Getting a good deal out of education
The SDEP is something of an anomaly; the only Society Division at least partly defined by geography. It represents the distinct context of Scotland with its own issues and practice shaped by separate legislation and policy-setting mechanisms. It serves to communicate between practising psychologists in Scotland and the Society.
The Division has a particular focus on training and practice of educational psychology. Training is a key issue for us at the moment and was a particular issue for me when I started my career. When I started to study psychology I knew little more about the subject than the picture the media painted. I certainly didn’t think about educational psychology as a job. I was interested in teaching and children’s issues in general. Various jobs after my degree – in social work, as a classroom auxiliary and an EFL teacher in Romania – coupled with a meeting with an educational psychologist gave me experience of the practical applications of psychology and interested me in the Scottish training route.
In England, the route to becoming an educational psychologist was a one-year course for which you had to have a teaching qualification. In Scotland the route comprised a two-year MSc course preceded by two years’ experience working with children. The increased course length allowed us to go into issues in more depth. Students from different backgrounds also brought a wide range of experience, and this peer learning was a really valuable feature of our training. This also helped to prepare us for the multidisciplinary model, which is central to contemporary practice in Scotland.
Scottish training arrangements are still specific. The Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde offer two-year MSc courses, which are followed by a one-year probation and supervised practice. So, although students don’t come out with a doctoral qualification, the course content is pitched at a doctoral level. All psychologists employed by local authorities have to be eligible to be chartered educational psychologistswith the British Psychological Society.
We believe this is a good system, but the Division is constantly reviewing the arrangements. The Scottish Executive, now called the Scottish Government, continues to make a commitment to offer a training grant to support people during their MSc. This funding has been fixed for a number of years, perhaps reflecting the importance of educational psychology in Scotland: it is a requirement for local authorities to provide a psychological service. Most of our work concentrates on working with school-aged children, but many psychological services in Scotland are also funded to provide support to the post-school sector.
When I trained, there were 12 people on my course; now there are 27 on the training programme. We are constantly keeping an eye on balancing the supply and demand for jobs nationally. At the moment we have the balance just about right, but predictions suggest we may not have enough qualified people in around seven years’ time. We’re also investigating the pros and cons of doctoral training for Scotland. The DECP requires a three-year doctoral postgraduate course to qualify as an educational psychologist. On the surface this seems likea good thing, but we’re trying to predict any unintended consequences and evidence the value to employers, families and children. In essence we’re looking at exploring the training arrangements so that the profession is fit for the challenges facing Scottish education for the next 15 years.
Scottish legislators have been active in the areas we work in. The Currie Review of Educational Psychology Services in Scotland (2002) looked at issues such as CPD, quality assurance and ensuring that psychologists had the resources and time to do what they’re supposed to be doing – practising psychology. Educational psychologists are also developing practice that is consistent with the Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act, Getting it Right for Every Child and the Curriculum for Excellence.As educational psychologists, our task is not just, for instance, assessing individual children. We are specifically targeted to work more holistically: at institutional as well as individual level, undertaking multidisciplinary consultation and assessment as well as applying specific psychological knowledge in interventions, training and research.
Let me provide an illustration. On the website of Dundee City Council’s Educational Psychology Services where I work, our first two listed activities are Consultation and Casework. Our view of assessment and intervention takes a collaborative approach to this activity: we work with children, their families, teachers and the wider school setting. The work is also multidisciplinary, involving, for instance, social workers and home visitors. We also contribute to whole school development in areas such as communication skills, better behaviour and other topics that have been identified through negotiation.
I can also point to an average day in the life of an educational psychologist to show how these functions and levels create a varied range of tasks. In the morning you might be busy playing (observing) in the water tray with a pre-school child, then later in the morning talking about a school’s disciplinary policy with the head teacher: there might be a case meeting with social workers in the afternoon before a discussion at authority level on trends and development of policy related to additional support needs.
To be a successful educational psychologist in this context you need a range of skills, attributes and interests: commitment; interest in educational outcomes; relationship building. The ability to solve problems and make decisions without being perfectionist is crucial. You don’t work in a laboratory.A firm grounding in theory is essential but you also need to be able to build relationships and communicate in appropriate ways. When someone says ‘But that sounds like common sense’, I take it as a compliment.Equally you must work to make a difference but understand that many of your contributions will be behind the scenes: you’re often working indirectly through other people.
I see educational psychologists as good social scientists but also good artists, displaying judgement, empathy and approachability. They are people who are familiar with impact, target setting and outcomes, but realise the limitations in describing their activity in isolation. This is particularly important to keep in mind as services are undergoing inspection We are committed to the aim of providing a high-quality contribution to Scottish education, maintaining professional standards and ensuring the public is protected. In this regard the Division is working to ensure that the Society’s negotiations regarding statutory regulation with the HPC meet these core aims. Thankfully, we’re all united by the feeling that Scottish educational psychology has very good foundations to address the new challenges facing it.
Chris Scott is Depute Principal Educational Psychologist with Dundee City Council
BPS Members can discuss this article
Already a member? Or Create an account
Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber