This article explains how educational psychologists support children with additional support needs and answers common questions we hear about from parents and carers about their role. (It was written with input from members of the Scottish Division of Educational Psychologists and the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists. Practice may differ in some local authority areas.)
What is the role of an educational psychologist?
Educational psychologists work within local authorities, in partnership with families and other professionals, to help children and young people achieve their full potential. Educational psychologists support schools and the local authority to improve all children’s experiences of learning.
They use their training in psychology and knowledge of child development to assess difficulties children may be having with their learning. They provide advice and training on how schools might help children to learn and develop. They recommend methods, or develop strategies in partnership with schools, to help a child learn more effectively. Strategies may include teaching approaches, improvements to learning environments, advice on curriculum materials and behaviour support.
Educational psychologists also keep up-to-date with best practice, policy and research relating to how children learn and make sure this informs local policy and practice.
Educational psychologists may also be involved in, and advise, local authority groups considering additional support for learning policy or provision. For more detailed information see the SDEP website.
How are educational psychology services organised?
Educational psychology services may differ from area to area. In many cases a school, cluster of schools or local area will be assigned an educational psychologist or team of psychologists who work closely with school staff to support them.
In most areas a practice agreement between the school/s and the educational psychology service is drawn up, setting out the services that will be provided throughout the school year. This is reviewed and checked to make sure it is working for everyone involved.
How do educational psychologists get involved with a child?
A child may come to the attention of an educational psychologist in a number of ways. If a child is born with a condition that means they may have learning difficulties, or it is clear from an early age they may need extra support to learn or develop, an educational psychologist may be part of an early years multi-agency assessment team.
Once a child is attending pre-school or school a child’s additional support needs may be picked up during play, normal classroom teaching or the school’s own assessment processes. A teacher may raise concerns with the educational psychologist and request further assessment, advice or support. Any direct work with a child is done with the full consent of a child’s parents or carers.
If a parent is concerned their child is struggling at school, they have the right to ask their education authority to find out whether their child has additional support needs and to request a specific assessment (which can include an educational psychology assessment). To find out more information see The parents’ guide to additional support for learning.
How do educational psychologists assess a child?
The assessment of a child’s additional support needs is not a one-off activity carried out by an educational psychologist. Assessment is part of the day-to day routine of learning and teaching. In some cases, an educational psychologist will carry out further investigation of a child’s needs. Assessment is not separate from the strategies that are put in place to support a child. The information which educational psychologists gather contributes to the planning, action and review process.
If further investigation is needed, the educational psychologist will collect information about the child’s learning and development. This may be done by:
- talking to the child’s current or previous teachers
- talking to the child’s parents
- analysing the child’s school work and approach to learning
- observing the child in the classroom
- considering the child’s emotional and social development and behaviour
- talking to the child themselves.
In some cases an assessment may be carried out without involving the child directly.
How do educational psychologists support schools?
Educational psychologists work with schools to help them look at the needs of the whole child so they are able to be included fully in class, school and community life.
They provide advice to head teachers and school staff where needed and provide training to help staff to develop skills to support children with specific needs and enhance all children’s learning. They provide advice on target setting for children’s learning plans. They are not responsible for drawing up or implementing plans in schools.
They help schools to communicate about a child’s needs and support them to fully involve parents.
Do educational psychologists only work with school age children?
Educational psychologists do not just work with children and young people in school, they work with families with very young children in early years settings and in planning for young people leaving school and moving on to employment or further education.
Do educational psychologists decide which school a child attends?
Educational psychologists work for the local authority providing their analysis of children’s needs and how these can be met in particular environments. They may be involved in discussion, and consultation with parents, relating to which type of school placement would best meet a child’s educational needs. The final decision about where a child is placed lies with the local authority.
Parents have the right to make a placing request for their child to attend a particular school and to appeal this if refused. More information about placing requests can be found in Factsheet 3: Placing Request