Peace moves in psychologists' dispute

20th February 2009 at 00:00
They've been working to rule in a grievance over their status. Since merging with children's departments, they complain of job cuts and downgrading

Talks have started in a bid to end an industrial stand-off that has seen educational psychologists protesting over working conditions.

Over the past year many minor disputes have broken out across the country over changes that followed the introduction of the Every Child Matters approach to improving children's wellbeing in the aftermath of the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000.

Discussions opened last month in a bid to end the deadlock that has led to services being cut in hundreds of schools as educational psychologists protested.

After the launch of Every Child Matters, local authorities were instructed to merge social services and education departments.

The Association of Educational Psychologists claims this has led to a downgrading of some educational psychology jobs as the work was swallowed by children's services departments.

In Manchester, the removal of the chief educational psychologist has led colleagues to take industrial action since last June, including working to rule.

Talks have recently restarted between the association and Manchester City Council after officials had trouble filling vacant educational psychology posts.

Charles Ward, general secretary of the association, said his members were angered when the city council introduced a system that gave schools the budget to buy their services, individually rather than them being run centrally. It also cut the number of promotions.

Mr Ward says similar situations across the country have been prevented because of the intervention of the association and the willingness of other local authorities to listen to advice from educational psychologists.

"The issues started when children's services departments were created and new structures were put in place. Educational psychologists found themselves working as part of a multi-disciplinary team and felt sometimes this affected the integrity of their services," Mr Ward said.

"We've been in dispute with Manchester City Council since February 2008 after the removal of the chief educational psychologist's post, and negotiations have so far been unsuccessful.

"We have written to local schools and MPs explaining the situation."

Association members raised concerns about increasing levels of bureaucracy when children's services departments were created. They felt there was a risk of duplication and the quality of staff and systems in place were more important than working as part of a large team.

Liverpool City Council also sacked Yvonne Price, its leading educational psychologist. She later successfully appealed against her unfair dismissal and was reinstated.

John Edwards, deputy director of children's services at Manchester City Council, said: "The educational psychology (EP) service was reorganised last year as part of a wider successful restructure aimed at devolving resources to schools to allow them to make decisions in the best interests of pupils without referral to the local authority.

"Although part of the EP budget was retained centrally in order to fulfil the local authority's strategic role in relation to educational psychology, the service itself is now recognised as a professional service with high levels of expertise to offer schools who can now choose to either use this service or to use similar services from other providers.

"We constantly review elements of all our services to ensure best provision for children and young people, and have had ongoing discussions with the Association of Educational Psychologists since then as part of this, and around the concerns of some of our education psychologists who have been working to rule since last summer.

"We met again with the association recently and our discussions were very positive."

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