Psychology must be more rewarding

19th September 1997 at 01:00
The law of supply and demand is not working. Universities struggle to cope with the influx of undergraduates wanting to study psychology. Numbers applying across the UK have trebled in the past decade. But there is a shortage of psychologists in the education service. Three professional associations have combined forces to press the case for better conditions and more generous recruitment (page five).

Undergraduates no doubt find other branches more appealing than education. But the service is not recruiting straight from university. It looks for teachers with a psychology background. Critically, it demands that they train for a further two years.

That is where the problem starts. The number of training places is restricted. The psychologists want it doubled to 24 a year. But the cost of the courses is a deterrent and the career incentives are not attractive. In other words, although the intellectual challenge may interest some teachers, they realise that their opportunities for higher salaried posts are at least as great within teaching. There is an age imbalance among educational psychologists even larger than among teachers: more than half are over 45 and among the under-40s the overwhelming majority are women.

All face a daunting workload. Parents and teachers are, rightly, more alert to conditions and handicaps which in the past were often ignored. The psychologist has a key role but a time-consuming one.

The Government has policies on early intervention, disruptive pupils and exclusions. Again, the burden falls on psychologists. It is all a far cry from the days when they pontificated about infallible IQ tests and shepherded 12-year-olds into senior or junior secondaries. Like social workers psychologists are often a staffroom butt, but teachers depend on their time and expertise. Hard done by, they need a sympathetic ear.

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