Educational Psychology
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Educational Psychology

Tony Cline, Anthea Gulliford, Susan Birch

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eBook - ePub

Educational Psychology

Tony Cline, Anthea Gulliford, Susan Birch

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About This Book

Educational Psychology, Second Edition offers a comprehensive overview of how key advances in social, developmental and cognitive psychology impact upon the role of educational psychologists working today. Written by leading researchers, the book also explores controversies and dilemmas in both research and practice, providing students with a balanced and cutting-edge introduction to both the field and the profession.

Fully revised throughout, the new edition is written to encourage students to integrate their understanding of core psychological disciplines, as well as to consider what 'evidence-based practice' really means. Organized into two broad sections related to learning and behaviour, the book features a selection of vignettes from educational psychologists working in a range of contexts, as well as tasks and scenarios to support a problem-orientated approach to study.

By integrating both research and everyday practice, the book is unique in engaging a critical appreciation of both the possibilities and limitations of educational psychology. It is the ideal book for any student wishing to engage with this important and evolving field of study.

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1 What do educational psychologists do?

Susan Birch, Norah Frederickson and Andy Miller


Educational psychology seems to be rather a mysterious profession. An education officer who claimed to have read over 1,000 reports written by educational psychologists (EPs) wrote an article entitled, ‘Okay then: What do EPs do?’ (Wood, 1998). UK governments have appeared similarly baffled, in that four reviews of the role and function of EPs have been carried out since the turn of the century, one in Scotland (Scottish Executive, 2002) one in England and Wales (DfEE, 2000), and a further two in England (Farrell et al., 2006; DfE, 2011). Our main objective is that, by the end of this chapter, you will be able to answer the question in the title, and will have gained an appreciation of some of the issues in the professional practice of educational psychology that lead to the question being asked.
We begin this chapter by identifying the different levels at which EPs work (from individual child to local authority (LA)) and the core activities that they undertake. We consider similarities and differences between the work of EPs in different places and at different times in the history of the profession. A case study of an EP’s work in response to a teacher’s concern about a child is presented to illustrate the way in which different activities are typically integrated and informed, both by psychological theory and research and professional ethics and practice guidelines. The resulting central conceptualisation of the role of the EP as ‘scientist–practitioner’ is then examined, with a number of current issues and possible future developments being highlighted. The chapter concludes with information on training as an EP.


When you have studied this chapter, you should be able to:
1 describe what EPs do and identify some of the key issues in their practice;
2 evaluate the extent to which EPs can be described as scientist–practitioners;
3 outline the requirements for training as an EP and locate more detailed information if required.


In this section, we examine different descriptions of EPs’ work – from individual EPs, from government reports and from information provided to the public from LA educational psychology services. In Activity Box 1.1, we start by looking at what EPs say they do.

What do educational psychologists say they do?

Read the following four descriptions by EPs of their work. Apart from their obvious enthusiasm, what do they have in common? How many different aspects of EPs’ work are mentioned?
Use just the information in these four extracts to write a one-paragraph description of what EPs do. If possible, compare your paragraph with that produced by someone else. As you read the rest of the chapter, annotate your paragraph to reflect the further information you obtain.
EPs need to be able to multitask while simultaneously being able to prioritise their work. They need to be able to think on their feet while helping others to think through labyrinthine problems; listen carefully to what adults are saying about a child while keeping the child’s perspective in mind. There doesn’t seem to be a typical day; there are some cases that are more straightforward than others, but at the heart of them all is an attempt to gain some insight in to the child’s worldview. I find my job varied, interesting and rewarding. No two days are the same and I am frequently challenged by new experiences that need researching and learning more about.
(Louise Lomas, Buckinghamshire Educational Psychology Service)
My experience reflects the role of the EP in a service that has recently begun trading their services with schools in addition to providing the local authority core offer. I feel that schools still really value the involvement of the EP in casework, particularly when they feel the need to develop a better understanding of a young person. Once involvement has been agreed, and with consultation, schools are quite open to the direction and assessment route that the EP wants to take. While some schools still hang on to the traditional role of the EP in cognitive assessment I feel schools are increasingly open to alternative approaches such as consultation, a problem-solving approach. Within schools, EPs are joint problem solvers working with staff and parents to develop a better understanding of a presenting problem in order to inform hypotheses to identify interventions or ways forward. The EP draws upon problem-solving skills from psychological theory to steer the problem solving towards an agreeable way forward. This process can occur at multiple levels: individual, group or whole school and places EPs in a unique position of working at strategic and systemic levels within schools and Local Authorities.
(Bridget Simms, South Gloucestershire Educational Psychology Service)
EPs work at multiple levels – with individual children and families, groups of students or parents/carers and at the level of the organisation. The latter may involve working at an EP service level, within a wider Local Authority (LA) structure or in a school or early years setting. While it has been recognised that the impact of applied psychology at the level of the organisation can be of significant benefit, it can sometimes prove challenging to negotiate the time and relevant brief to operate helpfully in such a context. One piece of work I am currently engaged in with senior leadership colleagues relates to raising the standard of teaching across the whole school. It is hugely exciting, and provides the opportunity to apply multiple psychological skills, including psychological theory and research on effective teamwork. I am involved in diverse work such as participating in the training of teachers in coaching models that enhance their listening, empathising and questioning skills; designing processes such as coaching contracts and supervision structures and much more. Because of the change to role and boundaries across staff in the school, it has also included reflecting together on issues such as workload management, staff health and well-being and effective work-based strategies to support motivation and engagement in high quality learning. There is no job like that of the EP, where you are privileged to enter the worlds of children, families and those who work with them. The insight afforded through the application of high quality psychology is valued across a range of stakeholders and makes a significant, measurable difference to the lives of our children and young people!
(Emma-Kate Kennedy, Child and Family Support Team Manager and
Consultant Educational Psychologist, Redriff School, London)
What does an EP do? Such a simple question but often so difficult to answer succinctly. Over the years I have come to the following response: ‘applies skills and knowledge of psychology to bring about change, maybe with a child or adults or systems around a child’. What varies from EP to EP and situation to situation is the ‘type of change’, ‘the person or people we are helping to bring about change for’, the ‘how we do it’ and increasingly the ‘where’/ working context. For me the keys to good practice are being interested in, and good at solving, problems by thinking creatively; being able to look at yourself and reflect on your role and impact in any situation; being able to really understand, or help understand, what a person wants, how they think and feel and work with that; having a strong and wide ranging base of knowledge about different psychological and learning theories and approaches and an ability to assess the evidence base of each and being open minded and open to new ideas. The work of an EP is rarely easy or straightforward. You are often entering situations where people are stuck, frustrated, angry or upset. However, it is enormously rewarding to see such situations move forward, people to become unstuck, and resourceful enough to know what to do next and feel positive. To me the ultimate measure of success is the (unscientific and difficult to measure) ‘Ah-ha’ moment. The moment when someone says, ‘Ah-ha, I know what I could do, I could try …’ or ‘Ah-ha I can do this now!’ – positive change in action!
(Rachael Green, Educational Psychologist, working
independently in a range of contexts)
On the website of the Department for Education, the role of an EP in England is described as follows:
EPs work in a variety of ways to address the problems experienced by children and young people in education. They have a central role in the statutory assessment and statementing procedures for children with special educational needs. They work directly with a wide range of other professionals to deliver their work.
(August 2013)
In the last 10 years, reviews of educational psychology services in England and Wales (DfEE, 2000) and in Scotland (Scottish Executive, 2002) have identified very similar levels of work and core activities. The examples of work across levels and core activities shown in Table 1.1 are taken from the Scottish report. Notice the same levels that you will have already identified in the accounts given by practising EPs in Activity Box 1.1.
One issue that emerges from the international literature is a potentially confusing difference in terminology. In North America, psychologists undertaking the range of core activities carried out by EPs in Great Britain are called ‘school psychologists’. As can be seen from Table 1.2, the American Psychological Association has a separate division for EPs who are academic psychologists, such as cognitive or social psychologists, whose field of study is the processes of teaching and learning. In the UK, the term educational psychologist used to refer to both academic and practitioner psychologists working in edu...

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