Primary schools in rural Scotland are now more than just schools, according to a new report.
The charity Children in Scotland has carried out a mapping exercise of Scotland's 14 rural authorities, showing that all 14 now have some form of additional services within their schools.
The most common was nursery provision, reported as available on all primary premises. Other services included baby clinics, creches, parenting programmes, breast-feeding support groups, after-school care, breakfast clubs and a toy library.
Professionals who visit schools include speech and language staff, physiotherapists, dentists, doctors, police, early years support workers, social workers and mental health service workers.
Natalie Morgan-Klein, research officer at Children in Scotland, said:
"Falling birth rates and out-migration from many of Scotland's remote and rural areas make the unit cost of providing services high and threatens their stability. Similar pressures face small communities throughout Scotland.
"However, high-quality and accessible services are exactly what these areas need if they are to attract new people and encourage those who already live there to stay.
"Making more effective use of schools enhances their viability by enabling them to make a bigger contribution to the community they serve."
The mapping exercise may now lead authorities to see if there is scope to widen the range of services schools offer, across different age groups and sectors.
Increasing the breadth of services might go some way to addressing concerns over "schoolification" - where the distinctive approaches and ethos of other services are eroded. This, however, raises questions over who should have responsibility for the overall management of a hub school.
The report states: "The need to overcome cultural and attitudinal barriers to multi-agency working was cited by everyone involved in the study as a major challenge."
The complexities of sharing information between agencies were regularly cited in the exercise, as were the differences in assessment methods.
Particular rural challenges include accessibility of services, inadequate transport networks and a smaller pool from which to recruit staff.
"Rural areas confront the same, and in some cases greater, demand and need for services as in urban areas, yet the level of provision is often lower .
. . In Norway, where pre-school education has been made statutory, families are entitled to transport to pre-school services. This is still not the case in Scotland," the report states.
Examples of best practice
* East Ayrshire: establishing an information-sharing protocol for agencies.
* Stirling: work-shadowing in which a professional from social work, education, health or community education works with a professional from another agency for a week to facilitate mutual understanding of their different problems.
* South Ayrshire: multi-agency local forums on better behaviour.
* Angus: a rural resource base containing curriculum materials and staffed is available for use by the most remote nurseries; it also employs peripatetic nursery teachers to meet the needs of children in remote communities.
* Dumfries and Galloway: piloting an accessible transport project.
* Stirling: longer sessions at some nurseries to allow for the distances parents and children have to travel.