The new and rapidly changing context of the Every Child Matters agenda presents challenges and opportunities for the role of the educational psychologist. This forms the backdrop against which a review of the functions and contribution of educational psychologists has been conducted.
For educational psychologists as for SENCOs, the Every Child Matters agenda has many implications for future roles and responsibilities. A recent study for the DfES* examines the views of a range of stakeholders as to the distinctive contribution that educational psychologists (EPs ) can make in the newly established children’s services, where there is an increased emphasis on multi-agency working and on the facilities and barriers that may exist.
Too heavily involved in SEN assessment
The authors note that in relation to work with children who have SEN, there was a universally held view that EPs have been too heavily involved in statutory assessments and that this has prevented them from expanding their work so as to make more effective contributions that can maximise the added value to ECM outcomes for children.
However, all respondent groups identified an important role for EPs to work with individual children who have severe, complex and challenging needs. There was also evidence that, where there is a reduction in EPs’ work relating to statutory assessment, this allows them to undertake a greater variety of effective SEN work.
By far the most frequently reported facilitator of EP practice was the good working relationships and communication skills that the EP had established with all agencies involved, as well as children and parents. There was also evidence that, when EPs and other agencies were clear about the contribution that they could offer to a particular piece of work, all agencies were more willing to contribute and positive outcomes for children resulted. The most commonly cited barrier to effective practice, in particular from staff in schools, was the limited contact time with EPs. Most respondent groups valued highly the contact that they had, but would have welcomed more, particularly in the area of therapy and intervention.
Recommendations for the evolving role of the profession are based on five interconnected themes:
1. The impact of EP work in meeting the five ECM outcomes
All EP service development plans should be based around meeting the five ECM outcomes and annual reviews of services should assess the extent to which these plans have been successfully implemented. EPs and other agencies working with children should engage in joint planning around the five outcomes so that each agency can assess the potential and actual contribution that they can make.
In all areas of day-to-day work EPs should actively consider how their work is contributing to meeting the five outcomes for children to: be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing. This contribution should be recorded and, where appropriate, communicated to other agencies involved – including, if appropriate, parents/carers and the child him/herself.
2. The extent to which the role and function of EPs is distinctive
Documentation about the range of work offered by an EP service should be explicit about the psychological nature of the contribution the service can make.
When responding to a particular request for EP involvement, EPs should clarify the specific nature of the work required and the psychological contribution that they can offer and, where appropriate, clarify whether an alternative provider is available who might be able to carry out the work with the same impact.
When requesting EP involvement commissioners or contractors should, wherever possible, be clear about the specific nature of the work required and the psychological contribution that they are expecting from the EP.
3.The impact of a reduction in EPs’ role in statutory work
EPs should continue to have a key role in the statutory assessment of children with the most complex needs.
They should take advantage of the trend in the reduction of statutory work to expand and develop their activities in different areas where their skills and knowledge can be used to greater effect, eg in group and individual therapy, staff training and in systems work.
4.EPs and multi-agency involvement
EP services should continue to work with other agencies to see how they can enhance and develop effective multi-agency work and to co-locate their services where this seems to be appropriate and with the full agreement of all parties.
EPs services should actively seek to extend the number of specialist EP posts and this should be accompanied by the promotion of clear negotiation of respective roles with professionals working in related services.
5. The future role and function of EPs within children’s services
Documentation about the role of local authority EP services should stress the community based nature of the work.
EP services should consider how assistant EPs and trainee psychologists can make a contribution that complements those of fully qualified EPs.
Educational and clinical psychologists working in the same area should continue to strengthen their professional relationships and develop plans for effective joint working where their skills could be complemented effectively.
Professional organisations representing EPs should begin discussions about the possible eventual merger of the two professions, child clinical and educational psychologists.
A Review of the Functions and Contribution of Educational Psychologists in England and Wales in Light of ‘Every Child Matters: Change for Children’
Authors: Peter Farrell, Kevin Woods, Sarah Lewis, Steve Rooney, Garry Squires, Mike O’Connor, The University of Manchester
A research brief summarising the report is available online at www.dfes.gov.uk/research