Pupils ‘failed’ by educational psychologist shortages

Training applications in Scotland have hit an all-time low after bursaries were ended

Emma Seith

Pupils are being 'failed' by the shortage of educational psychologists

Pupils with special needs and mental health problems in Scotland are not getting the support they need due to an acute shortage of educational psychologists, teachers and service managers are warning.

The shortages are being blamed on the Scottish government's decision to end bursaries for educational psychology students, which critics say has led to a dramatic fall in applications.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, and the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP), are calling for educational psychology students to receive financial support.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The decision to stop funding the masters qualification in educational psychology, made by this government, has turned out to be the mistake which the EIS predicted it would be.

"At a time when we are struggling to fill educational psychology posts, to the detriment of pupils, we are seeing a drop in applications. Meanwhile the fully funded courses in England, such as that offered by Newcastle University, are oversubscribed.

"Scottish government should reverse its policy, immediately." 

Bill O’Hara, the principal education psychologist for Aberdeen City Council, and an executive member of ASPEP, said educational psychologists were struggling to support teachers and pupils because demand was outstripping supply.

Some educational psychology services are no longer able to provide direct support to schools and are having to point them to third party services due to their inability to recruit staff, he added.

Mr O’Hara said: “We are finding it increasingly difficult to make our contribution, to assess children properly and make sure they receive the right resources. The impact of that is children’s needs will not be met; children will be failed."

ASPEP says MSc students should have their course fees of £9,650 per year paid. It would also like to see a living allowance of £15,000 per year introduced for the three years it takes to train an educational psychologist.

ASPEP says the new arrangements should be put in place as a matter of urgency to act as an incentive for more students to apply for the MSc educational psychology course due to start at the University of Dundee in September.

The deadline for applications for the course has been extended to the middle of May due to lack of interest.

There have been 45 applications received so far, compared with 43 in total in 2016. However, in 2010, when bursaries of £49,000 over two years were in place, the course attracted 127 applications.

In 2016 Tes Scotland revealed educational psychology services could be taken out of the hands of councils, and become a national service, due to fears that training courses could fold because of a lack of demand.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said educational psychologists were employed directly by councils and it was for them to take decisions around the numbers they needed, and how they fulfilled their duty to provide an educational psychology service.

She added that the government had made postgraduate study more affordable and MSc educational psychology students could apply for loans of up to £10,000. 

She said the government would continue to work closely with the National Scottish Steering Group for Educational Psychologists, which included representatives from the profession and universities, to ensure a sustainable supply of educational psychologists.

"This includes exploration of support for students,” she concluded.


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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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