Time and money of the essence

9th October 2009 at 01:00
Warning of a crisis in the making for the educational psychologist profession

Educational psychology will face a recruitment crisis unless the Scottish Government takes action, it was claimed last week.

Half of Scotland's 400-plus educational psychologists will retire in the next eight to 10 years, yet only 27 new recruits enter the profession annually, according to Bill O'Hara, chair of the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists. Urgent action was needed, he argued, as it took nine years from leaving school to become an educational psychologist, with the two-year postgraduate courses available at only Dundee and Strathclyde universities.

Mr O'Hara refused, however, to put a figure on the number of new recruits needed every year to prevent services becoming grossly understaffed. It was complicated, he argued, given local authorities had limited capacity to offer trainee placements. Also, the vast majority of educational psychologists were women - 74 per cent - which further muddied the waters, he said.

Mr O'Hara, who was speaking to The TESS at the annual conference for educational psychologists in Scotland, explained: "It is not uncommon for women to want to start families after taking up their first post, given it takes so long to train. When they return, many like to job-share, so planning for the future, you need to count on having more than one person per post."

This was reflected in the fact that there are 420 full-time educational psychologist posts in Scotland but more than 470 members of the Scottish Division of Educational Psychology, he said.

Elaine Smith, director of the MSc in educational psychology at Dundee University, said trainees who had just started on the Strathclyde course were "100 per cent female".

At the moment in Scotland, around 50 educational psychologist posts were lying vacant, Mr O'Hara continued. A few could be attributed to the more rural councils which sometimes struggled to attract candidates.

However, some posts were remaining unfilled because of local authority cost cutting, he said.

"Many local authorities are having blanket freezing of posts. They are not always careful to be selective about which posts and the impact on individual services, or the authority.

"Educational psychology is seen by some authorities as not being a frontline service, but we work with the most difficult young people and their families at the most critical times in their lives. We give complex advice, taking into account developmental, educational, social and emotional needs."

Educational psychologists were also often the lynchpin holding together other professionals such as teachers, social workers and health staff, he argued.

Mr O'Hara added: "We translate what the health professionals are saying into language educationists understand, and vice versa."

The last time educational psychologists claimed a recruitment crisis was threatening the quality of their service was in the late 1990s. Then, just 12 graduates a year were produced by Dundee and Strathclyde universities.

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