Educational psychologists say funding fiasco is threat to future of profession
Government ministers and universities are locked in urgent talks to solve financial problems that have left the training of educational psychologists in crisis.
The quangos and professional groups responsible for developing the next generation of practitioners are desperate to find a solution to what they say is a "ludicrous" problem plaguing the flow of qualified professionals into schools and local authorities.
Without action the future of the profession is uncertain and courses will be closed, the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) has warned.
Cashflow problems date back to the decision in 2007 to change the training from an MA course into a PhD. Responsibility for funding was transferred to local authorities, which were expected to make voluntary payments.
However, the non-compulsory nature of this arrangement has resulted in up to a third of councils withholding their cash.
This has left the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC), which runs the training, in financial difficulties.
Officials are meeting with schools minister Diana Johnson, academics running the university courses and the AEP.
According to the AEP, an estimated 360 people will qualify as educational psychologists before 2012, but the financial problems surrounding training means numbers going into the profession after then could fall.
Kate Fallon, general secretary of the AEP, said: "The future is looking quite precarious. A substantial minority of local authorities don't contribute and our fear is that will grow as budgets get tighter.
"Those who will be studying from 2010 are currently being recruited, so urgent meetings are ongoing."
She added: "We are an ageing profession, with a lot of people approaching retirement and it would be a big problem if we didn't have enough new people coming in.
"Councils will not be able to recruit, so they are creating an issue they will have to face."
John Franey, programme director for the educational psychology course at Bristol University, said courses will become unviable if the CWDC has to reduce the number of places. Each takes on 10 students each year.
"Training is paid for centrally in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It's ludicrous that doesn't happen in England," he said.
"The danger is courses will become unsustainable, and you can't then resurrect them overnight. This is a real concern in the profession and we think it's a real crisis."
Harriet Martin, chair of the British Psychological Society's education and child psychology committee, said the situation was "perilous".
"Everyone in the profession has been saying this would be a problem, but the message from the Government was there was no other way to fund training," said Dr Martin, a former chair of the Association of Principal Educational Psychologists.
A CWDC spokeswoman said: "Each year, the cost of the training is spread across all local authorities in England proportionally, based on the number of school age children in each local authority.
"Payment is voluntary and individual local authorities determine whether they allocate funding to the scheme.
"CWDC is currently working with key stakeholders and the Department for Children, Schools and Families on arrangements for future funding."
A 'VITAL' ROLE
When police and social workers could not explain why a young girl was found wandering near her home and behaving erratically, they turned to educational psychologist Vivian Hill (pictured).
Dr Hill found that the girl's parents had learning difficulties and had failed to set proper boundaries for their daughter. They are now getting help to control their child's behaviour.
According to Dr Hill, this type of case illustrates why it is vital to secure the profession's future.
"For too long there's been the view anyone can do this job despite the fact the evidence disputes this loudly and clearly," says Dr Hill, who runs the course for educational psychologists at London's Institute of Education. "It won't take a lot of money to secure these training places, if MPs can pay back #163;1 million why can't this be found for us?"