural experience: three students from St Gabriel's, two pupils from Park House and a sixth-former from India whose school was unable to offer the subject at A-level.
The benefit to learning is indisputable. But what future is there for this kind of inter-scholastic endeavour?
An ongoing journey
I have been working collaboratively with Park House's headteacher, Derek Peaple, since 2003 and we are deeply committed to continuing to do so. Our previous projects have included shared A-level dance provision on the Park House site and a residential programme for gifted and talented Year 9s hosted by Oriel College, Oxford. Our latest initiative reaches further - to the wider community - through our joint management of a local athletics track, which we run for the benefit of local clubs, athletes and primary schools.
Our successful collaboration is a result of the innovative, outward-looking and can-do attitudes of all involved. These are vital elements in any blueprint for success. But there is no magic formula. You need trust, mutual respect and a commitment to an ongoing dialogue that is always focused on maximising opportunities for students.
A willingness to be adaptable is also helpful. The particular emphasis of our partnership varies depending on our needs at a particular time. For example, at one point we may focus on exploring opportunities for joint appointments. At another, the emphasis might be on shared use of facilities or professional development opportunities. We value this flexibility, and the additional capacity to innovate and think creatively about our shared offer. What is also important is that this approach to partnership working now runs through all levels of leadership across our two schools, involving our business managers, curriculum leaders and governors.
Spread the word
We know that this collaborative partnership is merely one of many that exist between independent and state schools. At any one time there are, of course, a number of long-standing projects of varying degrees of complexity taking place up and down the country - and indeed between countries.
But these partnerships need to be founded on the right motives. In keeping with the Independent State School Partnership philosophy, the collaboration between St Gabriel's and Park House grew out of an "identified need", together with both schools' unequivocal desire for all involved to benefit from the relationship, academically and socially.
If you're considering, however tentatively, the prospect of collaborating with another school - whether it's a different type of school, in a different sector, another country or even a school for a different age group - my advice is to go for it. It's up to you and your pupils to make it work. So long as you have a clear, agreed objective and a willingness to adapt, your enthusiasm and goodwill can take you a very long way.
Alun Jones is principal of St Gabriel's School in Berkshire and president-elect of the Girls' Schools Association