Support Services - Depressing times for psychologists

27th September 2013 at 01:00
Education professionals face recruitment and retention crisis

Educational psychology is facing an "impending crisis" after a sharp drop in applications to join the profession and concerns over the demands of the job.

TESS can reveal that the ratio of educational psychologists to the population is now even worse than in 2001, when a national review pinpointed an urgent need to train more staff.

The situation is likely to deteriorate further: only 18 of 22 places on the two-year University of Strathclyde course were taken this year, whereas in 2011-12 there were 212 applicants for the places.

The reduced interest in this area of psychology comes after the Scottish government, in November 2011, scrapped a #163;49,000 bursary designed to put students through two years of training.

By contrast, the training of clinical psychologists in Scotland is fully funded, and educational psychologists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland still receive significant financial support.

The removal of funding is having "a significant and growing impact on the numbers of individuals applying to train for the profession", according to an upcoming report by the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP) and the Scottish Division of Educational Psychology (SDEP).

The full workforce planning report, due to be published in the coming weeks, shows that the ratio of educational psychologists to the population was worse in 2012 (1:13,613) than in 2001 (1:13,362). In the same period, by contrast, the ratio of clinical psychologists to the population almost halved to 1:8,126.

The report finds that Scotland's 388 full-time equivalent educational psychologists are "having to absorb constant additional workloads with the potential for impact on staff welfare. This issue is more acute given current staffing levels and demands."

It highlights severe staff shortages in rural areas such as Highland and Shetland, while sickness and maternity cover is "extremely unlikely" throughout Scotland, it says.

"There is an impending crisis, arguably at a time when educational psychologists are needed most," said Carolyn Brown, secretary of ASPEP.

The demand on educational psychologists has increased markedly as a result of legislative changes, such as the broadened definition of additional support needs. The report notes that the number of ASN children - a group for which the work of educational psychologists can be pivotal - grew from 38,716 in 2008 to 98,523 in 2011.

Ms Brown said that the Scottish government may not have fully appreciated the impact of an overstretched educational psychology service, "due to the broad and technically complex nature of our work; nor how investment in it can save money".

Educational psychologists were "essential" to implementing the Getting it Right for Every Child national policy, the Children and Young People's Bill and Curriculum for Excellence, said Sarah Philp, secretary of SDEP.

"Because we focus on what works best and prevention, we save local authorities significant amounts of money," she added.

An spokesman for the EIS teaching union said: "There is an issue with recruitment and retention of education psychologists in parts of Scotland, and recruitment will certainly be influenced by the Scottish government's failure to support fees for the educational psychologist course."

Increased pressure on educational psychologists meant their work was being "reduced to crisis management rather than providing a supportive role", he added.

A Holyrood spokesman said that the government was "committed to ensuring that all young people with ASN get the necessary assistance to realise their full potential. While it is up to each local authority to identify and meet this demand, the Scottish government continues to monitor the delivery of this support through the workforce planning group for educational psychology."

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Inspections of all 32 local authorities' education psychology services took place over four years, from 2006-10, before findings were published in 2011. The report by HM Inspectorate of Education found that educational psychologists were benefiting children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable. They had also made a significant contribution to the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.

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