There is a shortage of educational psychologists, with many local authorities (LAs) reporting that they are finding it hard to meet increased demand for their services, according to a new research report.

Research on the educational psychologist workforce was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and the research carried out by the Institute of Employment Research (IER) at the University of Warwick. The IER examined the distribution and demographics of the current educational psychologist workforce in England, and looked to provide evidence of any factors driving recruitment shortages. It drew on workforce data, surveys of newly qualified educational psychologists and local authority principal educational psychologists (PEPs), as well as interviews and focus groups with stakeholders such as training providers.

They found that there are insufficient educational psychologists, both in the workforce and in the training pipeline, to meet demand. The majority of educational psychologists are employed by LAs, and 85 per cent of newly qualified educational psychologists surveyed were currently employed by an LA for at least some of their work time. However, recruitment of educational psychologists by LAs is falling. Monthly recruitment data from the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) showed that public sector recruitment of Educational Psychologists fell by a third between 2015 and 2017, with a downward trend continuing into 2018. While 66 per cent of PEPs reported that they had at least one vacancy for a permanent educational psychologist post, with many also reporting difficulties recruiting, not all LAs were actively recruiting to fill their vacancies. Reasons given for this included uncertainty about the funding of posts.

This shortage is happening at a time when educational psychologist services are in higher demand. Many PEPS surveyed said the 2014 SEND reforms, which introduced education, health and care plans, had led to an increase in statutory assessment work. PEPs also reported a decrease in the variety of work that educational psychologists undertook due to the increased amount of statutory work required, with some PEPs saying they had rationed non-statutory services in order to cope with staff shortages. More than three quarters of newly-qualified educational psychologists said they felt their workload was increasing and there never seemed to be enough time to get everything done.

In terms of addressing the shortage, the most common preference amongst PEPs and training providers focussed on increasing the number of training places and distributing them to existing providers. On the same day the report was published the DfE announced funding worth £31.6 million to be put towards the training of educational psychologists, with the money to contribute both towards the costs of training providers, and cover the cost of university tuition for trainees. The DfE say that the additional funding will see over 600 trainees receive free tuition and grants. In December 2018 the DfE announced separate funding to increase the cohort of education psychologists from 160 to 206 each year.

Kate Fallon, general secretary of the AEP welcomed the new funding and said: ‘The new research backs up what we’ve been hearing from our members. We know that there is an ever-growing demand for our services, including contributing to an increasing number of education, health and care plans as well as providing specialist support for a wide range of children and young people with SEND and advice on mental health and wellbeing. A recent survey of our members indicated that over 85 per cent of respondents had seen their workload increase significantly over the past 5 years.’

Commenting on the IER research Sarb Bajwa, chief executive of the British Psychological Society, said ‘We are pleased that the DfE has responded to some of the issues raised in this report with a clear commitment to fund the training of more educational psychologists. However, money is only one issue and the retention of existing educational psychologists in local authorities also needs to be given consideration.’

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