Schools lose psychology back-up

A recruitment crisis among educational psychologists is threatening the quality of their service, it was claimed this week. Three leading psychological organisations are pressing the Government to launch a special scheme to attract senior school staff into the profession. Sixteen posts are currently proving impossible to fill.

Problems caused by an ageing workforce, variations in service between council employers and lack of financial support for trainee psychologists were cited by the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists, the Scottish Division of Educational Psychology of the British Psychological Society, and the Educational Psychologists National Network of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

The psychologists were due to present their case to the Education Minister, at their annual conference in Edinburgh yesterday (Thursday). Brian Wilson said he was "well aware of the important contribution educational psychologists make to the education of children".

The agencies say there are enough psychology graduates in schools but few financial incentives to leave teaching to train for a further two years to become an educational psychologist. Two-year courses at Strathclyde and Dundee Universities produce 12 graduates a year but numbers are not enough to keep pace with vacancies. The agencies want the Scottish Office to raise the intake to 24.

Bryan Kirkaldy, a spokesman, said: "We are predicting a further shortfall on the basis of an ageing profession and reckon there should be 12 additional recruits each year over a 10-year period."

Figures show that 57 per cent of educational pyschologists are aged 45 and over and are likely to retire by 2007. More than eight out of ten psychologists under the age of 40 are women and there are no male pyschologists under the age of 30. The average level of support for trainees south of the border was Pounds 32,000 against Pounds 12,500 in Scotland. This meant that anyone with dependants was unlikely to apply.

A report submitted to the Scottish Office and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, emphasises the "massive progressive increase in workload" on the 339 full-time equivalent staff across the country. Psychologists are dealing with anything from challenging behaviour, severe and profound learning difficulties, and sensory impairments to specific conditions such as dyslexia, autism and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Parents are said to be much more demanding and more pupils are being referred.

Mr Kirkaldy, a principal psychologist in Fife, said: "There has been a great increase in the number of children with special needs. The Warnock report said it could be up to 20 per cent of pupils and we think that is quite an accurate global estimate. It can be 1:3 in certain schools and 1:10 in others. But the 1:10 may present most problems."

Colleagues were extending into areas like anti-bullying, early intervention strategies and preparing for traumatic incidents, Mr Kirkaldy said, following the emphasis on prevenion in a recent HMI report.

Staffing levels have not been cut following local government reform but posts are now more difficult to fill and staffing levels vary greatly. Roughly 15 extra psychologists would be needed to bring Scotland up to minimum standards, in addition to filling the 16 vacancies. They want councils to accept a ratio of one officer to 3,600 young people, a midway figure for mainland authorities. The current range is from 1:3,000 to 1:4,600.

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