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Councils face a famine of educational psychologists

MINISTERS have launched an independent inquiry into the pressures on educational psychologists as the Scottish Executive's social inclusion strategy bites in schools.

Psychologists have complained for several years about a growing workload, intensified by complex special educational needs cases and moves to include as many pupils as possible in local schools. New SEN legislation has raised expectations, particularly among parents.

Ian Liddle, chair of the Association of Principal Educational Psychologists, welcomed the review body, which met for the first time on Monday chaired by Eleanor Currie, director of education in East Renfrewshire.

Mr Liddle said interest from Brian Wilson, the former education minister, led to increased numbers in training but the national shortage remains. There are 360 psychologists in Scotland and still 25 vacancies - a figure that has been constant for some years.

"Authorities are recruiting more psychologists, even after the increase," M Liddle said. Only 18 are in training every year at Strathclyde and Dundee universities, while Dumfries and Galloway is experimenting with on-the-job training.

Mr Liddle said recruitment problems would be exacerbated by the retirement of many psychologists over the next decade. "We will be in serious trouble if we don't head this off," he stated.

The review body would help to examine the "comprehensive" range of tasks psychologists carried out. "We need to work on things we do well," Mr Liddle said.

Mrs Currie's committee, at arm's length from the Executive, has until October to report. It will first examine the staffing position, structures and remits before turning to the demands of recent legislation and records of needs. A set of performance indicators for psychological services is currently being introduced.

A national seminar in June at Stirling University, part of the consultation with stakeholders, will begin to flesh out concerns, Mrs Currie said.

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