Making educational psychology more visible

A letter from our December edition.

It was reassuring to read Helen Owen’s account of her burgeoning career as an applied educational psychologist (‘An educational experience’, October, 2016). Often our professional variation appears to have a near invisible presence in the media, in governmental policy and in research digests. We EPs appear to make little impact.

Perhaps this is the fault or responsibility of educational psychology – the conglomerate of EP professional practice, training and research?

I have had at least two telephone discussions with the editor of The Psychologist over the last few years as to why there is a perception within the EP conglomerate that the publication neglects educational psychology. On each occasion Jon Sutton justifiably rounded on the criticism that I was representing, challenging the EP conglomerate and the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) to propose a themed special issue and produce more submissions that he could publish, pending quality control.

It seems to me – and I write as an individual applied-research psychologist (rather than as the Chair-Elect of the DECP) – that the perceived lack of impact might be influenced by a number of contextual factors, including:
I    Our doctoral training route produces
a large quantity of mostly qualitatively researched theses (approximately 150 every year) – high quality, worthy, but mostly small N.
I    We get regularly suckered as a profession into hoary old academic disputes, such as the autism, literacy and ‘dyslexia’ debates, but are unable to elevate a champion’s profile high enough to have a significant impact on UK policy.
I    At the same time, we do not appear to have a big shout-out about the predicament of children in respect of migration, world wars, pornography, sexploitation, drugs, crime, education policy, and social policy.

It appears to be often ignored that EPs are specialists in child development (not just psychometrics); work intensively with families (not just schools); and publish many books. Nonetheless, the press tend to reach for their dog-eared lists of clinical and child psychologists when they want a view, a soundbite or a quote about the psychology of children.

It is quite probable that if the EP conglomerate is to respond effectively to the BPS’s Strategic Plan 2015–2020, by ‘[promoting] advancements in psychological knowledge and practice’; ‘[maximising] the impact of psychology on public policy’; and ‘[increasing] the visibility of psychology and [raising] public awareness of its contribution to society’, the DECP will have to show wise and effective leadership in addressing some of the factors that might contribute to increasing the visibility and impact of the EP conglomerate.

In the meantime, if you are an EP and you have a good idea for a special issue of The Psychologist, or an impactful article, please let the DECP know (e-mail me if you would like); and we will support you in taking this forward with the editor.

Brian Apter
Division of Educational and Child Psychology
[email protected]

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