President's Column

Pam Maras on Presidential duties; and the Annual Conference
What do presidents do? In practical terms most of my time is spent attending and chairing Society business and related meetings, responding to correspondence and representing the Society on a number of levels, often in relation to policy and future developments that will involve important changes long after I’ve gone – and of course I still continue with my ‘day job’ at Greenwich. Writing this column is one of my regular activities – different presidents have taken different tacks in writing it, so it would be useful to hear what you would like to read in it.
What do presidents do? In practical terms most of my time is spent attending and chairing Society business and related meetings, responding to correspondence and representing the Society on a number of levels, often in relation to policy and future developments that will involve important changes long after I’ve gone – and of course I still continue with my ‘day job’ at Greenwich. Writing this column is one of my regular activities – different presidents have taken different tacks in writing it, so it would be useful to hear what you would like to read in it.

I was pleased to welcome the Professor Gua’on Yue, Vice President of the Chinese Psychological Society, as a guest at this year’s Annual Conference in York in March. I look forward to further cementing this relationship when I visit China later this year. Meetings such as these have an important symbolic value in signalling that psychology transcends geographical boundaries and opens up possibilities for dialogue and collaboration.

British psychology is clearly alive and very well. The York conference programme was of a very high standard including keynotes on road safety (Charles Spence), memory (Martin Conway) and context and evolutionary perspectives on gender (Alice Eagley), as well as symposia on psychology and law, applied neuropsychology and more. We were also delighted to learn from Rt Hon Baron Roy Hattersley (after-dinner speaker at the National Railway Museum gala event) that Buster is still with us and has just finished another diary.  

Unfortunately, attendance at the conference was poor. I remember once asking students in a half-filled seminar why attendance was so low – I soon realised that it would have been far more useful to ask those that weren’t there. So, if you didn’t attend the conference, it would be helpful to know why. Have the days of annual conferences passed? Is it time, money, child care, the programme, the organisation? Next year’s conference in collaboration with the Psychology Society of Ireland will be in Dublin – I am sure both the venue and the programme will attract a large number of psychologists.

There were 23 media releases from the conference. The Society’s Public Relations Unit (PRU) has a long-established working relationship with the media, and  they work hard to ensure that psychology is not misunderstood – though of course they can only release information, they have no control over what the media do with it. Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying ‘If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: President can’t swim’.  

The PRU also issues press releases on government policy. The funding of educational psychology training is the most immediately pressing; funding for training places has been badly administered by the Local Government Association, causing a shortfall in funding for training courses. Continuing government inaction will lead to the closure of accredited training courses and a consequent collapse in the supply of educational psychologists to enable local authorities to meet their statutory responsibilities towards vulnerable children and young people.

All psychologists have a responsibility to be aware of their duty to protect, promote and safeguard the welfare of children, to be alert to issues of concern and to know how to respond. It is particularly important that psychologists who do not perceive their role as linked to child welfare should appreciate this. Please see the Child Protection Portfolio and updated position paper at www.bps.org.uk/ppb under ‘PPB position papers and working party reports’ (and also p.312).

The timing of our campaigning activities is crucial. Negotiations on statutory regulation have to co-exist with work on other fronts (particularly the Mental Health Bill: see p.269). I attended the annual dinner of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in late March – many guests were from other professional bodies and most of the talk was about the White Paper and its impact on statutory regulation. Andy Burnham MP gave a brief policy speech on regulation. Interestingly Mr Burnham focused almost solely on the NHS and mainly medics, referring to Shipman – who was of course regulated! If you would like to write to your MP about statutory regulation, we intend to supply a draft letter outlining some of the main issues on the webiste (www.bps.org.uk/statreg).

So what do presidents do? Well, in addition to the activities above I’ve driven to the Leicester office twice since my last column and continue to be both amused and confused by road signs between the South East and the Midlands. One before two restricted lanes on the A2 asks wide loads to straddle the two inside lanes (there are only two) whilst another asks drivers to use the hard shoulder and indicates that there isn’t one. My favourite this month advises drivers of an impending blind summit. I am pleased to announce that whilst we may have a lot of traffic on the road and we can’t see the summit, we are doing everything we can to ensure that our drive towards it is not blind.

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