The idea of offering young families all the services they need on one site has had currency since the 1920s. Then the pioneers were "village colleges" in Cambridgeshire, set up by the county's chief education officer, Henry Morris, as a way of regenerating areas of rural deprivation.
An outstanding urban example is the Penn Green Centre for under-fives and their families in Corby, Northamptonshire.For the past 20 years it has successfully brought health, social services and education under one roof. And in recent years Scotland has started to re-equip schools with health and social workers, renaming them new community schools.
Now the trend is spreading. With the Government's focus on raising literacy and numeracy levels, especially in poor areas, and given that pre-schooling and parental literacy levels have a direct impact on children's achievement, the idea of meeting everyone's needs on the primary school site makes even more sense. But the "full service" school demands investment in buildings and people. Inter-agency working is still a new arena and those engaged in it are drawing up their own blueprints.
Built in the 1950s as an overflow for the city of Portsmouth, Leigh Park estate was then the biggest in Europe. But apart from its 15 schools, the estate has little infrastructure. Amenities close to the 412-pupil Warren Park primary include a resource centre, a corner shop and Chinese take-away, and a burned-out pub. What characterises social deprivation here is lack of services, says headteacher Colin Harris. "There is a feeling of total isolation."
But things are changing at Warren Park. A large area of the school grounds is fenced off, peopled by men in hard hats and dotted with heavy plant. In the classrooms, children's work on Bob the Builder has an added immediacy; the contractors have given assemblies on safety and demonstrated diggers. A pound;1.7 million early years centre is taking shape here, transforming the scope of this primary school. "What we're providing is the hub of the community," says Colin Harris. "We will have an environment and a package that will meet all the needs of under-11s."
The school has joined with the local Sure Start scheme (the government initiative aimed at under-fours living in poverty) to bring a wide range of services, including play and learning opportunities, training, employment and family support together on one site. The Sure Start complex opens in May 2003 and, according to Colin Harris, has occupied his life for the past four years. It will have three nurseries, a cafe and "training kitchen" for local people and parents, community and medical rooms and a library, as well as courtyard play areas.
Parents from the estate - many of whom are young themselves - will be able to get the services they want, whether it is literacy training, or support in stopping smoking, parenting issues or postnatal depression. The centre, designed by Hampshire's own award-winning architects, will be linked to the school but will have a separate entrance and identity.
Warren Park school is already meeting many local needs. The head's can-do approach - "I don't think money," he says. "I think 'what do we need?' And if we haven't got money, I go out and get it" - has brought interactive whiteboards into every classroom and the renovation of the 1960s building. Test results are in the top 25 per cent for similar schools, exclusions are a thing of the past, and the atmosphere in classrooms is cheery and purposeful in this "ethos-driven" school.
The linked early years provision will add a whole new dimension to what children are offered here, says the head. "It's not a deprivation package. It's a package that should be available to every community."
ONES TO WATCH
Millennium school, Greenwich State-of-the-art primary and health centre
Scotland pound;70 million investment in 400 "new community" schools
The north-east Partnerships planned in Newcastle, Gateshead and Durham