Stuart Jacob: Government must help educational psychologists

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It is both heartening and reassuring that David Stewart MSP has secured a debate in the Scottish Parliament on concerns over the numbers of educational psychologists. There are a number of issues facing the profession and unless urgent action is taken, it is undoubtedly heading towards crisis.

In late 2013 the 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.

That same report noted that a quarter of practising educational psychologists might retire in the next four years and too few new trainees are being recruited, creating a concern that some councils could breach their statutory obligations on provision of services for those requiring support if the situation does not improve.

Due to this shortage many of those who require the services of educational psychologists the most are subject to a post code lottery, with services inconsistent and varied across Scotland.

Increased demand for psychological services, with a dramatic escalation in those identified with additional support needs, exists at a time when the number of educational psychologists has declined to the same level as in 2001. Indeed, the ratio of educational psychologists to the population is now even worse than in that year, when a national review pinpointed an urgent need to train more staff.

On top of the trained staffing shortage in 2012 the Scottish Government removed the bursary of £49,000 paid to each trainee educational psychologist over the full two-year period of the course.

The removal of the bursary paid to each trainee by the Scottish Government means that new trainees need to have access to around £25,000 each year for two years to self-fund course fees, travel and living expenses. This has led to a 70 per cent drop in applicants for the selection process for the training courses.

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 key role in supporting vulnerable children, young people and 
families and we need to give this service the urgent support it so desperately needs.

Stuart Jacob of Falkland House School is a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition