President’s column; research excellence framework; effort in testing; and more

President’s column
Sue Gardner
Contact Sue Gardner via the Society’s Leicester office,
or e-mail: [email protected]

One of the challenges we have as psychologists is to clarify the difference between the scientific study of behaviour and the ‘common sense’ approach that everyone uses in trying to understand people. There have been several recent examples of the confusions that exist. You may have seen the remarks from the chair of the STEM Advisory Forum which were reported in the Times Higher Education supplement recently. The general thrust of the remarks was that there should be fewer psychology undergraduates and more students in chemistry, physics and engineering. A reply has been sent from the Joint Committee for Psychology in Higher Education (JCPHE), a group comprising the British Psychological Society, the Experimental Psychology Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments. This reply points out the flaws in the reasoning behind the remarks and the importance of the science of psychology in any issue involving humans. As science changes to become more interdisciplinary there will be a greater need for all scientists to understand psychology, as well as for more psychologists. The practical applications of research are set to become more important in the prioritising of research funding. The Research Excellence Framework consultation was published recently and recognises psychology as a STEM subject, as the JCPHE has argued (see opposite). The assessment will focus on the outputs, environment and impact of the research. The weighting for impact could bring researchers and practitioners more closely together and has exciting implications for us all. The Society’s Research Board has led our response to this consultation.

The advantages of involving psychology were clearly outlined in the recent conferenceon ‘Psychology and Climate Change Policy’. This event for invited policy makers, government advisers, journalists and leading experts in the field reviewed what is known about human behaviour in relation to climate change. Some of the findings showed that relying on intuition or ‘common sense’ has lead to faulty assumptions. Better or more effective strategies could emerge from the psychological research into reducing energy demands, increasing the uptake of technological innovations and increasing public acceptability.

Given the increasing importance in our world of psychology in terms of both content and process the Society is keen to encourage more young people to study the discipline at A-level and to ensure that the curriculum in schools and higher educational institutions is integrated. The Society’s Psychology Education Board is working with the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) on this issue.

Lifelong learning and continuing professional development are also priorities for the Society. We are receiving some excellent feedback about the courses and the myCPD online system. The cross-divisional events have been particularly well received by members, who appreciate the chance to meet with others from different backgrounds to share skills and experiences and thereby enhance their learning. For example, this autumn there have been courses on ‘An Introduction to Psychometrics’ and ‘Transference Focused Psychotherapy’. The Society is aware of how much members value opportunities such as these.

There are additional benefits for members this year as you will have seen from your subscription renewal letters. I know that this is an expensive time of year, that there is a credit crunch and that we are all being extra careful with our money, so renewing subscriptions is a serious matter. Please remember that we are contributing to the future of psychology and psychologists by being members of the Society. I was reminded of our strengths recently when I was a guest of the Psychology Society of Ireland at their annual conference. They look to us as a larger and older organisation for some ideas about how they might develop, although they have plenty of ideas of their own. They made me very welcome, and as they are beginning the process of statutory registration there was much to talk about.

Finally, thank you for your e-mails and your contributions to the Society. However you celebrate this season I hope that you have a happy time and that you have a chance to relax. My very best wishes to you all.

New framework for research assessment

The long anticipated consultation on the future of research assessment was published in September. The majority of elements of the framework for assessment that have been proposed quite closely resemble that of the 2008 RAE.

In relation to the number of panels and sub-panels, it proposed that there will be a smaller number of sub-panels than in 2008 (30), grouped under a much smaller number of main panels (4). Importantly for psychology, the split with clinical psychology is not to be repeated. It is proposed that there will be a single sub-panel: Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience. The classification of psychology as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subject and treatment in accordance with cognate disciplines (such as neuroscience) has been strongly argued for by the Joint Committee (of the BPS, Association of Heads of Psychology Departments and the Experimental Psychology Society) for Psychology in Higher Education, on the guidance of the psychologists serving on the HEFCE Expert Advisory Panels for the REF (Professor Dianne Berry and Professor Tony Manstead). Whilst this may raise some initial concerns for some areas of the discipline, this recognition of psychology as a STEM subject by HEFCE is a critical development. The subsequent consultations on the subject-specific criteria and the composition of the sub-panel will provide opportunities for discussion of the assessment of sub-areas of the discipline (in keeping with what the sub-panel for psychology undertook in previous exercises).The assessment will focus on three distinct elements/profiles: outputs, environment (such as postgraduate completion rates; grant income) and impact. Impact relates to the economic, social and cultural impact of research (including government policy), and how such impact has been enhanced and facilitated.  

Outputs will remain the key element (weighting of 60 per cent), followed by impact (weighting of 25 per cent), and then environment (weighting of 15 per cent). Outputs will be assessed in terms of ‘originality, significance and rigour’. 

Impact is defined as the ‘visible’ difference that the research has made, which must have occurred in the assessment period. The impact must be deeply rooted in research that has taken place in the department, although the research itself may have occurred before the start of the assessment period. Non-academic impact is the key focus of this profile. It will be assessed by narrative (an ‘impact statement’), with performance compared against a number of metrics and with the inclusion of a number of exemplar case studies (three to four).

Environment relates to the sustainability of the department, its development of new researchers, engagement with the user community and support for interdisciplinary research, as well as grant income and PGR data. It will also be assessed by narrative and indicators to inform peer review. To encourage more consistent returns, HEFCE plans to adopt the use of proformas.

Decisions in relation to which staff to submit for assessment will be retained by individual HEIs; who will also determine which outputs for those members of staff will also be submitted. Up to four outputs may be submitted by each researcher.

Category C and D staff (those on fractional contracts – such as emeritus professors, visiting professors, honorary professors, etc.) may be excluded from future submissions. However, as such categories of staff fulfil important roles for some disciplines (such as within medicine and NHS staff appointed in such capacities), it may be the case that such staff will be eligible  for submission under certain specific UOAs. HEFCE has invited comments in relation to this issue.

Automatic bibliometric assessment will not be adopted. Bibliometrics will be used to inform peer review for those panels for whom it provides meaningful information; it is proposed that these panels will include the medical, health, biological and physical sciences, psychology, engineering and computer science. Panels will be presented with a range of bibliometric date (including raw, normalised, etc.) to assist with judgements of, for example, borderline cases.  

A response to the consultation is being drafted by the Research Board. Should you wish to contribute, please contact Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard (Policy Adviser – Science and Research) on [email protected] by 5 December 2009.

president vote
A Special General Meeting will be held on Friday 22 January 2010, 12 noon, at 30 Tabernacle Street, London EC2A 4UE to announce the result of the membership ballot for President 2011/2012.

No electoral voting or other business will take place at
this meeting. 

Spearman MEDAL
Nominations can now be made for the Spearman Medal 2010. This award recognises outstanding published work in psychology by early-career psychologists (i.e. within eight years of completing a PhD). The closing date for nomination is 8 January 2010 and full details are on the website or available from [email protected]. The winner of the 2009 Spearman Medal, Dr Matt Field, who received the award for his research into cognitive processes in addiction, will be giving a keynote address at the Annual Conference 2010.

Testing effort report

A working party of the Society’s Professional Practice Board has published a report on the assessment of effort in clinical testing of cognitive functioning for adults.

In recent years there has been considerable interest and discussion regarding assessment of effort in North America, accompanied by a burgeoning research literature. There has been less interest in the UK, and there is a need to develop perspectives based on research evidence on UK samples. Professor Tom McMillan, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘Many factors influence data quality in testing. These include the psychometric properties of the test, competence of the tester and the multiple influences affecting the performance of the testee. One such influence is motivation, which if at variance with test requirements can distort test scores, and may invalidate the assessment. The need for reliable and valid indices that are sensitive to distortions of motivation explains the development of “tests of effort”. Our report aims to highlight key issues in the assessment of effort as part of a clinical assessment of cognitive function, to provide guidance, suggest further reading and highlight areas for future research.’

The report recommends that, with some exceptions, effort tests should be given routinely as part of clinical assessment of cognitive function. Failure on effort tests requires careful interpretation. Although a number of causes are possible, deceit should always be considered. Clinicians should be aware of the sensitivity and specificity of the effort tests that they use and the base rates of suboptimal performance in the population from which their testee comes, and take these factorsinto account when interpreting and reporting findings.   

The document is available from the BPS website at


New vision for mental health services
The Society has welcomed the publication of New Horizons, the government’s new plan for the development of mental health services.

Dr John Hanna, director of the Policy Unit of the Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology said: ‘New Horizons promises to be the National Service Framework (NSF) – the next 10-year plan for mental health. We welcome in particular its vision of fostering well-being rather than just treating mental ill health. We also welcome the use it makes of health economics and the developing evidence base about which treatments for mental health problems are most effective.That evidence base shows that applied psychology has reached a position of parity with medicine, although that is not yet reflected in service delivery.

‘We therefore disagree with the implication that the NSF has been fully implemented, particularly the NSF Standard 1 of preserving and enhancing mental well-being as well as preventing and detecting emergent psychological distress. Nevertheless, we look forward to tangible policy proposals that, alongside effective commissioning and investment, will make New Horizon’s vision a reality.’

Dr Jenny Taylor, the Chair of the Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology said: ‘We welcome the emphasis on combating stigma and promoting social inclusion and the focus on recovery. Our main reservation about the document as it stands is that the section entitled “How we will get there” is rather general and would benefit from some specific commitments to provide a framework for planning and commissioning effective services.’

Were you part of psypag?

PsyPAG is celebrating its 25th year and they are interested in finding out what past committee members are up to now.

As part of their 25th year celebrations, they are looking to bring PsyPAG members old and new together. If you were a member of the PsyPAG committee and would like to be part of the PsyPAG Alumni Group, or know someone who has previously served on the committee
then please visit



Members prepared responses to 10 consultations during October on behalf of the Society. As mentioned in last month’s President’s column, one of these was to the Health Professions Council’s consultation on the statutory regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors. The response to the Department of Health’s consultation New Horizons: Towards a Shared Vision for Mental Health is highlighted on the opposite page. For full details, including copies of the consultation papers and responses, please visit our website (

Two consultations concerned Northern Ireland:
I    Dealing with the Past in Northern Ireland: The recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past (Northern Ireland Office) In the light of psychological research that has illustrated the importance of understanding the conflict in Northern Ireland as an intergroup phenomenon rather than an inter-individual one, the Society felt the Consultative Group had placed too much emphasis on individuals, especially those referred to as ’victims’. Our response recommended that the training of clinical psychologists and others in the health field should address problems their clients may present with in relation to their experiences during the Troubles’. It was also recommended that greater emphasis be placed on schemes that foster intergroup contact at all levels of society and that the development of a ‘culture of peace’ be encouraged across all elements in society, including schools, churches, the media and, in particular, government.
I    Consultation on Vetting Requirements in Adoption, Fostering and Private Fostering (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland) The response to this consultation urged that the highest level of safeguarding and vetting be implemented. The importance of uniformity in the legislation governing vetting procedures in adoption, fostering and private fostering was stressed. The response reinforced Adoption and Fostering Panels, at Trust level, as: (i) being instrumental in local decision making; (ii) having the onus of ensuring the safety of young people living and being placed in homes through fostering and adoption; and, therefore, (iii) being responsible for meeting costs of vetting procedures.

The remaining consultations responded to during October were as follows:
I    Sexual Health and Well-being for Wales 2009–2014 (Welsh Assembly Government)
I    Fair Access to Care Services (Department of Health)
I    Essence of Care: A consultation on a new benchmark on pain (Department of Health)
I    Building a Society for All Ages (HM Government)
I    Serious Case Reviews: Revised Chapter 8 of Working Together
to Safeguard Children (Department for Children, Schools & Families)
I    Common Core Skills and Knowledge for the Children and Young People’s Workforce (Children’s Workforce Development Council)

The preparation and submission of the Society’s responses to consultations on public policy is coordinated by the Policy Support Unit (PSU). All members are eligible to contribute to responses and all interest is warmly welcomed. Please contact the PSU for further information ([email protected]; 0116 252 9926/9577). Details of active and completed consultations are available at:

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