Including President's column, and Psychology Teaching award

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

Our annual conference this year is in Brighton on 1–3 April. There is still time to book for the conference (see Brighton is a great place for a conference, as far as I am concerned. The sea air, the range of restaurants and pubs, the shopping and the ambience of the town provide all those elements of ‘secondary gain’ that add up to an enticing package.

The Annual Conference has had various incarnations over the years in an attempt to make it a vehicle that serves the needs of our members while also showcasing the best of psychological science and practice.

I have fond memories of the conference that the Society held in Glasgow in 2001, which marked the centenary of the Society. With more than 2000 delegates, this was a very lively and intellectually stimulating event that allowed for great opportunities for networking. One of the key differences between that conference and those since was that all the member networks (we used to call them subsystems) held their annual conferences at the same time. It was possible to dip in and out of all kinds of presentations that one might never otherwise have had access to, and there was a chance to bump into people whom one might not have seen for years.

This model for an annual conference is the one used by the American Psychological Association, where all their 52 Divisions hold their annual meetings at the same time. This makes for a conference of real critical mass and momentum. My preference would be to have this as the model for the our annual conference.

I am a member of three Divisions and a couple of Sections; I simply could not find the time or the money to attend each of those individual conferences. I am sure that there are many members like myself whose interests, research activities or professional practice are not circumscribed by any single Division or Section. Having access to the whole gamut of psychological science and practice at one conference would certainly make me feel like the proverbial kid in the sweety shop. It seems to me that it would really make sense for the individual Society member, in these times of economic tightening, to be able to have their intellectual and professional development needs met at one annual conference event.

An integrated conference also makes sense in terms of the economics of the event for the Society, and would allow us to host the conference in high-quality settings and invite a range of prestigious and international contributors. A single, comprehensive conference is also better able to meet the needs of our student members and our postgraduate trainees, who need that kind of broad exposure to the whole range of psychology in order to help them make informed career choices.
Such a conference would also put the Society on the map of key international conferences. As the Society seeks to raises the profile of its international activities and involvements, an annual conference with international pulling power would be a very important vehicle.

I must confess that I find it disappointing that some of our member networks do not see the virtue of such an annual mega-conference. They could still exercise the quality control over content as they do at present and host their various professional meetings alongside. In the APA model, the Divisions determine their own particular slice of the conference while sharing some of the social events and other communal activities. I can only imagine that Society members would all benefit from a much richer and diverse intellectual experience with such an arrangement.

On a different note, the new Strategic Plan, which will underpin our activities for the next five-year period, is under development and we will be launching it for consultation within the next few weeks. This is an opportunity for you to think about and contribute to the future development of the Society. Please do take this chance to let us know your views. 

Psychology teaching award: Dorothy Coombs

The 2008 Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Teaching of Psychology has gone to Dorothy Coombs, a familiar face for many years amongst the community of pre-tertiary/pre-degree psychology teachers and lecturers in the UK. A lecturer at Prior Pursglove College, Guisborough, since 1976, Dorothy enjoys the respect of colleagues and students alike for her work both in and out of the classroom.

Dorothy (formerly Dorothy ‘Dot’ Winn, and Dorothy Baynes) graduated with a degree in biology and education from York University. By 1993 she had become a convert to the discipline of psychology, largely through her interest in the evolution of behaviour. Student feedback testifies to her effectiveness as a classroom teacher: Dorothy applies her knowledge of learning processes to the business of motivating students, using innovative and diverse techniques to engage them in learning psychology.

In nominating Dorothy, the committee of the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) wrote:?‘It is clear that she conveys high expectations of students, encouraging individuals to achieve, whatever their perceived ability. Her approach to learning and teaching has been judged “outstanding” in the college’s quality assurance procedures. It is a mark of Dorothy’s dedication to  the cut-and-thrust of classroom teaching, that, having been Manager of Life Sciences for many years she decided in 2008 to relinquish the bureaucratic frustrations of that senior position in order to return full-time to the more rewarding challenges of the “chalkface”.’

A member of the ATP since the early 1990s, Dorothy served as vice-chair (2001/04) and chair (2004/07); in the latter role her expectations of committee members’ performance were just as demanding as those she applies to students and to herself, and as a result the Association became more effective in its various endeavours under her leadership.

In the debate which followed the reclassification of psychology as a science by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in 2005, Dorothy wrote about the future of psychology education in The Psychologist and in the School Science Review, the journal of the Association for Science Education.

From 1997 to 2006 the ATP Helpline was staffed entirely by Dorothy; she spent many hours responding to phone calls or e-mailing teachers seeking advice and information. At conferences, whether ATP, ATP Scotland, or the European Federation of Psychology Teachers’ Associations (EFPTA), she has led many workshops on varied topics such as stress, academic writing skills, and student motivation.

As representative of the ATP, she has liaised with other organisations including the Higher Education Academy Psychology Network, and the National Science Learning Centre, where she was invited to participate in the design and delivery of teacher-training courses to facilitate science teachers’ conversion to psychology teaching.

In March 2004 Dorothy was one of a small number of teachers who founded the European Federation of Psychology Teachers’ Associations at a meeting in Helsinki; since then she has been its vice-president, promoting growth of its membership to around a dozen countries. As well as contributing regularly to the twice-yearly seminars, Dorothy has pursued funding, set up collaborative projects amongst European colleagues, and hosted placements for German trainee psychology teachers in her workplace; this kind of European activity is rare for teachers of subjects at pre-degree level.

According to the ATP?committee, ‘the evidence on paper tells a mere fraction of the story of Dorothy’s contributions to the teaching of psychology. Her energy and enthusiasm are immediately apparent, but beyond that people come to appreciate her readiness to listen, her hard work, insight and sound judgment. Whether empathising with a huddle of nervous young teachers at
a conference coffee break, or going systematically through committee meeting minutes to check whether members have completed assigned tasks, Dorothy has shown unshakeable commitment. And one should bear in mind that all of her ATP and EFPTA work is unpaid. Dorothy Coombs is both an excellent teacher and a tireless champion of pre-degree psychology; her contribution to the advancement of psychology education is enormous, and without a doubt deserves recognition.’

On hearing she had been honoured with the award Dorothy said: ‘For once I am speechless! This award means a great deal to me, as it is about the job I have loved all my life and the students I have loved to work with. I am indebted to my colleagues in the ATP and EFPTA for their support and encouragement.’

West Midlands award

Dr Joe Kiff, who works for Dudley Primary Care Trust, has been named as the West Midlands Branch ‘Psychologist of the Year’. 

Dr Kiff has been recognised following his work on the Psychology Wiki (see The site has been running for almost three years, and now carries more than 25,000 articles. Last year the site had over 1 million unique visitors, from almost every country in the world.

This new knowledge structure now holds out the possibility of constructing a comprehensive narrative account of our science describing the concepts we use, what we know, what the evidence is, and what theories we have to explain our findings,’ Kiff said. ‘Using the collaborative editing model we can organise ourselves, if we choose, to provide updateable reviews of all areas of psychology in which there is a substantive literature, including all the main references.’

Expansion is very much on Kiff’s mind. ‘Now we have the technology we need the political will to organise a system for inviting contributions and managing the project to bring it to fruition. My own view is that this is best achieved via the divisional structure and special interest groups of the BPS. If they can coordinate activity in their own areas of expertise and eventually facilitate an international collaboration of experts, we can make this a solid exercise in professional communication.’

According to Kiff, ‘this is just the beginning. The site is only 1 per cent of what it can be. We have laid the track of what could become a major road network of professional information. There will be accidents and disagreements in the running of the system, and it will need the systematic support of an organisation
to maintain and police it. But once created I believe we will not be able to contemplate doing without the unimagined benefits it will bring to the discipline.’

Be aware
We have had information of a fraudulent leaflet being posted to Chartered Psychologists, possibly via the addresses published on our online Directory. Med1web is a division of Novachannel AG and is currently under criminal investigation in Switzerland. If you receive any correspondence from this company, please disregard it and do not respond.

Online shop

During 2009 we’re introducing the BPS Shop to make life a bit easier for our members. A single destination on our website to book conferences and events, and to download current Society publications. Look out for more details in next month’s Psychologist.


Responses were submitted to seven consultations in January, as follows:
I    Alcohol Dependence: Scope consultation (National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence)
I    Improving the Value of Drug Treatment Systems: Draft assumptions (National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse)
I    Indicators of a School’s Contribution to Well-being (Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted] and the Department for Children, Schools & Families [DCSF])
I    Policy and Practice for Adults with a Learning Disability: Proposed action plan (Welsh Assembly Government)
I    Reducing Reoffending in London1(Ministry of Justice) – see the News section (p.195) for details
I    Safeguarding Adults: A consultation on the review of the ‘No Secrets’ guidance (Department of Health, Home Office and Ministry of Justice)
I    ‘Talk to Me’ – A National Action Plan to Reduce Suicide and Self Harm in Wales 2008–2013 (Welsh Assembly Government)

While welcoming the overall intention of Ofsted and the DCSF in their proposals regarding the indicators of schools’ contributions to well-being, members were concerned that the proposed methods of measurement would not generate robust, consistent or meaningful data able to demonstrate whether or not a school is successful in improving well-being but would show only whether it is promoting it at all.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s proposals for an action plan for adults with a learning disability identified the need for: clear outcome measures and quality indicators in service commissioning; service-user involvement in commissioning; and the need for evidence-based services. However, members expressed grave concerns that existing research on the cost-effectiveness of services might be misinterpreted as sanctioning the cutting of services without taking into account the needs of the individual. It was also felt that an opportunity had been missed to highlight the mental health needs of people with learning disabilities.

In addition to the above responses, comments were also sent to the Royal Society for consideration in their response to the International Council for Science’s consultation on its strategic plan for 2012 to 2017. 

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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