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Coming in from the cold?

As educational psychologists await a new deal on pay, David Henderson reports on the outcome of a key review

SUPPORT for learning and administrative staff should take on more of the duties carried out by educational psychologists, according to a national review released ahead of a key meeting yesterday (Thursday) of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. The meeting was set to offer psychologists an outline pay deal and open talks on conditions.

Psychologists' case for fair treatment in the post-McCrone negotiations will be strengthened by ministerial backing for an expanded role in raising attainment and social inclusion. Ministers have also pledged to tackle a national recruitment crisis by increasing the number of training places by 14 to 48.

The independent review, chaired by Eleanor Currie, former director of education in East Renfrewshire, calls on authorities to refocus psychologists' work on key education tasks within the five national priorities and remove many of the bureaucratic burdens that limit their professional effectiveness.

Significantly, the inquiry rejects establishing a centrally run national service in favour of increased status within local authorities. Cathy Jamieson, Education and Children Minister, believes their revised role will be central to interdepartmental working.

The review has offered proposals for restructuring the profession but ruled out a national staffing standard that was supported by the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Nearly all psychologists complain of spending hours on records of need and transport arrangements for children. Such routine matters could be dealt with by others, the inquiry says. "Tasks commonly carried out by psychologists were filing, preparing routine letters, organisation of meetings and taking minutes."

The inquiry believes that each authority should review its staged intervention procedures and ensure that schools, not psychologists, become the key players in co-ordinating responses. Around 70 per cent of referrals already come from schools. Only 4 per cent come from parents and only 13 per cent of their time is in direct contact with children and young people, either in assessing needs or intervening on their behalf. Around a third of their time is spent in meetings and consultation about casework.

The review says schools should become more involved in staged intervention at an early stage, supported by psychologists. "This includes calling, chairing and reporting on meetings and reviews. The role of support for learning staff in relation to supporting the assessment and intervention process also needs to be reviewed," the inquiry states. Duties such as managing behaviour support staff and pre-school home visitors could be done by others.

Psychologists, who are said to be highly regarded professionals, told the inquiry that workload prevented them from being involved in "therapeutic interventions" with individual children and families. They also want more time for research. The inquiry found some staff did not even have computers.

The review highlights increasing pressures on the country's 354 staff from the raised expectations of parents with children with special educational needs. Recent legislation on children's rights and social inclusion has added to the remit, along with the recent emphasis on school discipline. "Parents and schools in particular have consistently indicated that psychologists do not have sufficient time to deliver the breadth or the intensity of the services they require," it states.

More widely, the review acknowledges that psychologists have a contribution to make to the well-being of all children, not only those with special needs. Their work in early intervention and raising achievement has already been recognised. "An important part of their role is to give advice, support and training to teaching staff, as well as wider involvement in projects and research," it states.

The report contains 31 recommendations and concludes that the changes "affirm the key role of psychological services as an integral and vital element" in local authorities. At the same time, the services have to be seen to provide "independent professional assessment and advice" based on the needs of children and young people.

The Scottish Executive will consider the report before making a detailed response.

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