Educational psychology in Scotland: We travel in hope

Aicha Reid and Martin Gemmell with a letter from our March edition.

Dr Lorna Selfe (February issue) describes swimming against the tide of segregation as an educational psychologist. During Selfe’s career, educational ideology in England has clearly ebbed and flowed. We provide an update on the state of education and educational psychology in Scotland.

Educational psychologists are still working with children and young people through local authority run schools. We still have no academies. We still have no traded services. There is perhaps a slight inflation in the recording of Additional Support Needs (ASN), the Scottish version of Special Educational Needs (SEN). Our definition of ASN is slightly wider and more contextually based than SEN. Funding for our training has improved. We are nearly all involved in some capacity with the Scottish Government roll out of School Counsellors and the wider provision of Community Mental Health. Children living in poverty and those who are Care Experienced remain our priority.

By contrast to the situation Selfe presents, in Scotland we are decreasing exclusions for children and young people with ASN and the horizon is lit by, for example, The Promise: Independent Care Review (2020) which was born from a commitment to ‘come together and love [our] most vulnerable children to give them the childhood they deserve’.

Our legislation, the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act (2000) and the Additional Support for Learning (ASL) Act (2004, amended 2009), states that provision for children with ASN is required, children’s and parents’ views matter and we have a ‘presumption of mainstreaming’. The implementation of the ASL Act was reviewed last year, in Support for learning: All our children and all their potential (2020). Recommendations included: a vision statement for success for children with ASN better integration of ASL into Curriculum for Excellence celebrating achievements of children with ASN national measurement framework for outcomes for children with ASN

The Review names educational psychologists as ‘crucial in supporting the 30.9 per cent of the school population with ASN. There is a poignant parents’ narrative which at its lowest ebb talks of battle, hurt and frustration. But there is optimism when parents reveal how the tide was turned. Without exception parents said ‘she/he listened...cared...just gets it’. The ASL Review references the kindness agenda and specifically the importance of relationships – not news to us as psychologists.

I, Aicha, have worked with children with ASN for 23 years, 16 of which as an educational psychologist, and I am now a parent of a child with significant ASN. I believe the role of the educational psychologist is to use what we know as psychologists about how people think, feel and behave to help professionals ‘get it’. That is when the magic happens. That is when children with ASN feel included in their local school and community. That is what I see when we go to the park, the swimming pool and walk around our neighbourhood and people know my child from school. That is the benefit for our family of being included where we belong.

Selfe claims that ‘Today if educational psychologists wish to argue for inclusion they will find they are swimming against the tide’. We believe that in Scotland the tide is with us. This is not to imply all is perfect, but policy and practice are headed in the right direction and maybe, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive’.

Aicha Reid and Martin Gemmell
Depute and Principal Educational Psychologist respectively
City of Edinburgh Council
[email protected]

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