Pathfinders are on target

An initiative to provide psychological services for young people leaving school has received a very positive evaluation.

Post-school psychological services (PSPS) were established in 12 "pathfinder" local authorities from 2004-06 and found to offer better continuity and progression for school-leavers compared to the 20 non-pathfinder authorities.

The initiatives carried out in the pilot authorities led to "a vast number of demonstrable improvements in outcomes for young people", an evaluation report stated this week.

The genesis of the initiative was the Beattie report on Implementing Inclusiveness, Realising Potential, published in 1999, which emphasised the need for a culture of inclusiveness in which all agencies would work together to plan provision for young people in the 16-24 age-group who required additional support to make a successful transition from school to further education, training or employment.

That report anticipated a key role for educational psychological services, which led to the approval in 2003 of 12 post-school psychological services pathfinders at local, cluster and strategic levels. The 12 pathfinders were: Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, Midlothian, Perth and Kinross, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

The evaluation, carried out by Tommy MacKay, with Helen Marwick and Miriam McIlvride of Psychology Consultancy Services, found that the pathfinder services in the pilot areas developed a much wider range of post-school initiatives than services in non-pathfinder areas, that they anticipated a higher level of future development and that they rated their own effectiveness significantly higher than the others.

In psychological services in non-pathfinder authorities, post-school psychological services were very limited or, in several cases, non-existent.

Further education colleges in Scotland valued the pathfinder post-school psychological services very highly, while the directors of education and of community services in pathfinder authorities also reported significantly higher levels of PSPS activity than in the non-pathfinder areas.

This, the evaluation report stated, highlighted "the crucial part played by additional resources", while non-pathfinders viewed the lack of resources as the major barrier to progress.

One of the key aims of the initiative was to contribute to the reduction of the proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (the NEET group). Post-school psychological services in the pathfinder authorities sought to enhance continuity and progression beyond school; to complement the services already provided by colleges, training providers and Careers Scotland; to improve the understanding, skills and effectiveness of service providers through consultation, training and action research; and to contribute to strategic developments locally and nationally, including policy development.

Pathfinder services identified their ability to improve the transition process to post-school as the most valuable service they were able to provide. Among the psychological services delivered to colleges were: solution-focused training, support in development of college policies such as anti-bullying, action research and support for working with behavioural issues.

"Non-pathfinders also referred to examples of strategic and other support, but apart from one or two instances, this was at a much less involved level, and the examples were far fewer," the report stated.

"Generally, the focus was much more on individual students, often with reference to the static model of individual dyslexia assessment that PSPS has worked hard with Scotland's colleges to replace with more meaningful assessment frameworks.

"Despite their focus on strategic work, the pathfinders were actually assessed by Scotland's colleges as having had significantly more input to individual work than the non-pathfinders. This suggests a balance of PSPS practice encompassing all four key roles, ensuring that direct client support was not omitted."

Both Dundee and Strathclyde universities have taken steps to incorporate post-school psychological services into their programmes, while Dundee University funded three additional trainee places to support PSPS.

However, if effective post-school psychological services are to be maintained, the report says, resources must be sustained and extended to other authorities.

The report also calls for an increase in the number of trainee places on educational psychology programmes at Dundee and Strathclyde universities, and the maintenance and extension of strategic officers in PSPS.

It adds: "The advantages of a longer-term national role for PSPS strategic officers, as in other areas of applied psychology in Scotland, should be explored."

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