Full-service schooling

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

The idea of full-service schooling aroused considerable interest. In the United States a range of initiatives were taken; and it has been considered as a serious policy option in Britain and Australia. But what is it and what issues surround it?

contents: introduction · what is a full-service school? · approaches to full-service schooling · benefits · issues · conclusion · further reading · how to cite this article

One in four children growing up in America cannot become a healthy, self-sustaining adult without immediate attention. The primary institutions that have traditionally carried the responsibilities for raising and teaching children—families and schools—cannot fulfill their obligations without immediate and intensive assistance. We must call on schools and community institutions to come together in an organized movement to help young people gain equal opportunities to grow into responsible adults. Schools have to become places where all children can learn. Community agencies must become more responsive to their constituencies as part of effective unfragmented school-based networks of care where families can go to strengthen their powers to help their children and themselves. I have proposed the concept of full-service schools to convey the spirit of this movement—a revolution in the delivery of health and social services for this nation’s children, youth, and families.

Joy Dryfoos (1994) Full –Service Schools. A revolution in health and social services for children, youth and families, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, page 205

Elements of what now passes for full-service schooling have been a part of practice in the USA for a number of years. A range of activities has taken place within schools in addition to the usual teaching. Over the last century these have included community use, the provision of welfare facilities (around health and cleanliness), support services in the form of school counsellors, and various sports and youth activities. One of the expressions of this has been the community school movement – perhaps the best known historical example being the approaches developed in Flint, Michigan in the mid1930s. This movement grew in significant part out of the need to extend educational and recreational opportunities to adults and young people in local communities. In contrast, the recent interest in ‘full-service’ schooling has its origins in more remedial or meliorative concerns. The focus has been on the provision of health and social services.

Joy Dryfoos, the best known researcher and advocate of full-service schooling, looks to the development of innovative school-based health programmes in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the forerunners of the current movement. There was a growing recognition that the schooling of many children and young people could only be properly approached once a range of welfare and health services were in place. Panics around teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, the access of certain groups of children to medical care, and mental health (the so-called ‘new morbidities’) nudged policymakers to consider schools as a site for intervention. A high proportion of children and young people could be contacted and worked with in schools (even a significant number of those considered being ‘high-risk youth’). This, combined with concerns around the fragmentation of services, led to a growing interest in the possibilities of ‘one-stop shopping’. Schools were increasingly being seen as places where the prevention, treatment and support services that children, young people and, on occasions, families and communities need to succeed, could be provided.

One of the best known initiatives has been in Florida where legislation has supported the development of full-service schools (through the Supplemental School Health Services Program). In California, ‘Healthy Start’ legislation has led to school-based services around general health care, mental health, substance abuse prevention and treatment, family support and parenting education, academic support and youth development services. Other initiatives have used the idea of a ‘settlement house in the school’ serving families, siblings and others in the community (the Children’s Aid Society in New York); of ‘beacons’ in New York and San Francisco (bringing community-based organizations into schools especially to extend services and opportunities to local people outside school hours); and of ‘partnerships’ e.g. with United Way to establish youth services (around educational and vocational enrichment) (see Dryfoos 1998). Various labels and models have emerged.

What is a full-service school?

The primary model put forward in by Dryfoos is that of the school-based health and social services centre: ‘space set aside in a school building where services are brought in by outside community agencies in conjunction with school personnel’ (1994: 142). They are to be ‘one stop, collaborative institutions’ (ibid.: 13). For the Florida Department of Education:

A full-service school integrates education, medical, social and/or human services that are beneficial to meeting the needs of children and youth and their families on school grounds or in locations which are easily accessible. A full-service school provides the types of prevention, treatment, and support services children and families need to succeed.. . services that are high quality and comprehensive and are built on interagency partnerships which have evolved from cooperative ventures to intensive collaborative arrangements among state and local and public and private entities. (Quoted in Dryfoos 1994: 142)

What elements should be present? Here Dryfoos (1994: 13) argues for a package of interventions that include both ‘quality education’ and support services.

Quality Education Provided by School:Effective basic skills

Individualized instruction

Team teaching

Co-operative learning

School-based management

Healthy school climate

Alternatives to tracking

Parent involvement

Effective discipline

Provided by Schools or Community Agencies:

Comprehensive health education

Health promotion

Preparation for the world of work (life planning)

Support Services Provided by Community Agencies:Health screening and services

Dental services

Family planning

Individual counselling

Substance abuse treatment

Mental health services

Nutrition/weight management

Referral with follow-up

Basic services: housing, food, clothes

Recreation, sports, culture


Family welfare services

Parent education, literacy

Child care

Employment training/jobs

Case management

Crisis intervention

Community policing

Approaches to full-service schooling

When Dryfoos wrote up her original research (1994) approaches to full-service schooling fell into three categories:

  • School-based health clinics that deliver primary health care, psychosocial counselling, and health education, operated by health departments, hospitals, or community health centers.
  • School-based youth service or family service centers that offer health, mental health, and family counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, recreation, employment services, parenting education, and/or child care on site and/or through linkages with other community agencies.
  • Youth or family service centres that provide coordination with and referral to community agencies.

A comprehensive implementation would include a range of on-site and referral services for students, families and the wider community ranging from health care and careers services to employment training, housing and family welfare services. Many services would be accessible during the normal ‘school day’ while others would be offered before and after school hours, and at weekends and during holidays. There should also be initiatives concerned with ‘quality education’ (see above). This means that some programmes are no longer seen as add-ons but have been integrated into the curriculum. As a Scottish Office paper comments, ‘An important feature of such schools in the USA is that the programmes and services they provide are often determined by the needs of the local community through broad-based collaboration of schools, public and private agencies, parents and other members of the community’ (1999: 21). In more recent years there have been attempts to bring the notion of the full-service school more into the mainstream (see, for example, Dryfoos and Macguire 2002; Kronick 2002). Part of the argument made is that the first, experimental “full-service schools” have evolved into highly successful full-service community schools.


The Scottish Office Prospectus, New Community Schools, lists the following benefits (1999: 22-23). In terms of benefits to the young people there is evidence of:

  • improved attendance rates;
  • improved early intervention and early warning action;
  • better attainment in examinations;
  • improved employment prospects;
  • less drug abuse; and
  • fewer teenage pregnancies.

Full service schools have also brought benefits to the wider community through:

  • reduction in crime and violence in the community;
  • overall improved health within families;
  • better access to services and resources which might not otherwise be readily available to them; and
  • more productive partnerships between schools, parents and the wider community.

Schools too have benefited.

  • There is provision of expert services and counselling in schools, which support teachers and pupils through a range of staff working together. This leads to more efficient use of resources.
  • The ‘one-stop’ school-based service centre has enhanced the role of the school as a central place in the community.
  • There are improved communications between the school and home.
  • Parental alienation towards schools and mistrust of parents towards schools and teachers are reduced.
  • Some disaffected young people are drawn back into the school system having used services offered in the schools.

Also, there are benefits to the external support and service agencies.

  • There is better and improved communication between these agencies, which results in more efficient, and effective service provision.
  • This closer collaboration leads to improved effectiveness and better value for money. Agencies are based in or work more closely with schools which allows them to become more involved with their cases, leading to a reduction in time making referrals and in the following up of cases.

Listings like these leave many questions to be answered. There are the all-important questions of the extent to which benefits were demonstrated, what measures were used, and the trustworthiness of the data. A range of evaluation programmes are taking place and Dryfoos herself in reply to the question ‘But do they work?’ answers ‘I wish I could give an unequivocal “yes” to the question. I have to report a strong “maybe”’ (1998: 9).


Here I want to highlight a number of issues and questions that have arisen in relation to the practice of full-service schooling.

Who manages? The management of programmes has been a hot issue in some areas. Principals and head teachers have not been keen historically to have work happening in schools over which they have little control. However, there are significant barriers to them managing the sort of support services associated with full-service schools. First, the vast majority of them have little professional expertise or background in such services. This means they are simply not in a position to oversee, for example, the clinical decisions of medical professions. Second, there are clear questions of liability should things go wrong. (Schools acting alone would probably find it disproportionately expensive to insure any comprehensive range of health activities). Third, there are significant potential conflicts of interest especially around the ‘image’ of the school and the sorts of advice and service that may be necessary around sexual activity, drug usage and so on. For these reasons, school-based clinics have largely been organized as independent facilities within school campuses. Sometimes they have been included within a larger provision – ‘the settlement house in the school’ model or has been part of a raft of agencies with operations based in the school. Similar issues arise in relation to other services.

Learning collaboration. Schools have to learn to work in different ways, and to accommodate the requirements of other professionals. They have tended to be little fiefdoms, isolated to a significant extent from the direct interventions of other professionals. Where schools have had to work with other agencies their relative size, statutory nature and high degree of control over what happens within their walls have often made them difficult partners. Things have tended to be done on their terms or not at all. Collaboration in community education initiatives has often been possible in the past because they were relatively insulated from what principals and heads saw as the ‘main’ activities of the school. Where work comes closer, for example, around some of the activities of youth workers on school sites, relationships have tended to become more strained. The effect of full-service legislation and policies has been to insist upon collaboration – often on the school site – and this has shifted the balance a little away from principals and heads. They now need the co-operation of other professionals in order to reach the standards or performance by which their schools are judged.

The colonizing effect of the school. One of the issues common to community and full-service school initiatives is the concern that activities become focused on the school rather than spread through a range of institutions in local communities. One impact is that significant groups of people may be put off accessing services because of the school association. Another is that the school exercizes a growing influence over activities in a neighbourhood or area. Some of the diversity is knocked out – and the potential for local and community-based initiatives limited. In part this criticism is to do with the rather undemocratic notion of schooling that has to dominate discussion and policy. Schools need not be agents of colonialism. However, in the case of full-service schooling, two countervailing forces have come into play. First, it has often entailed community organizations or other human service organization gaining a foothold in schools (and as a result altering, in some way, their ethos). Second, there has, generally, been a recognition that community-based agencies still have a significant role to play in relation to those who are not in contact with the schooling system.

The dominance of medical models among support services. The focus is upon the behaviour of individuals. Action is, thus, taken to try to prevent them engaging in high-risk activities or upon treating their illnesses or troubles. The problem here is that what are in effect deeply political or public issues get treated at the level of private troubles. There is a danger of pathologizing people. This is not to argue against the provision of support services, simply to say that they need to be balanced by work that attends to the public issue. In this case we need to look at the impact of poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor; of racism and political exclusion. There has not been great talk of this in terms of the ‘quality education’ on offer, nor has there been attention to approaches that look to community organization and mobilization. In many respects this is a rerun of a tension that runs through many initiatives – but this does not undermine its importance.

Tensions among staff on school sites. Existing school staff can feel undermined by the work of the ‘new’ arrivals. Those already undertaking support roles around counselling and health promotion may feel upstaged or bypassed. There can also be significant conflicts around school discipline policies. Counsellors may well express concerns about the impact upon the mental health and well being of students. Teachers, ever more constrained by curricula, discipline and the attainment of good SATs and examination grades, can look with some jealousy at the seemingly better relationships between students and informal educators. However, rather than looking at such experiences as a problem, it is more useful to approach them as opportunities to enlarge and deepen practice. Professionals can learn from each other.

There are a number of other questions around how such schemes are financed and evaluated; and the extent to which a predetermined model is imposed in some states or counties upon schools.


As a set of initiatives, full-service schooling appears to have had some success in terms of the health and welfare of significant groups of the school population. It has also given an opportunity to open up schooling and to encourage a more collaborative culture. Some space has opened up for informal educators. On the down side there are issues around the extent to which concentrating resources on schools has a detrimental effect on more community-based initiatives, and whether there has been a further strengthening of a pathological model of practice with regard to those marginalized on economic and other grounds from success in the schooling system.

Key texts

Calfee, C., Meredith, M. and Wittwer, F. (1998) Building a Full-Service School. A Step-by-Step Guide. New York: Jossey-Bass. 308 pages. This how-to companion to Joy Dryfoos’ Full-Service Schools is the first practical and comprehensive guide to establishing school-based community health and social support services-such as psychological counselling and drug prevention. Contents: Why Build a Full-Service School? Drawing a Blueprint for Collaboration. Planning and Decision-making Strategies. Assessing Community Needs and Resources. Financing a Full-Service School. Preparing a Funding Request. Establishing a Full-Service School.

Dryfoos, J. (1994) Full-Service Schools. A revolution in health and social services for children, youth and families, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 310 + xxiv pages. Comprehensive review of initiatives that explores practice, organizational and funding questions. The main point of reference around full-service schooling.

Dryfoos, J. G. (1998) A Look at Community Schools in 1998, New York: National Center for Schools and Communities. 16 pages. Maps different variants of the community school model; what is driving the activity around such schools in the States; and their effectiveness.

Dryfoos, J. G. and Maguire, S. (2002) Inside Full-Service Community Schools, Corwin Press. 256 pages. This is an attempt to move the concept of a full-service community school ‘from the fringes of public education into the mainstream’. It is, in essence a practical guide. Topics include: Getting started; Providing a range of services; Staffing: what works and what doesn’t; Collaborating with the government and private sector; Involving parents; Overcoming barriers; Funding; Sustaining the school.

Kronick, R. F. (2002) Full Service Schools: A Place for Our Children and Families to Learn and Be Healthy, C. C. Thomas. 149 pages. This book examines how children can be kept in schools by using preventative measures and services to families and children. Kronicj looks at the definitions and practices of full service schooling and the organizational shape of institutions. He also provides a step-by-step guide to establishing such a school and various practical suggestions.

Rusk, B., Shaw, J. and Joong, P. (1994) The Full-Service School, Toronto: Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation

How to cite this article: Smith, M. K. (2000, 2004) ‘Full-service schooling’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education,  http://www.infed.org/schooling/f-serv.htm. Last update: July 08, 2014

© Mark K. Smith 2000, 2004, 2014