Linda Cameron feels fate is guiding her into a career in educational psychology. Having set off to study French at Aberdeen University in 1987, she took psychology as an outside subject in her first year, and was immediately hooked. After teacher training at Northern College in Dundee, she returned to her roots in Dumfries and Galloway, to work at Dalbeattie and Lochmaben primaries.
"I always intended to go back to psychology, and I have kept up my psychology interest. I imagined I would do two or three years in teaching, but I was surprised by all the new challenges, and how different it was working with different age groups." Seven years after she qualified, the psychology services' circular felt like it had her name on it. "I had actually been trying to arrange something along those lines myself. I had been in touch with an educational psychologist. But I was thinking of a few weeks of work experience," she laughs. "I realise how unrealistic that was now, when after two months on secondment I still haven't had two days the same."
She has been surprised by the scope of educational psychology. "As a teacher I thought I knew about education, but I've been surprised by how many other agencies are involved, and by all the planning and discussion that goes on behind the scenes. I've had the opportunity to see how all the agencies get together to focus on the child." The first weeks of her secondment have been spent on getting acquainted with the full variety of the educational psychologist's job. She has been on day-placements at learning centres and behaviour support units; she has been to conferences and on courses, has sat in on meetings; and for much of the time she has been shadowing Andy Pattie, area principal educational psychologist for Annandale and Eskdale.
Cameron feels the most valuable part of the secondment has been the opportunity to sit and listen, to learn other people's viewpoints. "I've heard other educational psychologists say they would have benefited from this opportunity, rather than going straight in to training."
She has also enjoyed the chance to brush up her study skills. The secondment includes one reading day each week, when the trainees can reacquaint themselves with text books and research techniques. "It's quite a leap going from the classroom to studying intensively for an MSc. I see this as a bridge between the two. My teaching experience is something to build on. All the time, I'm more keen to tart."
Her colleague, Fiona Olley, over at Newton Stewart is just as keen. When she graduated in psychology from Stirling University in 1990, she approached the local psychological services to ask what should be her next step towards an educational psychology post. Advised to get a teaching qualification and some teaching experience, she did just that, but after 18 months at Airth primary, she moved with her husband to Dumfries and Galloway and left behind her contact with Central region. Five-and-a-half years later the Dumfries and Galloway traineeship scheme was "too good an opportunity to miss".
"I had held on to the idea that I wanted to use my degree in psychology beyond the day-to-day use in my teaching job," says Olley. While teaching in Annan, she had some training from educational psychologists in stress counselling, and had the usual contact that a class teacher would expect, but her traineeship has opened her eyes to the psychologists' behind-the-scenes input into schools. "There's an awful lot more involved than I had expected: the contribution made to in-service training and to developing school policy."
Olley feels she is gaining a tremendous insight from her hectic visits to learning centres, support units, meetings and conferences. She has been shadowing Ralston McKay, the area principal educational psychologist based in Newton Stewart, and is also being supported by Dr Stewart Biggar. "People in the department are prepared to give me time. I've been well supported. I've been along and watched how Ralston established a rapport with a child; I've done classroom observations and there's always the opportunity to get feedback, to see if I'm picking up the right messages."
This is a difficult time for Olley who is waiting to hear if she has gained a place at Newcastle University, but she feels that the traineeship has been well worthwhile: "knowledge and experience are never wasted".
Although they are separated by the geography of Dumfries and Galloway, the three trainees get together regularly to discuss experiences and ideas. Cameron feels she has gained a lot from talks with the trainee based in Dumfries, Sharon Williamson, who has come from secondary education. There is a healthy relationship among the three.
"We realised that as educational psychologists we're going to have to stand up in front of a group of teachers, so we've been practising doing presentations to each other," she says.