The head of the Inspectorate has "an entirely open mind" about whether American "full-service" schools incorporating health and social work should be adopted to combat underachievement.
Douglas Osler told a seminar mounted by the Scottish Office and Strathclyde University's Quality in Education centre that making the school a focus of community action tied in with Government initiatives against social exclusion and to promote lifelong learning.
But before adopting a North American model "we should remember that we are not coming to the notion of full-service schools from having done nothing". He cited the early intervention strategy and pound;28 million for child care.
There are 600 full-service schools in 15 US states. Most are in areas with social problems and they have health and welfare officers in the school buildings offering families a "one-stop" service. Enthusiasts say that education standards rise because a wide range of family and community needs can readily be addressed.
The seminar was told of principles formulated by Florida's department of education: "A full-service school integrates education, medical, social andor human services that are beneficial to meeting the needs of children and youth and their families on school ground, or in locations which are readily accessible. A full-service school provides the type of prevention, treatment and support services children and families need to succeed."
Mr Osler said that the quality of education was pre-eminent in full-service schools which recognised that although they do make a difference to children's lives they cannot do so alone. In Scotland, the Government's targets concentrated on improving schools' performance but in the recognition that the community holds the key to improvement, and that was in line with the full-service philosophy.
Jim McCall, professor of education studies at Strathclyde, said initiatives like early intervention, supported study and health promotion were significant but "not very well related. Complementary initiatives are not the answer unless they can be integrated into the system and be guaranteed to continue."
Community schools covered at least some aspects of the full-service school, Professor McCall said. "Teachers should not become poorly qualified social workers but each group should do what they can do best together. It is about co-operation and quality of provision."
He doubted if a single model of the full-service school would be appropriate in Scotland - "the full Monty school", as it was described by John Happs, headteacher of Mainholm Academy, Ayr.
The seminar discussed obstacles such as the contractual and administrative problems in having several services within a school. Security would be an issue as would "overcoming the public perception that school-based clinics are not just sexabortion clinics".
But American evidence pointed to the benefits. Young people and their parents felt a greater sense of ownership of community services. Seminar participants called for a pilot study of how the scheme could be adapted for Scotland.