The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

School-led SEND provision: educational psychology

Gareth D Morewood clarifies how a trainee educational psychologist can bring inclusion and positive change to SEND provision.

In previous blogs we have discussed specific psychodynamic approaches to educational psychology (EP) and I have written about the role of our trainee educational psychologists (EPs) within our school provision.

The role of the EP and how SENCos utilise their expertise varies significantly. In this SENCology post I hope to clarify how we use our trainee EP in partnership with our feeder primary schools as part of our school-led SEND provision.

What provision can an EP provide?

The trainee educational psychologist (TEP) role, based at Priestnall School, is used to directly support the wider school aims and objectives in relation to young people and their families. The TEP should apply psychological knowledge creatively, promote inclusion and positive change for all involved. This provision is additional to statutory LA EP provision.

As part of the school-based educational psychology service to Priestnall School and a cluster of local Primary schools and nurseries, the TEP supports students with a diverse range of needs by:

  • promoting the development of child centred, solution focused approaches and strategies
  • working with parents/carers, school staff and a variety of multi-agency professionals to support children, young people and families
  • engaging flexibly with children, young people and their carers/families to promote constructive, positive relationships
  • where appropriate, undertaking assessments using a range of tools and approaches and produce reports as required in an appropriate format
  • provide emotional wellbeing and therapeutic intervention and advice
  • provide practical and emotional support for teaching staff
  • provide support, guidance, interpretation and knowledge to carers, families and school staff
  • support, where appropriate, the work of other staff working with children and young people through consultation and supervision
  • undertake training and systemic work with school staff.

The TEP works as part of a multi-disciplinary team, including speech & language therapists, psychotherapist, drama therapist and school staff.

What assessment techniques are used?

A range of assessment techniques are used, including parent/teacher/other professional consultations, contextual observation, questionnaires and assessment materials. This is in order to look at a broad range of needs within a child centred ethos, such as:

  • view of current situation and environment
  • self-image and development of self
  • cognitive skills: verbal, non-verbal and spatial reasoning
  • curricular skills: literacy and numeracy
  • executive functioning, such as memory and information processing
  • behaviour
  • social and emotional needs, including attachment and resiliency building
  • support for children and young people with neurodevelopmental difficulties, for example ADHD, ASC
  • mental health needs: anxiety, low mood, self-harm, eating disorders.

When more extensive involvement is required, other therapeutic models are used, such as therapeutic play, cognitive behaviour therapy, personal construct psychology and positive psychology.

Who is involved?

Parents/carers and family life are considered to be a crucial part of the process of involvement, with interactions and relationships being key to a young person’s development and the home-school dynamic being of particular importance (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Evidence shows that if parents can be supported to better manage their children’s behaviour, alongside work being carried out with the child at school, there is a much greater likelihood of success in reducing the child’s problems, and in supporting their academic and emotional development.’ (DfE, 2015)

Parent/carers are given the opportunity to meet at the start of each new referral and open lines of communication are established. A feedback meeting will also take place outlining strategies for the process of assess-plan-do-review.

The role of the educational psychologist

In their report ‘Educational Psychology Services [England]: Current role, good practice and future directions’ the DfEE defined the role of an educational psychologist as:

‘to promote child development and learning through the application of psychology by working with individuals and groups of children, teachers and other adults in schools, families other LEA (Local Education Authority) officers, health and social services and other agencies’ (DfE, 2000)

There are around 3000 educational psychologists registered with the HCPC in England, the majority are employed by local authorities in standalone educational psychology services, although increasing numbers are working in multidisciplinary teams. There is a growing trend of educational psychology services being commissioned directly by schools (Truong & Ellam, 2014). This is partly in response to budget cuts and the impact of the Children and Families Act (2014) on statutory functions which is having an impact on the capacity of local authority services, resulting in an increase in traded services and other independent provision.

‘The ways in which the profession is employed and EP services are commissioned are changing. It is likely that a smaller proportion of EPs will be directly employed by LAs in future, with more EP services being commissioned by LAs, individual and clusters of schools, community based organisations and parents. The current economic climate has led to staff reductions in some LA EP services and other support services including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). EPs are moving to a more varied pattern of employment – some with private sector providers of education services, and into private practice with the potential also to form social enterprises commissioned to run services, similar to those being developed under the pilots of social work practices.’ (DfE, 2011)

What do others say?

A recent service review into our TEP provision highlighted some significant strengths, particularly from parents/carers and school staff. A few of these are provided below, and bring to attention some of the core challenges that can be addressed within a school-led SEND model.

School staff indicated that:

  • key themes for the benefits of the service are: accessibility, holistic view of pupil, opportunity for professional discussion, transition and increased capacity
  • key themes for satisfaction with service are: efficiency, access to professional opinion, support for school staff and usefulness of reports
  • key themes for possible changes to service are: further increased capacity and greater role in primary transition.

‘I think the service enables schools to work with young people and their families in a unique and varied which enables young people to access areas of school life they may otherwise have not been able to do so.’

‘Being able to speak to someone/ask advice directly about a student I'm concerned about instead of having to wait for involvement from CAHMS etc.’

‘The service improves our capacity to quickly deal with complex cases and access to appropriate resources/pathways.’

Parents/carers also provided feedback.

  • All parents/carers that completed the survey strongly agreed or agreed that:
    • they were able to share their views and concerns
    • they had sufficient time to discuss their child’s needs
    • they were able to share their views and concerns.
  • All parents/carers agreed or strongly agreed that the input was independent, their questions were addressed and that the TEP seemed knowledgeable and assisted in finding ways to help.
  • All parents/carers agreed or strongly agreed that the involvement of the TEP provided a better insight into their situations.

‘Problems and difficulties are dealt with quicker.’

‘Additional professional support for our family has been amazing.’

‘Our family’s involvement with the service has made a big difference to how they all get on in school.’

Whatever your circumstances of challenges at this time, I would urge SENCo colleagues to look at the development of shared, school-led services to provide additional support for young people above any statutory service provision. Considering how to use dwindling budgets more creatively can have a significant impact, and most definitely be money very well spent.


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