Educational Psychologist Assessments

18th March 2024

What is an Educational Psychologist?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a newly qualified Educational Psychologist will be required to complete a 3-year postgraduate training programme to doctorate level. The first year is largely university-based, while in the second and third year trainees spend between three and four days per week on practice-based placements with a local authority educational psychology service or other approved provider of educational psychology services alongside their studies.

The trainee must have a first degree (i.e. a BA or BSc or equivalent qualification) in psychology which has been accredited or is recognised, by the British Psychological Society (BPS). If the first degree is not in psychology, they may be able to undertake an approved ‘conversion course’ that will give them eligibility for access to the course. Alternatively, they would require a psychology-based Masters degree.

Older EPs would have a Masters in Educational Psychology and a formal teaching qualification.
Both qualifications are equally valid. Some may say that the Masters/teaching qualification offers more insight into classroom management.

An EP will be registered with the HPCP to practice and normally with the BPS. The vast majority of EPs will work for a Local Authority or are in a private practice. Some specialist schools or academy chains may employ their own Educational Psychologist(s).

How do you get an Educational Psychologist to see your child?

If you are in a maintained school, then the school will normally buy into an EP package supplied by the local authority for an agreed number of days of attendance by an EP per annum. It will then be down to the school to allocate that time as they deem appropriate. EP time is always a precious resource and there is a national shortage of Educational Psychologists so that resource is even more stretched.  

If you are going through an EHCP process the local authority may not extend the timeline of that process by having to wait for an EP to be available. The legal timeframe is fixed by law and shortage of EP time is not an acceptable reason for delay. If you have that problem, then contact us without delay.

You may be told that any of the EHCP assessment cannot be started until the child has seen the EP. This is not true and is in effect an additional form of rationing. If you have that problem, then contact us.

As a parent you can put pressure on the school for an EP assessment but that may not result in the desired outcome.

The child may be known within the school to be “having problems” and be subject to review by the EP service at the request of the school. This is normally the EP reviewing the child with the school as a paper exercise or maybe a very limited observation. It is not the same as a full assessment.

Every time an Educational Psychologist sees a child there should be a consultation report which identifies what the EP did during the observation. The consultation report is not a detailed EP report that can be relied upon as part of the EHCP process but it may contribute to the process.

Educational Psychologist Assessment models

A Local Authority Educational Psychologist may carry out observations of the child in school which may determine whether they conclude that a full assessment is necessary.  

If the Educational Psychologist is producing a formal report the EP should normally carry out a detailed classroom observation to see how the child manages within the classroom and interacts with their peers and the teacher. We would be concerned if the report simply states the views of the classroom teacher or teaching assistant as that would be suggestive that the EP has not actually spent any time observing the child. Clearly, as an additional qualified professional, the more time an individual spends with the child the more accurate the report will be. Having said that, LA EP’s are under the most enormous time constraints and the observation may be shorter than they would normally wish.

There are various types of tests that an EP may draw on to assess a child’s ability. 

Within the UK, the main cognitive assessment tests reviewing a child’s IQ would be BAS III or the WISC 5 IQ tests. The IQ test is broken down into a number of subtests and these are separately scored, the subtest scoring is then combined in various ways to compile an overall IQ result. The interpretation of the subtest profiles indicates the specific areas of strength and difficulty that a child may have. 

In addition, the EP may carry out attainment testing, perhaps using the WIAT 4 or using various tools to assess reading writing, maths, and spelling skills.

The Educational Psychologist Report

You may normally expect a formal EP report to draw on the educational and medical/social history of the child, the school history, any standardised assessments which were carried out by the EP and the recommendations for school practice to include identification of all educational needs (section B of an EHCP), the provision necessary to meet each of the identified needs and that provision should be specific detailed and quantified (section F of the EHCP), and the educational outcomes which should be expected as a result of that intervention.

EPs employed by local authorities will generally not be allowed to specify provisions as the authority will say that it is transferring the financial responsibility from their resourcing panels to the EP, which means that the authority will not be able to control their financial expenditure. 

The EP may also be required to follow the Local Authority’s banding rules or other policies rather than following the law. It is for this reason that it is sometimes difficult to rely on LA EP reports when preparing for a tribunal since they do not specify provisions. Unsurprisingly, the subsequent EHCP does not have any provision in either and therefore neither the school nor the parents know what is expected of the school, the authority or the child.

The quality of the reports

From an educational law perspective, the main issue with local authority EP reports is the lack of specificity around provision. LA EP reports must be seen against the background within which they operate.

There are a range of what are called in the trade “weasel words”.  These include phases such as:  

Will benefit from” – we would all benefit from many things.  The question is, is it educationally necessary?  If it is then it should be specified.

A mixture of 1:1 individual, small group support as is required” – by whom, from what resources, what support will be provided, and what is the level of training/expertise? 

Regular” – We brush our teeth regularly?  Are we talking about once a day?

Opportunities for” – for whom? How often? for what training?

As required” – at whose discretion? Is there time available to provide this within the allocated funding?

Access to” – the same as “will benefit from”.

Where necessary” – who decides what is necessary?

These phases should be resisted as it suggests that the provision, so described, could be a “nice to have” provision rather than what is educationally necessary and therefore legally enforceable.

The overall effect of such wording is to dilute provision by providing wording that is vague, meaningless and easily misinterpreted.  There is only one winner – the Local Authority. 

It is often said at this stage that schools have asked for looser wording as it gives them more flexibility to do more with the money and support the child in the most flexible way possible.  

That may be the case, although we have our doubts. What normally happens in our experience is that the money will be subsumed into supporting children with the most difficult needs and without any clear provision framework resulting in your child’s needs not being met as the provision isn’t there to support them.

Paying for Reports

We have concentrated in this article on LA EPs. There is an alternative method of accessing EP reports and that is to instruct your own Educational Psychologist to assess the child and produce their own report. If the report is to be used for a tribunal, then you should look at the article on this website on expert reports for more detailed information.

These are the questions you should ask of your EP:

  • Have you previously worked for x LA, if so when?
  • How many private EP reports have you completed?
  • How many times have you attended Tribunal on behalf of the parents?
  • What is the outcome of those Tribunals?
  • How much will it cost to read the current reports on the child (specify the number of pages) and do a detailed assessment to include:
  1. meeting with you to take a history
  2. visit the school and seeing the child in the classroom
  3. speak to teaching and support staff
  4. carry out standardised assessments to identify all of the childs learning needs, the provision necessary to meet those needs and the outcomes.  Any recommendations must be specific detailed and quantified.
  • Confirm any deadlines with the EP and confirm when you will get the report.

If you are seeking placement at your school over a local authority school then the EP will need to go further:

  • How much will it cost to visit the two and reach a conclusion as to which is best suited to meet the child’s needs.
  • Produce a second report

If you are preparing for a tribunal:

  • How much to review the Tribunal hearing bundle/ attend case conferences/ attend the Tribunal hearing.
  • Make clear that once you have confirmed these issues in writing you will require the EP to attend the hearing.
  • Confirm all of this in writing.
  • If you are unhappy with any response, then consider very carefully whether you should employ them.

Local Authority Views on Private Educational Psychologist reports

You may be told that your LA does not accept private EP reports. The Tribunal will accept private reports and will prefer the report that helps them to provide the best picture of the child and what education provision is required to meet the childs educational needs. Therefore ignore the LA view.

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