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Ten years to qualify-but it was worth it

Alison Russell, 32, a newly qualified educational psychologist in Wandsworth, south-west London, talks about her experience of training and the early part of her career

In three years teaching history and psychology at a mainstream secondary school, I had never met an educational psychologist and honestly had no idea that the profession existed. By chance, I met one on jury service and told her how much I enjoyed teaching psychology A-level. She told me about becoming an EP - and I never looked back. The British Psychological Society told me what training routes were available and I enrolled on a conversion course.

These are tailored to the amount of psychology you have previously studied.

I went to the Institute of Education, which involved doing a couple of modules from a diploma in psychology and an MA in the psychology of education. I studied in the evenings and it took three years to complete, while I taught full-time. It was two evenings a week, a few Saturdays and some reading at weekends. I loved it but it was tiring after teaching.

I then overcame strong competition to get on a a course for an MSc - the professional qualification. Luckily, after an interview lasting a day, I was offered a funded place, but others were not - it's very expensive at pound;10,000. By the time I started the MSc I had a degree, a PGCE, various modules from a diploma and the MA. It took 10 years, but it was worth it.

I began applying for jobs in January 2002, after only a term on the course - LEAs will wait until you finish it. During the MSc, I completed four work placements in four different authorities, a good way of gaining practical experience.

I enjoyed my placement at Wandsworth. It is a progressive authority and I thought they would listen to my ideas. Their 3-4 week induction programme involved shadowing experienced EPs so when we finally went into schools independently we were prepared and confident.

Anyone, considering EP as a career should not be put off by the conversion course or the amount of training, All of it will be related to previous experience. Even if you eventually decide not to become an EP it can only further your career in education as a whole.

There is an element of academic science in the training but it is far more about applied psychology and using techniques and methods in real-life situations.

A passion for psychology and a desire to be an EP are essential and you have to be prepared to be a lifelong learner. It's a fast-moving and dynamic discipline - we are always reflecting on practice, improving and learning new approaches. Teachers usually have many of these core skills already. It is intensely rewarding, especially when you get feedback to say that you have made a significant difference - the catalyst in solving a negative, obstructive problem.

I have a lot of autonomy and flexibility and can be creative while applying scientific theory. I think I'll get more professional development and career satisfaction than I would have if I'd stayed a teacher.

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