ONLINE ONLY: The future of educational psychologists within the new children's services

Peter Farrell, Kevin Woods, Sarah Lewis, Steve Rooney, Garry Squires and Mike O'Connor discuss the implications of a government-funded review of the work of educational psychologists
The Government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM) legislation constitutes a major national strategic initiative in the improvement of services provided to children and families (DfES, 2004). The ECM agenda makes outcomes for children central to integrated children’s services that form a team around the child and family in the context of community and school. Outcomes for children are specified through aims, targets, indicators and inspection criteria which are grouped around five main areas: Be healthy, Stay safe, Enjoy and achieve, Make a positive contribution, and Achieve economic well-being. Criteria relating to these key outcomes for children are becoming embedded into the structures and operations of the new local authority Children Services which combine former local education authorities, social services departments and, where possible, child health services. Indeed the new local authority inspections - Joint Area Reviews (JARs) - will judge services by the extent to which they are making a difference to these outcomes for children. These fundamental changes to the management and delivery of Children’s Services have profound implications for all professional groups working with children and families, including psychologists. In December 2005, we were asked by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to undertake a specific review of the functions and potential contribution of educational psychologists (EPs) in England and Wales within this new context. One of the main aims of the review was to judge how and where EPs may provide a distinctive contribution within Children’s Services, complementing that of clinical and counselling psychologists. In this paper, we highlight the contribution EPs make towards addressing the five ECM outcomes. We evaluate their role in statutory assessments of pupils with special educational needs (SEN), and their contribution to the promotion of effective multi-agency work within Children’s Services. We also consider how the new extended training route for EPs provides them with an opportunity to enhance their contribution as part of Children’s Services. The full project report (Farrell, et al., 2006) is available through the DfES website (www.dfes.gov.uk/research/ - Research report no. 792 ).
The Government’s ‘Every Child Matters’ (ECM) legislation constitutes a major national strategic initiative in the improvement of services provided to children and families (DfES, 2004). The ECM agenda makes outcomes for children central to integrated children’s services that form a team around the child and family in the context of community and school. Outcomes for children are specified through aims, targets, indicators and inspection criteria which are grouped around five main areas: Be healthy, Stay safe, Enjoy and achieve, Make a positive contribution, and Achieve economic well-being.

Criteria relating to these key outcomes for children are becoming embedded into the structures and operations of the new local authority Children Services which combine former local education authorities, social services departments and, where possible, child health services.  Indeed the new local authority inspections - Joint Area Reviews (JARs) - will judge services by the extent to which they are making a difference to these outcomes for children.

These fundamental changes to the management and delivery of Children’s Services have profound implications for all professional groups working with children and families, including psychologists. In December 2005, we were asked by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to undertake a specific review of the functions and potential contribution of educational psychologists (EPs) in England and Wales within this new context. One of the main aims of the review was to judge how and where EPs may provide a distinctive contribution within Children’s Services, complementing that of clinical and counselling psychologists. In this paper, we highlight the contribution EPs make towards addressing the five ECM outcomes. We evaluate their role in statutory assessments of pupils with special educational needs (SEN), and their contribution to the promotion of effective multi-agency work within Children’s Services. We also consider how the new extended training route for EPs provides them with an opportunity to enhance their contribution as part of Children’s Services.

The full project report (Farrell, et al., 2006) is available through the DfES website (www.dfes.gov.uk/research/ - Research report no. 792 ).

Background to the review
Prior to the current review the most recent report of the work of EPs was published six years ago (DfEE, 2000).  Since then there have been a large number of publications that have focussed on different aspects of the evolving role of the professions.  Some of these are broad ranging reviews, for example The Currie Report in Scotland (Scottish Executive, 2002) and a review of the work of EPs in Wales (Welsh Assembly, 2004).  The National Association of Principal Educational Psychologists has also produced a dataset which illustrates the extensive range of EP work within multi-agency teams across England and Wales at universal, targeted and specialist levels of service provision (NAPEP, 2005).  There are also specific reports of EPs working successfully in multi-agency community contexts (e.g. Halsey et al., 2006; Davis and Cahill, 2006; Jones, 2006); at the systemic level (e.g. Farrell, 2004; Hodson et al., 2005; Burns and Hulusi, 2005; Atkinson et al., 2006); and with particular groups of vulnerable children (e.g. German et al., 2000; Doyle, 2003; Dent and Cameron, 2003; Dettman et al., 2004; Bozic and Morris, 2005 )  

The findings from these, and other publications, helped to shape the focus and methodology for the research.  Our aim was to seek a broad view of the work of EPs and to gather specific examples of good practice that illustrate the functions and contributions of EPs - with a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups of children, organisational capacity building and  multi-agency working. To this end the review sought the views of key stakeholders including teachers, local authority officers, parents, pupils and professionals working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Youth Offending Teams, and Behaviour and Education Support Teams.  Well over a thousand questionnaire responses were received together with many documented examples of good practice involving EPs working with different professionals in a range of different contexts. In addition, a series of site visits were made to local authorities where there was evidence of EPs working effectively within a multi-professional context.  
 
The perceived impact of EP work in meeting the five ECM outcomes
Evidence from the review indicates that EPs, local authorities and other agencies have begun to focus their service delivery around the promotion of the five ECM outcomes.  We received hundreds of examples of EP work which, according to the respondents, has had a high impact on promoting these outcomes.  

However, data we received from schools suggest that teachers and head teachers tend not to view the success of EP work in terms of meeting the five ECM outcomes as strongly as do other agencies.  One explanation for this might be that the Children Act has not, as yet, placed a duty on schools to focus on improving the outcomes for children. According to Doran (2006), in relation to Ofsted inspections, reference to the five ECM outcomes is only indicated in the form of tick boxes in a self assessment form. Hence, schools are not actively directed to play a full part in implementing the provisions of the Children Act in relation to the five ECM outcomes and may still be influenced by the slightly more narrowly focussed standards agenda. This being the case, it is perhaps not surprising the school respondents were less likely to rate EP work in terms of the extent to which it addresses the five ECM outcomes than respondents working outside of the schools system where ECM may have a higher profile.

Despite these concerns evidence from the review suggests that educational psychology services that focus their work upon the demonstrable promotion of ECM outcomes for children will support the embedding of the ECM agenda within schools and the EP’s role within it.  This will coincide with a general development across all services for children where activities are likely to be targeted so as to provide a reliable and accepted series of benchmarks against which to evaluate the effectiveness of their work in terms of promoting these five ECM outcomes.

The extent to which the role and function of EPs is distinctive
Questions about the distinctiveness of EP work have featured in the literature on educational psychology services for many years. Given the school and community context in which they work, and the fact that other professionals also work in these contexts, it is understandable that people might question the distinctive contribution that the EP brings. Similar questions are also asked of other professional groups, for example social workers, child psychiatrists, counsellors and speech and language therapists. Representatives from each of these professional groups, and others, would presumably claim that they bring something distinctive that identifies them as having a unique set of skills, knowledge and abilities which separates them from other related professionals. But, given the range of professionals who can be involved in working in the same area, it is not surprising that parents, teachers and others can, at times, be confused about the distinctive role and function of any one group.

The BPS has made an important contribution to this debate by developing the National Occupational Standards to describe the particular skills, knowledge and understanding of applied psychologists. A key purpose of these standards is to support the clarification of organisational goals and service provision. The Society presents the following six `key generic roles’ which may be useful in identifying with stakeholders the distinctive contribution that EPs make through activities designed to improve outcomes for children who are the focus of their work (BPS, 2006):
•    Develop, implement and maintain personal and professional standards and ethical practice
•    Apply psychological and related methods, concepts, models, theories and knowledge derived from reproducible research findings
•    Research and develop new and existing psychological methods, concepts, models, theories and instruments in psychology
•    Communicate psychological knowledge, principles, methods, needs and policy requirements
•    Develop and train the application of psychological skills, knowledge, practices and procedures
•    Manage the provision of psychological systems, services and resources.

The key theme running through all these standards is the knowledge of, and ability to apply, psychology. The evidence from the review indicates clearly that, where EP work was viewed as effective and distinctive, they and other professionals had no difficulty in identifying one or more of the psychological functions used by the EP in their work. The most commonly identified functions across all areas were: ‘Application of Psychological Methods, Concepts, Models, Theories or Knowledge' and `Communication of Psychological Knowledge, Principles, Methods or Needs, and their Implications for Policy.’

In addition to EPs’ distinctive knowledge and skills in psychology, a large number of respondents commented on the distinctive nature of the EPs' contribution that relates to their role and status in the local authority. Typically, EPs work across multiple settings such as the school, the home, family centres and child development centres, and so they develop a detailed knowledge of the range of resources that exist in and outside the authority, the procedures that are needed in order for pupils to access these, and of the role and function of other professional groups who work in the area. There was evidence that users of EP services draw on EPs' distinctive knowledge they have gained through being in this position in the local authority. This knowledge is used to understand more fully the needs of children, to help agencies work together and to ‘oil the wheels’ of joint working and decision making. It also places EPs in an excellent position to work with others in identifying gaps in services for children and in the planning and evaluation of new initiatives.

Hence there was a clear weight of evidence from this review to suggest that EPs’ professional training and background in psychology, together with their position in local authorities, enable them to make a highly distinctive contribution within the developing Children's Services.

The future of statutory SEN assessment work
A common theme running through all the evidence received was concern about the emphasis that has been given to the EP role in statutory assessments. Almost all respondents were of the opinion that too much EP time has been tied up in this activity and that local authorities’ historical control over the funding for pupils with statements had contributed to this state of affairs. Teacher respondents, in particular, felt that tying up EP work in statutory assessments was a poor use of their time, particularly as EPs may have relatively little time available to a single school. The main focus of concern was on the statutory assessments of pupils where provision would be in a mainstream school. We received no evidence suggesting the EP role in all statutory assessments should be abandoned. Indeed many respondents felt that that detailed statutory assessments of pupils with complex and profound difficulties should remain be a key part of the EPs’ role.

In some areas there was evidence that increased financial delegation of funds to schools to support pupils with SEN is beginning to result in a reduction of statutory work for EPs. Indeed we received several examples, from local authority officers and EPs in particular, which provided evidence of EP involvement in innovative project work, with the clear indication that this was made possible because of the reduction in statutory work. A general picture emerges showing that the reduction in statutory assessment work is liberating for EP services, enabling them to focus their work activities in a way that allow them to use their psychological skills more effectively across the levels of universal, specialised and targeted service delivery. Although development is uneven across the country, this reshaping of the role following the reduction in levels of statutory work, appears to be expanding in a number of different directions. For example, there was evidence that EPs are now able to devote more time to working with children with severe and complex needs, those who are in the care of the local authority, those with mental health needs and those who have been, or are at risk of, offending behaviour. In addition, some EPs are more actively engaged in therapeutic work with individuals and groups of children. Others have increased the amount of time they can devote to the development and delivery of training programmes for teachers, parents and other professionals. Such diversification in the EP role is supported by an increasing number of specialist EP posts.

It is notable that this reshaping of the role of EPs has not resulted in LAs making plans to reduce the capacity of their educational psychology services. Indeed, one third of officers reported that there were plans to increase the size of the EP service in their local authority while the majority felt that the numbers they employed would remain the same. Only 5 per cent of local authority officer respondents indicated that there might, in future, be a reduction in the numbers of EPs that they would employ.

EPs and multi-agency involvement within Children’s Services
There is abundant evidence from the review that EPs are extensively involved with and suited to working effectively with other agencies. EPs’ abilities to bring coherence to work across agencies, often referred to as ‘bridging’, was highlighted by several respondents. In addition, many EPs are involved in managing multi-agency teams, such as a Behaviour and Education Support Team, where they have a key role in the coordinated delivery of a service involving groups of professionals with very different backgrounds. The evidence from the review suggests that EPs are well placed within local authorities to fulfil management and supervision positions that are relevant to psychologically-oriented services.

Despite the wealth of positive evidence about the contribution that EPs can make to effective multi-agency work, some potential barriers were identified. First, some respondents identified difficulties in role negotiations, illustrating the need for different agencies to develop and negotiate a shared vision and understanding about how each of them works and of the distinctive and respective contributions that they can bring. Second, some EPs and local authority officers were uncertain as to whether effective multi-agency work needs to involve different agencies in working together in the same office or building. This highlights a tension between the need for EPs to maintain their professional identity, including professional development and supervision, by having regular access to other EPs and the need for effective communication and working within the particular multi-agency network.

The question of multi-agency work and the role of EPs is linked to the wider issue of the future role and contribution of the profession within the newly formed Children's Services. These new employment structures bring new opportunities for EPs to develop a broader role extending across all services for children and where there may be a somewhat reduced emphasis on services to schools.  

Furthermore evidence from training programme directors, EPs and local authority officers also suggests that the restructured initial training route for EPs will provide EPs with the necessary preparation for them to carry out their work effectively within these new arrangements. Indeed the predicted growth of the trainee psychologist role and/or the in-training assistant EP role as part of educational psychology services will enable many services to expand the range and capacity of their work, so that they can offer a varied and flexible model of service delivery, through negotiation with local commissioners.

We received some evidence suggesting that there may be a degree of overlap between services offered by clinical and educational child psychologists. Indeed, EPs themselves sometimes referred to clinical psychologists (CPs) as being a viable alternative provider of their services. The configuration of the new Children's Services and their increasingly close connection with health services provides an opportunity for EPs and CPs working with children to reflect on their roles and functions and to explore possibility of strengthening joint working relationships, possibly through co-location of services and sharing in continuing professional development. Ultimately there might be an advantage in combining the initial training arrangements and in merging the two professions.  Given their shared background in psychology, similarities in the nature of knowledge and skills needed to do the job and an increasing overlap among their client groups, this would be an appropriate time to consider whether a merger could provide more efficient access and transparency of psychological services to children and young people.

Conclusion
Findings from this study indicate that the role and function of EPs has expanded considerably over the last 25 years despite the restrictions placed upon them by the requirements of SEN statutory assessments. They are now in a position to deliver psychological services through a variety of activities and contexts where change for children is the focus.  This expansion in the role of EPs is mirrored by the growth in the numbers that have been employed and may reflect the greater profile and expansion in the number of professions in applied psychology generally.  

Of course, the continued contribution of EPs to the promotion of ECM outcomes for children depends on their being a continuing supply of new entrants to the profession. Evidence in this review indicates that many local authorities have not managed to recruit their full complement of EPs and that the ‘aging’ profile of the EP workforce is such that it may prove difficult to do so in the future. In addition, although initial EP training programmes are very heavily oversubscribed and there is almost universal professional support for the newly restructured EP training route, many respondents in the review identified the new arrangements for the management of funds for training as being critically insecure. This fundamental problem will need to be resolved before the contribution of the profession of educational psychology can be fully realised.      


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