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DECP response to BBC documentary 'Subnormal: A British Scandal' and the role of Educational Psychologists

21 May 2021

The Division of Educational and Child Psychology responds to the BBC documentary ‘Subnormal: A British Scandal’.

The documentary is profoundly moving and distressing. As a profession we must accept our role in the devastating practice of misclassifying children as ‘educationally subnormal’ and the racist practice that resulted in disproportionate numbers of black pupils being sent to ESN schools. 

We acknowledge and recognise the distress this documentary and this historical practice will have caused to those involved, their families and Educational Psychologists, in particular black and ethnic minority Educational Psychologists.

We are proud of the work the profession does do to improve the education and lives of children, and the strides we have made to ensure children are at the heart of what we do. However we are not blind to the fact that past practices and the classification of children by various testing methods have contributed to structural and systemic inequalities. In order for us to make progress we must hear and address uncomfortable truths, reflect and take meaningful action.

As a Division we have worked hard, and continue to work hard, to take a child-centred approach in all that we do, and take a stand on key issues within society which impact the life chances of our children including inequality, poverty and social justice. Our recent conference was focused on what Educational Psychologists can do to promote social justice, inclusion and diversity and challenge poverty and inequality for the children, families and schools they work with.

In October 2020 we made a pledge to challenge structural racism and remove the barriers that affect current and potential members of the profession and the children and young people Educational Psychologists work with. We have a number of working groups focused on evaluating and updating guidance on assessment approaches, including the use of psychometric testing for children to ensure they do not stigmatise and limit children, and working groups focused on inclusion and literacy. The work of these groups aims to ensure we are promoting fairness and equity, reducing inequality, challenging discrimination and promoting social justice. In this way we can challenge the ‘status quo’ within the education system and society more widely.

The BPS accreditation criteria and the HCPC standards of education and training, and standards of proficiency, ensure that those entering the profession understand the potential bias and limitations of some forms of assessment and ensure the promotion of equality is at the heart of all we do. Our profession is now recruiting psychologists from a more diverse range of backgrounds that better reflects the national population. 

We still have a long way to go, but we believe by being open and reflective with our members we can continue to ensure our work as educational psychologists enables all children to thrive. If any members have any concerns following the documentary, or anything they would like to raise with the committee please contact [email protected] with DECP in the subject line.

DECP Chair Group and Committee

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