Life as an educational psychologist

Miles Thomas

I am employed by a London Borough to deliver psychological services to schools and the wider community. I am also seconded for three days a week to a university to help run the professional training Doctorate in Child and Educational psychology. In the former role I work with children and families to promote inclusion and problem-solve around a diverse range of issues, including learning difficulties and behavioural issues. I deliver training to colleagues across the authority and am involved in strategic developments related to developing provision. In my university role I am head of Years 2 and 3 of the doctorate programme. I lecture, supervise, and coordinate the timetabling and delivery of the curriculum. I meet with trainees and supervisors in their work setting, do lots of marking and am an examiner in doctoral vivas. I am also involved in teaching and supervision of projects across other programmes in the university.

What’s your main current professional challenge?
The main professional challenges in recent years have related to the move to Children’s Services. This change agenda has dismantled existing systems and relationships in pursuit of a rather idealistic (and at times simplistic) notion of ‘joined-up’ working. In my authority we have been relatively successful in reducing the burdens of statutory assessment by delegating funding to schools. The well-being and achievement of children ‘looked-after’ by the authority is increasingly a focus of our work. We try to work at a systemic level to increase the capacity of schools to meet the needs of all children using approaches such as training for staff and organisational change programmes. In terms of my university role, the change to three-year doctoral training has had huge impact and I know from colleagues across training courses that we have all been stretched by the challenges inherent in such radical development. Employers have generally worked constructively to support the change programme and are giving us great feedback about trainees. Our first cohort recently sat their vivas and are going to have a huge and, I believe, positive impact on our profession over the coming decades. We are now in the position of being able to reflect on the last three years and to plan for future cohorts from a position of knowledge and experience.

What advice would you give to someone set to enter your profession in the next few years?
It can be an incredibly varied and rewarding job. There are lots of different ways of being an EP, so try and be aware of what kind of EP you want to be. Generic EPs are less common than has previously been the case and many now specialise in areas such as autistic spectrum disorders. This is especially true of EPs qualified to doctoral level and is in part an artefact of undertaking research and writing at a doctoral level. Be prepared to struggle to retain what is psychological (our unique contribution) in the face of bureaucratic burdens.

What are the highs and lows of your job?
Highs: Making a difference for children and families. My colleagues. Variety – not knowing what each day holds keeps me excited. Supervising new cohorts of trainees. Enjoyable CPD activities. Not being office-bound but getting out and about.

Lows: Exclusion. Impoverished thinking. Budgetary concerns. Huge amounts of admin. Change programmes that are rooted in political spin rather than considered evidence-based policy development. Having to turn down opportunities because I am too busy to do everything.

Dr Miles Thomas
Academic and Professional Tutor
Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology, School of Psychology, University of East London 

 

Victoria Lewis

An educational psychologist’s view of the work depends on which Service you work for. In the context of Nottinghamshire, I apply a range of psychological paradigms and models to assess needs and help develop the best approaches and provisions to support children’s learning and development. Consultation is a core task, involving collaborative working with a range of partners including early years, schools and the community.

A main challenge at the moment is to continue to raise the profile of EPs working at different levels and with key partners to facilitate organisational problem-solving. Being able to work preventatively to avoid negative outcomes is an important part of increasing the potential to enhance inclusion and reduce exclusions within case work as well as to help develop more effective systems to support learning and development.

As an EP it is vital to help maintain strong links between professional practice and a rigorous psychological evidence base. Those wishing to join the profession may therefore like to reflect upon the theoretical and psychological links in their work. In addition, EPs are trained to critically analyse data, so some reflection on the methodology of some published designs could also be helpful.

I find delivering a wide range of interventions to make a positive difference for children to be immensely rewarding. No two days are the same, and thus the work is never boring! However, because we work through co-construction, applying core problem-solving within consultative frameworks, people may not always realise all of the broad and detailed skills and knowledge that EPs are bringing. 

Dr Victoria Lewis
Senior Educational Psychologist, Nottinghamshire County Council, and Academic and Professional Tutor, Doctorate of Applied Educational Psychology, University of Nottingham

 

Caryl Carr

I work part-time – three days a week now. I have a senior role which is more strategically based, so that I have responsibility for few ‘patch’ schools, only one secondary and two feeder primaries. This year in conjunction with two County Senior EPs I have worked on projects that have included:

  • writing research articles on gifted and talented children and on young offenders for internal publication and reference;
  • a behaviour project in a secondary school that involved interviewing staff, students and colleagues from outside agencies working in the school and presenting a summary of recommendations to senior management;I    introducing a way of increasing reading comprehension (Reciprocal Teaching of Reading) in two secondary schools with the aim of raising the attainment of the lowest 20 per cent of students.
  • working in a special school to identify systemic or individual factors which could be preventing four of their students from making expected progress.

Another major commitment is providing clinical supervision for my colleagues in my area base (I share this with another Senior), and for a trainee EP in her second year.

The main current professional challenge personally is that partly because of the introduction of the new training arrangements for EPs, we are currently understaffed, which leads to cover arrangements for vacant patches and to problems in meeting deadlines. On a wider basis, the challenges arise from the reorganisation of local authorities in the wake of the Lord Laming Inquiry, the organisation of multi-agency teams with the disruption of established networking arrangements and the creation of new ones, and also the emphasis not so much on our work within schools but within the wider community. These developments bring with them many opportunities welcomed by EPs. For instance, we have long been associated with special educational needs partly through our statutory obligations in the statementing process, but we are well qualified to do much more, for example strategic and development work within schools, work with the youth offending teams and with health professionals, such as health visitors, in talking to ante- and postnatal groups. We are qualified to work with children and young people from 0 to 19 years. The challenge is to create the opportunities where we can be most effective within the framework created by government legislation and by decisions regarding local authority organisation.

Those who are thinking about entering the professsion should be prepared to work hard and to be flexible. You need an interest and a liking for people and an ability to get on with them without being judgemental or threatening. You also need to be able to reflect on your practice and take constructive criticism. A sense of humour helps. Do whatever you can before applying to increase your experience and knowledge of children and young people. The competition to get on courses is intense. The training courses are demanding, and you need to be able to reconcile these with the demands of the local authority. Once qualified, you can work part-time if you have young children, but the hurdles within the training course if you have a family are difficult to overcome. There are no facilities to follow the course part-time, and because there are comparatively few centres you may have to travel long distances to study.

Finally, it is never too late to change career if you are determined enough. It’s one of those careers where life experience counts. Training courses are not ageist.

The highs for me far outweigh the lows and I have never regretted a change of career comparatively late in life. After 14 years of teaching it is a joy to be able to arrange my own diary and not to have to jump to a bell rung by someone else. Obviously there are deadlines and parameters imposed by workload but the freedom is a big bonus. Each day is different. We are in a privileged position in that children, parents and staff confide in us on subjects that are often painful and difficult for them to talk about. We can and do make a difference. I learn on a daily basis. I have colleagues whom I like, respect and trust.

The lows are that there is a lot of paperwork, in a county like Essex there are distances to drive and the hours can be long. It is not always possible to fit reports into the working day. Sometimes in a large and complex organisation it can be difficult to understand the politics and to manage the flow of top-down directives. 

Caryl Carr
Senior Educational Psychologist North-East SENCAN SCF

 

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