The dedication of educational psychologists is rewarded with the ability to help students learn and thrive

Educational psychologists help children or young people who are experiencing problems that hinder their successful learning and participation in school and other activities. These problems can include a range of emotional and social problems or learning difficulties.

As an educational psychologist, you will help children and young people, aged between ten and 19 years of age, in partnership with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors and other people involved in their education.

You will work in a variety of ways including observations, interviews and assessments of the child. Educational psychologists offer a range of appropriate interventions, such as learning programmes and collaborative work with teachers or parents.

You might also provide in-service training for teachers 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

Duties typically involve:

  • assessing learning and emotional needs by observing and consulting with multi-agency teams to advise on the best approaches and provisions to support learning and development;
  • developing and supporting therapeutic and behaviour management programmes;
  • designing and developing courses for parents, teachers and others involved with the education of children and young people;
  • designing and developing projects involving children and young people;
  • writing reports to make formal recommendations on action to be taken, including formal statements;
  • advising, persuading, supporting and negotiating with teachers, parents and other education professionals;
  • attending 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;
  • prioritising effectiveness, the context and environment that influence the child's development are seen as increasingly important;
  • conducting active research;
  • formulating interventions that focus on applying knowledge, skills and expertise to support local and national initiatives;
  • developing and applying effective interventions to promote psychological wellbeing, social, emotional and behavioural development, and to raise educational standards.

Salary

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland salaries are set using the Soulbury Agreement. You can find current Soulbury pay scales via the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

  • A trainee educational psychologist can expect to earn £22,503 a year, rising to £30,737.
  • Typical salaries for a fully-qualified educational psychologist, registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), begin at £35,027, rising incrementally to £47,261. There's an extension to this scale to further accommodate structured professional assessment points rising to £51,861.
  • The range of typical salaries for senior and principal educational psychologists are measured on a separate scale, starting at £43,914 and rising to £58,068. There is an extension to this scale to accommodate discretionary scale points and structured professional assessment points rising to £64,970.

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

  • Educational psychologists in Scottish local authorities earn in the region of £41,658 to £51,042 and senior and principal educational psychologists between £54,219 and £62,835.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Formal working hours tend to follow the normal nine to five pattern, often with some evening work for parent-teacher meetings. Flexibility is common provided the job requirements are met.

Career breaks and part-time work are possible.

What to expect

  • Typically, there is a central-office base with time spent travelling to schools and clients' homes as required.
  • Work is often in multidisciplinary teams.
  • Self-employment and freelance work as a consultant is an option. However, doing this does change the range, nature and balance of the work you would do. The work is more likely to be focused on individuals, or within certain sectors, such as independent schools.
  • Currently, more women pursue this profession than men.
  • The profession is keen to increase its representation from all sectors of the community. There may be restrictions on ex-offenders and active members of political and ethical groups.
  • Working with people facing difficulties can be stressful. Educational psychologists receive supervision throughout their career.
  • Local travel within a region is a normal feature of the job. Overnight stays are rare.
  • In the current economic climate, some positions for educational psychologists are being frozen, and short-term contracts are becoming common, making it difficult for new graduates to find permanent positions. Opportunities are likely to increase if practitioners are willing to travel.
  • The training is for the UK education system. Overseas work and travel are uncommon.

Qualifications

Full details of the training required to become a registered educational psychologist with the HCPC are available from the British Psychological Society (BPS). You will need the following qualifications:

  • an undergraduate degree in psychology (see BPS Accredited Psychology Courses). Alternatively, if you do not have a psychology degree you can complete a BPS accredited conversion course. You will then achieve the required Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC);
  • a BPS accredited Doctorate in educational psychology or, for Scotland only, an accredited Masters in educational psychology followed by the BPS Award in educational psychology.

To use the title 'educational psychologist', you will need to be registered with the HCPC. This involves completing a Doctorate in educational psychology (or equivalent) approved by the HCPC. Contact the HCPC for more information on the entry requirements for their register.

In Scotland, all psychologists employed by local authorities must be chartered and must also be full members of the:

Admissions tutors for Doctoral programmes will not normally accept graduates with a 2:2 degree without a higher qualification, such as an MSc or MPhil, ideally in an education-related area. However, candidates with a 2:2 and exceptional experience may be successful. Contact admissions tutors for further details.

Search for postgraduate courses in educational psychology.

For further details on how to become an educational psychologist and how to get funding for the government's training scheme see the Department for Education - Educational Psychology.

Funding is only available to applicants who are UK residents and intend to seek a permanent position as an educational psychologist with a local authority in England after successful completion of the programme.

Funding is likely to cover fees for all three years with a bursary for the first year. Trainees will be required to seek employment in a trainee post with a local authority for their second and third years. Failure to undertake this may result in the recovery of al,l or part, of the grant.

Competition for course places and funding is fierce, although the removal of the training grant in Scotland may affect future applications. There are 150 places a year available across 12 English universities. The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) runs the central application process for all educational psychology funded training scheme places.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland applications are made directly to institutions. These are the:

  • University of Cardiff in Wales;
  • Queen's University Belfast School of Psychology in Northern Ireland;
  • Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde in Scotland.

Early application is advisable and funding options are available in Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish government no longer offers a training grant to support people doing the MSc. This has been replaced by a loan of up to £3,400 a year from the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • sensitivity, tact and diplomacy;
  • the ability to be assertive, persuasive and an effective facilitator;
  • strong negotiating, administration and time management skills.

Work experience

For acceptance onto a postgraduate course, you will need to be able to demonstrate that you have relevant experience of working with children in educational, childcare, or community settings. Usually you will be required to provide evidence of at least one year's full-time experience, although two years are sometimes required.

Experience as a teacher is very relevant, although it is no longer a requirement. Teachers may be given exemptions from parts of the Doctorate. Contact course directors for exemption details.

Employers

Most educational psychologists in the UK are employed by local authorities and are based in the psychological services of the education departments working in:

  • colleges;
  • community environments;
  • nurseries;
  • schools;
  • special units.

In Scotland, there are 32 employing local authorities and most newly qualified educational psychologists will be employed by the local authority or educational psychology services (EPS).

In Northern Ireland, employers are the Education and Library Boards (ELB) Northern Ireland.

Other public sector employers, where you might find yourself the only educational psychologist, include:

  • child psychiatric units;
  • hospital-based paediatric assessment units;
  • regional social services' assessment centres.

You might elect to work in a research establishment or university and become involved in teaching as well as research. In most cases your employer is likely to be within the public sector.

One growing area is working freelance, as a private consultant or within a specialised consultancy. The terminology varies, but the work might include some or all of the following:

  • working for charities and voluntary bodies such as Barnardo's or The National Autistic Society;
  • providing training;
  • supporting independent schools and undertaking private work for families.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

After you qualify as an educational psychologist, your training and learning will continue throughout your career.

There is an ongoing need for keeping up to date with the latest research and ideas. This research might concern conditions such as dyspraxia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The research may also involve gaining specialist knowledge in conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There are also new therapeutic techniques or 'tools', such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or hypnotherapy that could benefit clients.

Continuing professional development (CPD) may be through short courses, reading and personal research, or attending conferences and networking.

Other training needs, such as enhanced IT skills, team working and time management courses, are normally available from your employer.

For promotion to more senior posts where additional skills are called for, e.g. staff appraisal or supervision of trainees, other training is likely to be available.

Individuals aspiring to senior roles might find a formal management qualification useful.

Career prospects

In local authority work there is a defined organisational structure and a clear progression route to roles of senior and principal educational psychologist, but 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, e.g. 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 would provide new challenges and be considered as career enhancement. 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 are in a position to choose a specialty, opt for one that you have an affinity with as you should enjoy the research.

As your expertise and interests develop, your career could move into new areas or branches of psychology, transferring your skills to other careers.

One example could be the skills and knowledge gained from working in schools, helping staff and pupils to better manage those with different disabilities. These skills could then be used in other types of workplaces, such as helping to better manage a workforce with disabilities, an area associated with occupational psychology.

Vacancies are not evenly distributed across the country so geographical mobility will increase your development options and may be required for promotion.