The Changing Role of the Educational Psychologist

A day in the life of...

I feel particularly privileged to be at the vanguard of psychological practice at this challenging but also exciting time of change for the profession of educational psychology. 

I started my journey in this field in 1996 and could not have envisaged that today I and my colleagues would be embedded into school teams working in collaboration to support the whole community. Certainly, in our practice we have seen an increasing realisation from schools and other educational establishments that what is needed is not yet another professional to carry out isolated assessments, but holistic support to empower systemic change and build capacity within the organisation. 

One of the questions I ask most often if requested to carry out a one-off ‘assessment’ is “What do you hope will happen afterwards?”. This flummoxes many colleagues as well a parent/carers as apart from the obvious reply “It will help get [resources/funding/EHCP]”, very little will change on the ground if the people around the child/children or young person/people do not feel skilled or confident at meeting presenting needs. Instead, consider that what actually works is a process of assessment through intervention, adapting said intervention (and support of staff and family) in response to regular review and reflection. I emphasise the latter as it is this that it is very often missing as we race for some type of end goal. Unfortunately, scant reflection leads to missing the potential changes that can be made at the systemic level as we focus too closely at the individual level. 

Much of the work my practice undertakes is around preventative and supportive approaches tailored to the strengths and development needs of a particular school/education community. For example, over the last three years I have thoroughly enjoyed working with a primary academy together with the speech and language therapist in planning, piloting and implementing a systemic approach from Foundation Stage upwards to meet the varied profiles of children presenting with Autistic Spectrum Condition. By starting from a strengths based perspective and offering person-centred development (in addition to whole staff training) a process of change and empowerment has gradually engulfed the staff team, with staff now taking the initiative or enthusiastically offering ways of further enhancing provision. I can confidently say that school practice now equals any in a specialist setting and, dare I say it, with that has come a reduction in the need for formal assessments as early intervention has reaped benefits.

Job done then! Of course not. Progressive establishments do not use a tick box approach to meeting additional needs but understand that organisations are fluid and best practice is about anticipating and planning for needs beyond the here and now. This has never been so salient as in the current climate of dwindling funds and increasing emphasis on educational establishments to meet the needs of their school community through internal provision. So, I urge you the next time you see your educational psychologist or other support professional to think carefully about how you are planning to use their specialist knowledge, advice and support. 

'a holistic and systemically orientated SEND strategy reaps many rewards'

Jagdish Barn, Chartered Educational Psychologist and a Director of FocusChange Ltd

About the author: 

Jagdish is a Chartered Educational Psychologist and a Director of FocusChange Ltd, which operates FocusPsychology. She is the Practice Lead, managing the team of experienced practitioners and setting the high quality benchmark for professional practice. Jagdish brings a unique set of skills to this role and has over 20 years’ experience working with children, young people and adults in a variety of settings. In addition to her work in schools and other organisations, Jagdish works as an Expert Witness for the Family Courts. Jagdish’s particular area of expertise is the influence of culture on constructs around parenting and child development and its influence on attachment.

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