Best schools told to set the pace
The best schools should work closely with struggling schools - because it improves the performance of both.
English leadership expert Steve Munby also told Scottish headteachers they had a "moral purpose" to help colleagues in weaker schools.
Mr Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, is behind an English scheme that assigned 300 "national support schools" to that role.
The scheme, which has ambitious expansion plans, is being closely monitored by the Scottish Government.
"The school that receives the support improves pretty dramatically in almost every case," Mr Munby said.
There was a 7.1 per cent improvement in the "weaker schools" at level 4, key stage 2 (for 11-year-olds) against a national average in 2007-08 of 1.5 per cent. In secondaries, there was a 3.5 per cent rise in GCSEs at A to C, against a national 1.3 per cent.
Supporting schools also improved, although they were closer to the national average: 2.1 per cent at level 4, key stage 2, and 1.8 per cent for GCSEs.
Mr Munby accepted that schools often struggled to collaborate, with those doing well sometimes questioning why they should bother. But he argued that schools had a "moral purpose" to support all young people.
"I'm increasingly convinced that 23,500 schools doing their own thing is not in the interests of young people in our country," he said.
Speaking at the Scottish Government's school leadership event in Edinburgh last month - attended by a wide range of influential figures in Scottish education - Mr Munby advocated "cluster-based leadership".
His organisation's Leading from the Middle programme was improving the skills of "middle leaders" in schools. But it was only able to take on 5,000 out of a possible 200,000, so he recommended equipping staff with skills to facilitate and coach in more locally-driven leadership programmes.
"When you're a teacher, your role is to help children to learn," he said. "When you're a leader, your role is to help children and adults to learn."
Leadership by example was powerful, and he drew a parallel with Roger Bannister running a mile in under four minutes. Many had thought this impossible, but in the 18 subsequent months another 54 runners emulated Bannister.
Rigid hierarchies had to be replaced by leadership that went across agencies and organisations. "The worst kind of leaders are consistently looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more important is coming into the room," he said.
The Scottish Government is keeping a close eye on national support schools.
"While the context in Scotland is somewhat different from that in England, the Scottish Government will, together with our partners, consider with interest the views of Mr Munby on how schools can work together and help each other," a spokesman said.
WHAT SCOTLAND'S EDUCATION LEADERS WANT
Delegates were asked to submit a big idea for Scottish education. Here are some of the most intriguing responses:
- Merge HMIE, Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority
- English and literacy to become separate subjects
- Accredited voluntary work compulsory for all pupils over 16
- Teachers to start school a week before pupils
- Shorter weeks with longer days
- Overnight stays for pupils to learn cooking and other everyday life skills
- Sabbaticals for teachers at all levels
- Ungraded exam papers - only describe as either "pass" or "fail".