Educational psychologists work with children and young people who are experiencing problems that hinder their successful learning and participation in school and other activities

As an educational psychologist, you'll support children and young people from birth to 25 years old who have a range of emotional and social issues or learning difficulties. You'll apply psychological theory and research in order to promote their emotional and social wellbeing.

You'll carry out observations, questionnaires interviews and assessments to identify needs and will then offer a range of appropriate interventions to overcome any issues. These can include learning programmes, behaviour management strategies, relaxation techniques and collaborative work with teachers or parents.

Your work will involve consultation with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors and other people involved in the child's education in a variety of ways.

You may also provide in-service training for teachers, teaching assistants and other professionals on issues such as behaviour and stress management. A further aspect to the job is research and advising on educational provisions and policies.

Responsibilities

As an educational psychologist, you'll need to:

  • assess children's learning and emotional needs
  • design, develop and support therapeutic and behaviour management programmes
  • consult with multi-agency teams to advise on the best approaches and provisions to support learning and development
  • support parents, teachers and others involved with the education of children and young people
  • design and develop projects involving children and young people
  • write reports making recommendations on action to be taken
  • advise, persuade, support and negotiate with teachers, parents and other education professionals
  • attend case conferences involving multidisciplinary teams on how best to meet the social, emotional, behavioural and learning needs of the children and young people in your care
  • prioritise effectiveness - the context and environment that influence the child's development are seen as increasingly important
  • conduct active research
  • formulate interventions that focus on applying knowledge, skills and expertise to support local and national initiatives
  • develop and apply effective interventions to promote psychological wellbeing, social, emotional and behavioural development, and to raise educational standards.

Salary

  • Salaries for trainee educational psychologists in England, Wales and Northern Ireland typically range from £23,884 to £32,623. Once fully qualified, salaries begin at around £37,175 and rise incrementally up to £50,159. This can increase to £55,040 with the addition of structured professional assessment points.
  • Senior and principal educational psychologists can earn from £46,607 to £62,849. With the addition of discretionary scale points and structured professional assessment points, this can increase to £68,954.
  • Fully-qualified educational psychologists in Scottish local authorities earn in the region of £46,467 to £59,106. Salaries for senior psychologists are £62,787, rising to £72,759 for principal educational psychologists.

Salaries in the London area attract a London weighting.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland most salaries are set using the Soulbury Agreement.

Pay scales in Scotland are set by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) and are similar to those set by the Soulbury committee.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 37 hours per week, Monday to Friday. This can include some evening work for parent-teacher meetings. Flexibility is common provided the job requirements are met.

There are opportunities for part-time work, career breaks and job-sharing.

What to expect

  • You'll usually have a central office base and travel locally to schools and clients' homes as required. Opportunities are available throughout the UK.
  • You'll usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team and will collaborate closely with teachers, social workers and doctors.
  • Self-employment and freelance work as a consultant is an option for experienced educational psychologists. The work is more likely to be focused on individuals, or within certain sectors, such as independent schools.
  • The work can be challenging as it involves contact with children and young people who are facing difficulties, but can also be rewarding.
  • Educational psychologists receive supervision throughout their career.

Qualifications

To practise as an educational psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), which involves training at postgraduate level.

To begin training you'll normally need Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a psychology degree or conversion course accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS). For a full list of GBC qualifying courses see BPS - Find an accredited course.

For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you'll then need to complete a three-year BPS-accredited Doctorate in educational psychology.

The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) manages the recruitment process for courses in England. Courses are eligible for government funding via the Educational Psychology Funded Training (EPFT) scheme. For full information and details of eligible courses, see AEP - Training. Self-funded places are occasionally available.

Courses in Wales and Northern Ireland are offered by the University of Cardiff and Queens University Belfast and are funded by the Welsh government and Northern Ireland Department of Education respectively.

Entry onto an accredited Doctorate course is becoming increasingly competitive and requires a good first degree, usually a 2:1 or higher, as well as a minimum of one year's full-time experience working with children and young people in an education, health, social care, youth justice or childcare setting. Entry requirements vary between courses, so contact admissions tutors for full details.

Most of your first year on the Doctorate is university-based, while in your second and third year you'll spend three to four days a week on a practice-based placement with a local authority educational psychology service or other approved provider. You'll also need to complete a substantial piece of research and a dissertation.

Successful completion of the Doctorate leads to eligibility to apply for chartered membership of the BPS, full membership of the BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology and entry to the HCPC register as an educational psychologist.

To qualify as an educational psychologist in Scotland, you'll need to complete a BPS-accredited two-year Masters degree followed by a year of supervised practice in an accredited local authority psychological service. On successful completion of the training you'll gain the Qualification in Educational Psychology (Scotland) and be eligible for HCPC registration, as well as chartered membership of the BPS and Scottish Division of Educational Psychology. The course is offered by the University of Dundee and is funded via a partnership between the Scottish government and Scottish local authorities.

The conditions for funding for the Doctorate (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the QEP Scotland include a requirement to practise for a minimum of a two-year period as an educational psychologist (three years in Northern Ireland) post-qualification.

All students are subject to a criminal records check.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication skills
  • sensitivity, tact and diplomacy
  • an open-minded and sensitive approach when dealing with children and young people
  • the ability to explore emotional issues with children and young people
  • a healthy curiosity and research-minded approach to work
  • analytical skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the ability to be assertive, persuasive and an effective facilitator
  • independence and self-motivation
  • self-awareness, self-knowledge, security and self-belief
  • capability to working under pressure
  • time management skills to be able to manage a caseload
  • understanding of cultural and religious diversity.

Work experience

To be accepted onto a postgraduate course, you'll need at least one year's full-time experience (or part-time equivalent) working in an education, health, social care, early years or youth justice setting, although two years are sometimes required.

Experience as a teacher is valuable, and many successful applicants are experienced teachers. However, other relevant roles include education social worker or social work assistant, assistant psychologist, teaching assistant, learning mentor or literacy tutor, careers adviser, community education officer, residential child care officer, care worker, speech and language therapist, or early years worker.

Course providers will be looking at how you've applied your knowledge of psychology, what you've learnt from your experience and how it is relevant to the role of an educational psychologist.

Employers

Most educational psychologists in England and Wales are employed by local authority children's services. In Scotland, most newly qualified educational psychologists are employed by the local authority educational psychology service or psychological service. In Northern Ireland, the main employer is the Education Authority.

Other employers include:

  • colleges
  • community environments
  • NHS hospital trusts – typically in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
  • nurseries
  • private consultancies
  • social enterprises
  • schools (public and independent sector)
  • special units
  • voluntary and charitable organisations such as Barnardo's or the National Autistic Society.

There are also opportunities for experienced educational psychologists to work on a self-employed basis as a sole practitioner or in a private practice partnership.

You might also work in a research establishment or university and become involved in teaching as well as research.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Once qualified, continuing professional development (CPD) will be an integral part of your career and is an essential requirement of retaining your HCPC registration and chartered membership of the BPS.

Your ongoing development should include a mixture of directed and self-directed activities, including:

  • post-qualification courses, which help to develop your knowledge of different theoretical approaches
  • professional supervision
  • lecturing, teaching or giving presentations
  • attending workshops or conferences to learn about new therapeutic techniques or 'tools'
  • topical research, writing articles or papers
  • mentoring, supervising or assessing trainees
  • development of expertise with a particular age group (e.g. pre-school or primary) or a particular condition, e.g. dyspraxia or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Courses in areas such as IT skills, team working and time management are often available from your employer. A formal management qualification can be useful if you're looking to move into a senior role.

You'll need to keep an up-to-date and accurate record of your professional development activities and show that your CPD contributes to the quality of your practice and service delivery and also benefits your clients.

More information can be found at the BPS Professional Development Centre.

Career prospects

There's a defined organisational structure and a clear progression route in local authority work to senior and principal educational psychologist roles. However, there are a limited number of steps on the ladder.

In a large authority, psychological services are usually organised into districts, with individual psychologists responsible for the majority of the work in their own area. Also, there are likely to be some specialist posts held by experienced practitioners, for example working in specialist units or with one particular condition.

Career development can take many forms. For some people the option to become self-employed, undertake work on a freelance basis or become an active member within the profession will provide new challenges. There are also opportunities to influence policies and develop best-practice models.

Another way you might develop your career is by specialising in a particular area of psychology, often selected through local need. If you're in a position to choose a specialty, opt for one that you have an affinity with as you should enjoy the research.

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