Saturday, 23 October 2010

UK Parliament: debate on educational psychologists

Sound of one hand clapping

From the House of Commons, on 18 October 2010, Hansard reports –

Education Psychology

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I have taken an interest over a long time in the provision of education psychology services, as I am very much aware that long waiting times for assessment can have an impact on the rest of a child's life. I am delighted that the Government are undertaking a review into special educational needs, but deeply concerned that the training of educational psychologists appears to have been put on hold while the review takes place. I shall return to this point in more detail later, but emphasise now that educational psychologists will be needed to help to deliver the Government's agenda to improve educational outcomes for children with special educational needs and to assist with early intervention-another area being reviewed, which again I wholeheartedly applaud.

Clearly, educational psychologists have a crucial role to play. They use evidence-based psychology to help children make the most of learning opportunities in schools. They solve educational social problems and problems arising from children's differing needs through the application of psychology. They work not only with a proportion of the school and pre-school population, but also more widely with groups of parents and pupils. Examples of differing needs include visual and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, social and emotional difficulties, and many more...

Scroll down this rather long page till you come to Column 768 to read the full proceedings on this matter, which continue at length, with supportive comments from Stephen Gilbert, LD MP for St Austell and Newquay, and Simon Hughes, LD MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Especial concerns are expressed that many educational psychologists are nearing the end of their careers, while funding for training new ones is drying up.

It looks like Ms Brooke had paid close attention to the briefing material of the AEP – the Association of Educational Services. She concluded her unquestioning paeon of praise for educational psychologists –

There is an urgent need to look again at the voluntary and unsustainable nature of current funding, to ensure that national funds are made available to train and maintain good levels of educational psychologists. The country wants and needs educational psychologists, yet the current funding arrangements and the decision to delay recruitment place the future provision of educational psychologists in serious jeopardy.

The perhaps unfamiliar abbreviation 'LD' in the above stands for Liberal Democrat, part of the UK's present Coalition Government. The ministerial response on behalf of the government is also from the LD –

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Sarah Teather): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) on securing today's debate on this important topic. She has campaigned tirelessly on the issue of educational psychologists and the need for adequate coverage for many years. I remember well the many times in opposition that she sought to amend just about every Bill that went through the House, to ensure that she had an opportunity to raise this issue. I understand how strongly she feels about it, and the fact that the House is so full tonight, despite the fact that it is almost 10 to midnight, is testament to the fact that Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about it, regardless of their political party.

My hon. Friend has shown her tireless commitment to this and to other issues relating to children with special educational needs and disability over many years, and it is therefore not surprising that Dod's saw fit to make her MP of the year in its recent women in public life awards for her work on children's issues. I offer her my congratulations on that.

It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that I share her ambition to improve education and children's services in this country, in particular for those who need more support than the rest to achieve their potential. From my conversations with parents, teachers and children's services professionals since I started this job, it has become clear to me that the complex and difficult situations that many families face can be made much more manageable if they receive the support that they need.

Educational psychologists are an extremely important part of the picture for many families in a variety of ways. They assess a child's needs in order to identify problems before they get worse. They provide individual and group therapy to children who need psychological support, and they ensure that children and families are put in touch with the right professionals if they require other services. They also provide important advice to teachers and other school staff about what more can be done to support children with additional needs in educational settings, including gifted and talented children as well as children with special educational needs. They also provide a vital role in offering more strategic advice to local authorities across a range of children's services, including fostering and adoption. I pay tribute to the work that educational psychologists do; it is absolutely vital for children and their families... seq,. ad naus. (note that her reply continues on to till the next web-page:

The question of funding for training was ducked (after all, ministers are still ministers, whatever their party). Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)f chipped in to reinforce the point about funding, and the minister tried to hide behind some right-on, warm-fuzzy sentiment about how bad it is to be 'adversarial':

I am clear that the system is far too adversarial, with parents all too often feeling that they have to battle to get the needs of their child recognised, let alone catered for. There are some excellent examples of good practice, but unfortunately all too often there are harrowing tales of poor practice. We must get better at identifying need early, diagnosing accurately and putting in place the right support to meet the child's and, indeed, the family's needs. We need a more transparent system in which assessments are streamlined and easier to cope with-a system that focuses more on outcomes for the child and the family and not just on ticking boxes on a piece of paper. I want parents to have more choice and involvement in decisions about their child's education and care. Much more can and should be done to raise the attainment of children with special educational needs and disability as well as to raise expectations of achievement. Key to all those areas of reform will be educational psychologists. We need to make much better use of their skills in assessment, advising teachers and schools, and working with families and children.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD), however, would not let the funding question go, Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab) put an additional oar in, and the Minister tried another red herring:

The role of educational psychologists might change depending on what we do with the assessment system. I would like them to play a greater role in offering therapeutic advice rather than just being used by local authorities as a gatekeeper to services, as happens all too often. Much work needs to be done with the Green Paper.

They would not let her off the hook, though, and she had to admit that they had a case:

I am acutely aware that the current scheme is not operating as effectively as it should be. As my hon. Friend said, contributions from local authorities have been steadily decreasing, and so far this year only 16 out of 150 local authorities have confirmed that they will be contributing, leaving a significant shortfall in funding.

Beyond that she would not go. Wait till Christmas, she said, – and drew the discussion to a sharp and tetchy conclusion:

We hope to publish the Green Paper at some point in December. I am sorry that I cannot give a time for reform of the system around educational psychologists. All I can say is that.

Never mind the quality, feel the width

No doubt the AEP will be pleased that it got its day in court, but what has been learned other than there is only one factor in determining anything: how much will it cost and who will pay for it.

But who it is for,? What does it actually do? These are not secondary questions.

Primary the legislators should be asking ask what 'psychology' educational psychologists have that actually is practically relevant to the processes of education, not least to 'assessment' – and what is the ethical basis of how they lend their 'science' to the service of their local-authority paymasters.

Who are educational psychologists' clients anyway: children/families or the schools/bureaucracy.

To dredge up that long-unconfronted question: Whose psychology is it anyway?

Can one expect that this lack-lustre, unquestioning Parliamentary debate is indication of what is being discussed behind closed doors in preparation for Christmas's Green paper. If it is, then never mind the education psychologists (who does?), what future does Conductive Education have in the English state that is so shallowly understood by our democratic representatives?

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