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'We're asking heads to bare their souls'

When collaboration comes before competition, everyone's a winner. Jill Parkin discovers two schools that made a unique joint bid for technology specialist status

Paul Snook, Lincolnshire's leadership incentive project co-ordinator This isn't quick-fix stuff, but sustainable improvement, which is why we've extended the post of leadership incentive consultant beyond the recommended spring term. You need someone to keep it together and to make sure the money is spent on the right things.

Our pilot partner project teamed schools facing challenging circumstances with successful schools. We've had projects to improve data management, to share advanced skills teachers and collaborate on professional development.

We've also had a partnership between a grammar school and a small secondary modern which was about self-esteem for Year 7s.

One school's leadership team ran its partner school for a day to enable its leadership team to do some strategic thinking. So when LIG came along, we had this as a basis to go on. We were already seeing schools which traditionally had been competitive as possible partners instead.

We wanted to include five schools in non-selective areas and we said to those in the clusters: "If we bring these schools in, it will have an impact on your funding. Do you accept that?" Every one of them was willing to put its money on the table. I think that was because of our previous partnership work. They were willing to pool their money to help the community.

It is bringing about a real change in thinking. In a rural area, schools 10 miles apart can still be in competition. Rather than meeting to compete, those heads are now meeting to collaborate. They haven't met like that for 12 years, which pre-dates local management of schools.

We have all sorts of good things going on. We're working with Hull University on a six-day course for middle-managers. We have someone saying:

"Look, we've got this really good person doing alternative curriculum at 14 and we'd like to share him with you."

We've teamed a boys' secondary school with a girls' technology college.

We've matched a strong maths department with a weak one.

We are asking these headteachers to bare their souls about leadership and management. You need to know them to be able to do that. On top of that, no head is going to go to a meeting with other heads and say: "We have a leadership problem and it's me."

It has to be one-to-one . So I meet them for half a day and we go through the assessment tool together. That way we deal with the negatives one-to-one and then they can share the positives at the meeting.

If you ask a school to look at itself in terms of leadership and management, you're challenging that head. I've had several heads point to problems with their deputies, but the problems can be even closer to home.

I have earmarked two or three heads, but only one has risen to that challenge so far. One more will go, I think.

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