'Insufficient' educational psychologists to 'meet demand' from schools, warns government report

There are “insufficient” educational psychologists currently working and in the training pipeline to meet demand, a new report has warned.

More than 90 per cent of local authority principal educational psychologists warned they are experiencing more demand for their services than they are currently able to meet, with two thirds of councils reported as struggling to fill vacant positions.

The government-commissioned report, Research on the educational psychologist workforce, found that increasing the number of training places and distributing them to existing providers was believed to be the best way to tackle the serious shortage in educational psychologists.

Put simply, there are insufficient educational psychologists both now and in the training pipeline to meet demand

The Department for Education announced today that it would provide over £30 million in funding to train more educational psychologists, with over 600 trainees due to receive grants and help with tuition costs.

The number of educational psychologists employed by local authorities dropped 13 per cent between 2010 and 2015, falling from 1,900 to 1,650.

The drop has been linked to budget pressures on councils forcing them to shed services.

In January, Dr Cath Lowther warned the parliamentary education committee that educational psychologists are now being forced to identify the special educational needs of pupils in just “one visit” due to lack of funding, resulting in some needs being wrongly identified.

The new report, which drew on workforce data and interviews with educational psychologists and key stakeholders, warned there are “relatively attractive” jobs available for educational psychologists, but “there are not enough qualified educational psychologists to fill them”.

It added that concerns were raised that training providers may be unwilling to increase the number of training places available without an increase in fees, while some local authorities “would be unable to bear the cost of providing placements for additional trainees”.

“The most common preference amongst principal educational psychologists and training providers focused on increasing the number of training places and distributing them to existing providers,” the report said.

“There was a common concern, however, related to the capacity of placement providers in some areas to offer more placements without some assistance in off-setting the costs.”

The report stated the education psychologist profession “shows many of the features of a profession where there is an imbalance between supply and demand”.

“Put simply, there are insufficient EPs both now and in the training pipeline to meet demand, which in turn exacerbates concerns over the workload and variety of work available for LA EPs.”

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, with the most commonly cited factor being an increase in statutory assessment work caused by SEND reforms in 2014.

Last summer, Kent county council warned its few remaining educational psychologists were so tied up with education health care plan (EHCP) assessments they could not support pupils with learning difficulties.

Despite this, the report found that 87 per cent of newly-qualified educational psychologists reported being very or quite satisfied with their current job, with a strong preference expressed for working in local authorities.

The DfE’s £31.6 million fund will contribute towards operating costs for training providers and the cost of university tuition for trainees, including a bursary grant in their first year of study.

In December, the DfE announced an additional £350 million funding for high needs, which included funding to increase the cohort of educational psychologists from 160 to 206 each year.

However, the announcement faced a mixed reception as school leaders warned it was “not enough” to combat under-funding in the system.