Our most vulnerable are being left at risk

There are concerns that the commitment could cost twice as much as first thought. Picture: AFP
There are concerns that the commitment could cost twice as much as first thought. Picture: AFP
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Educational psychologist numbers near crisis point, says Sophie Dow

LATE last year the National Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP) and the Scottish Division of Educational Psychologists (SDEP) published a report which identified that the number of trained educational psychologists in Scotland is “dangerously low” and that psychological services in Scotland were reporting a significant increase in demand. This is largely due to increased expectations on the service and a rise in those reported as having additional support needs (ASN).

The rise in those recorded as having ASN can be attributed to a greater awareness of ASN and the conditions it encompasses as well as “improved recording”, but at the end of the day we still have more people requiring access to already overstretched resources, which includes those requiring access to educational psychologists.

This improved awareness is of course to be welcomed, but what is becomingly increasingly frustrating is the emerging disparities across local authorities in identifying those with ASN, with possibly tens of thousands of those with ASN missing out on the support they deserve.

This, coupled with cuts to local authority budgets and the withdrawal of funding for the training of educational psychologists, places that very profession close to a tipping point. A quarter of educational psychologists might retire in the next four years and too few new trainees are being recruited.

There is also a concern that some councils could breach their statutory obligations on provision of services for those requiring support if the situation does not improve.

As a society we should be judged on how we deal with the most vulnerable, such as our children and young people and this is why we are renewing our call for urgent action to address the dangerously low number of educational psychologists at present, before it reaches crisis point.

The ratio of educational psychologists to the population is now even worse than in 2001, when a national review pinpointed an urgent need to train more staff.

Increased demand for psychological services exists at a time when numbers of educational psychologists have declined to the same level they were at in 2001 when the then Minister for Education and Young People expressed the view in the foreword of the Currie Review (2002) that there was an “urgent need to recruit and train more educational psychologists”.

The current report indicates that the removal of funding is having a significant and growing impact on the numbers of individuals applying to train for the profession – there has been a drop in applicants in the region of 70 per cent.

There is also evidence of a number of shortages of educational psychologists, particularly in rural areas of Scotland, for example the Highlands and the Shetland Islands.

The full workforce planning report from the profession shows that the ratio of educational psychologists to the population was worse in 2012 (1:13,613) than in 2001 (1:13,362).

The reduced interest in this area of psychology comes after the Scottish Government, in November 2011, scrapped a £49,000 bursary designed to put students through two years of training. By contrast, the training of clinical psychologists in Scotland is fully funded, and educational psychologists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland still receive significant financial support.

In order to address this, the Scottish Government must intervene and give councils clear guidance on how many educational psychologists are required per head of population to safeguard an effective level of service for all our children and young people. There should also be increased financial support for those looking to enter the profession.

We are sitting on a ticking time bomb of increased demand and we cannot allow those who require vital psychology services to be left confined to the fringes simply due to a lack of personnel to address this need.

Educational psychologists play a vital role in supporting vulnerable children, young people and families, and contribute towards health and wellbeing and curricular initiatives across our country. They are a much needed profession, let’s not turn our back on of them.

Sophie Dow of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition is the founder of Mindroom



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