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Full Service Education (or Full Service Schools as the concept is sometimes known) means that a school becomes the location for a range of social services. These services could include a homework centre, a health facility, a social worker, counsellors, a policeman, a childcare centre, a community drop-in centre, a community hall, etc.

Full Service Education has its origins in the United States and has been adopted more recently in other countries. There are a range of models, but it would appear that the more successful Full Service initiatives incorporate a high degree of interplay between school management and community groups. The more that the community has access to the facilities located at the school, the better the outcomes.

Schools are an obvious location for any service aimed at children or their parents. Children are more easily located in school than anywhere else in the community and this has been the motivation for some adjunct services located on school sites. Services can be established by schools themselves in recognition of the wider social problems that present as barriers to the educational progress of their children. Alternatively, other services are set up to integrate with education services to provide for the full continuum of services in a community with the school as a hub.

When Full Service Education is seen as an adjunct to education, the services are primarily aimed at reducing barriers to learning. When services on school sites are simply making use of real estate in proximity to children, the services are rarely well integrated into the operations of the school. However, initial research findings suggest that where services are well integrated and serve the continuum of needs of both the child and their family, the best outcomes result.

In setting up a Full Service Education initiative it would be wise to involve a range of community groups in setting goals; developing some key outcome indicators to determine whether the initiatives are resulting in improved outcomes for the children, their families and the wider community; and clearly establishing how the services to be provided will integrate with the philosophy, direction and activities of the school.

Role clarity and clear accountabilities are also critically important. Different service orientations have different philosophies and practices. Staff can find working in a multi-disciplinary environment very stressful at first.

An evaluation of New Zealand's Social Workers in Schools programme (an initiative involving locating a social worker with a cluster of schools in a low socio-economic area) suggests that there can be tensions between school staff and the social worker because they have different professional norms. For example, teachers can sense frustration when a social worker is unwilling to disclose details of their work with a child and their family, due to professional norms requiring client confidentiality. Similarly, social workers can be frustrated when a teacher insists that a child return to class when very real issues remain to be resolved for a child.

Often staff in specialist areas (such as social work, nursing or counselling) in a Full Service School can be quite isolated and not have access to peers. These staff need to to linked into professional supervision and professional development outside of the school or they can, over time, regress into unsafe practices and their professional skills can become outdated.

Issues can also evolve around referrals, and it is desirable to clarify in advance who can make a referral and the process of referral. For example, should a child be able to self-refer to an onsite service? How can parents approach a service? Onward referrals to services beyond the school can also be problematic unless clear groundrules are established in advance.

More research is needed into whether Full Service Education initiatives can result in significant improvements to both education outcomes and broader social outcomes, but schools that have been involved in these experiments are enthusiastic about the improved learning opportunities for their students.

This article Copyright 2002, Mike Woods MPP BSc DipTchg, Mike Woods & Associates

Posted by Mike Woods at January 05, 2002 09:04 PM

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Copyright 2002 Mike Woods & Associates