Three months into post as a first-time headteacher of a small secondary school facing challenging circumstances, I was approached by Lincolnshire education authority. Would I like to develop a partnership with a school totally dissimilar to St Hugh's to raise the achievement of gifted and talented students?
I jumped at the chance, and by the end of the day had established contact with my colleague, Lynda Poole, headteacher of Kesteven and Grantham girls' grammar school.
An unlikely alliance? Maybe. But 18 months later we can report positive outcomes founded on a relationship which is still developing and which we hope will outlast the funding under the DfES gifted and talent pilot project.
Through the able leadership of our two project co-ordinators, this pilot has certainly enabled us to see the differences. More importantly, we have teased out the similarities. The interest lies in each school's growing willingness to enrich teaching and learning and in doing so to secure high-quality professional development for all staff based on a partnership model.
We have now developed joint training days and joint staff meetings focused on thinking skills methodology. We have shared teaching materials over Easter schools, and we are running twinned projects with each of our curriculum departments.
Many staff and students feel excited by swapping ideas and facilities.
Reporting back to the national gifted and talented conference in Birmingham enabled us also to learn from other projects, each of which had taken different approaches.
The effects? Certainly greater motivation for students: our Easter schools have attracted virtually 100 per cent attendance and have been enthusiastically received. Achievement at St Hugh's has improved, most dramatically in mathematics and ICT. But many other benefits are harder to quantify. They include greater understanding of context; a feeling that the schools enjoy the partnership and can learn from each other; a chance to test our own notions of what constitutes effective learning; and perhaps most importantly, benefits for pupils other than those within the target group.