Mr Russell unveiled an Improvement Partnership Programme for schools with similar demographic backgrounds but different results to team up across local authorities and benefit from best practice.
Councils, secondary schools and teachers will be able to assess their school against others with the same key characteristics and also to compare against an ideal, based on the best schools with the same pupil mix.
In a speech at Glasgow University, Mr Russell said: “We know from other examples, such as Ontario, that partnership works and some Scottish schools are already reaping the benefits of this.”
More widespread collaboration would help break the link between poverty and attainment, he said.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, welcomed the move as long as it enabled partners to look beyond mere statistics. He said: “It has to be done in the right way – in the spirit of everyone working together and learning together.
“I wouldn’t have limited it to pairings but maybe that is best in the early days. I also like to think co-operation might be extended across sectors,” Mr Cunningham added. “It’s about creative and innovative thinking, and realising that no one school has all the answers. For instance, what can work in a city might not work in the country – but on the other hand it might. It’s vital to share not just statistics but other things that can’t be measured easily.”
The EIS also supported the partnership plan but said it had to be funded adequately.
However, Hugh Reilly, a former teacher in a Glasgow secondary, sounded a dissenting note. Writing in the Scotsman, he said: “In my experience, education establishments are very insular in outlook. For the management team of a failing school, traipsing down to its more successful rival to discover better teaching and learning methods would be a walk of shame.”