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Playing in tune with another ethos

Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions.

I have been approached by the head of an independent school to consider a cross-sector partnership. I am the head of a rural comprehensive school. We are talking about a joint project involving our school choirs and musicians. Any advice you could give about making a success of this would be appreciated.

There are many examples of successful collaborations between independent and comprehensive schools. Some of these case studies are now written up and can be found on the DfES website. You may care to look there to find out how others tackled the projects. There are some basic principles that these partnerships have shared which you might want to consider. At the very least, such collaborations can assist in breaking down barriers at all levels.

No such initiative will flourish without the full support and commitment of the headteachers involved. Perhaps you should begin by investigating the motives of the other head and reflect on your own reasons for wanting to join such a partnership - what do you want to get out of this? Is this the same for both of you? What are both sets of pupils going to get out of it?

Partnerships always have a better chance of success when they are perceived to be mutually beneficial. Both of you need to be clear about the principles upon which the partnership is to be built. Despite very different contexts it is important that you agree on a common set of values for effective progress to be made.

You will probably not be able to have a daily, hands-on commitment to this project, so are you going to have a lead person overseeing the nuts and bolts of the relationship? If so, who is the right person to do this? Your head of music may be the best person to manage the whole venture. If not, who is it going to be?

Even if the music team does not have the best person to oversee the operational side of this partnership, they all need to be involved in the planning stage and also be convinced of the benefits of this venture. You will need to gauge how persuasive you will have to be here. Selling is always better than telling, isn't it? All staff need to understand the nature and purpose of the partnership and to be kept fully informed as the relationship develops. Have you thought about the impact this partnership is going to have on your staff and pupils, particularly in music?

Now to a different set of considerations for you: How are you going to present this initiative to your governors and parents? Do you anticipate any objections on matters of principle or even politics here? If so, how are you going to deal with them? This can be a difficult initiative for some to handle. That's another reason why you need to be clear about the values that underpin this project.

Once the partnership is under way, you may find that other staff, from both schools, want to be involved in developing this working relationship.

Therefore, you need to build in expansion and sustainability factors. These will be based on your knowledge of the capacity that exists in your school at the beginning of this venture. You won't want to deny talented members of staff and pupils the chance of sharing their gifts and talents and developing them further at a later stage of the scheme.

Clearly mark out the territory of the initial partnership. Go for something that is guaranteed to succeed. Build on that success. Allow others the chance to succeed through an extension to the project later. This is the winning recipe, but remember that such relationships are more of an art than a science.

Once the two schools are singing from the same hymn sheet then you may also want, for example, to share the same playing fields, however uneven these may be.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and has mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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