Oiling the wheels? The challenges facing educational psychology in Scotland

Educational psychologists are the people who “oil the wheels of the machine”, Professor Keith Topping told the annual conference for educational psychologists in Scotland last month. “Future Priorities”, organised by the Society’s Scottish Division of Educational Psychology, was held at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, on 30 September.

Professor Topping from the University of Dundee, a Society Fellow, explained that their work can range from the assessment of special needs to providing the strategic advice necessary to councils implementing the Scottish government’s GIRFEC (‘Getting It Right For Every Child’) initiative.

Also speaking at the conference was Bryan Kirkcaldy, a former educational psychologist who is now a senior education manager with Fife Council and a spokesperson for the social inclusion network of the Association of Directors in Scotland.

Mr Kirkcaldy, reports the Times Education Supplement, said that educational psychology is a relatively young profession that has evolved significantly in recent years:

"In the early nineties educational psychologists would have been doing dyslexia assessment for individual youngsters. But they have helped local authorities to build the capacity of learning support teachers and other teachers to do that assessment themselves. And they have helped them build up strategies to deal with dyslexia, autism, ADHD and a number of other things whose prevalence has markedly increased in the UK."

He went on to outline some of the challenges facing the profession today:

"Often, educational psychologists are not seen politically as frontline in the way that teachers are, although they would wish that they are. Their direct work with clients tends to be with the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of the population - so that is not a highly visible role.

"They also work closely with a whole network of partner agencies - again, a fairly hidden role. And their work on strategy and policy is not particularly visible either - it tends to be more embedded in the local authority process."