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All in the mind

You need classroom experience to become an educational psychologist, writes Caitlin Pike

Learning is not easy - not for pupils, teachers, parents, schools or policy-makers. Education demands hard graft, patience and all manner of skills to make it work. Not surprisingly, problems within local education authorities, schools, at home, inside classrooms and playgrounds can crop up at any time. Often, these can be solved by those with day-to-day involvement with children's learning, but sometimes the expertise of an educational psychologist will be needed.

The discipline is applying theory, research and techniques to help pupils construct effective learning situations and overcome learning difficulties as well as behavioural and emotional problems.

A pupil may be referred to the psychology service from as early as two years old. Although it is the child who is referred, the problems are not considered to be his or her fault. Indeed, "blame" is a word that you will not find in the educational psychology lexicon. Problems are always perceived from a positive standpoint and it is a given that many people contribute to make things work within the learning environment.

The psychologist will meet the referred pupil and any adults involved with the child's development. The pupil is usually observed in different situations, and assessment can lead to a recommended course of action, or simply some reassurance. If special help is deemed necessary, it may include counselling or planned programmes to improve learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. A large part of an educational psychologist's job is assessing children with learning difficulties in accordance with the 1996 Education Act. This may lead to the child having a "statement of special educational needs", which should outline the provision required.

Psychologists often work with schools to create positive learning and behaviour strategies. They may also help the school to implement legislative changes and special needs policies. Running courses and workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals on topics including truancy, bullying, specific learning difficulties, stress management, conflict management, thinking, learning and social skills can also form part of the work.

In view of their training as scientific researchers, educational psychologists are in a unique position within local authorities to plan and carry out research that will contribute to the development of effective education policies and evaluation of new educational materials and resources.

Career prospects are good. The profession is aging and many will be retiring in the next decade. Demand has never been higher as local education authorities struggle to fill their posts.

Salaries for qualified educational psychologists begin at pound;25,281 (pound;27,876 for those aged 35 and above) and increase automatically without promotion to a maximum of pound;33,066. There is a separate salary scale for senior and principal educational psychologists which starts at pound;33,066.

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