Educational psychologists play an extremely important role in supporting children and young people who have special educational needs, and their families.
The Children’s Workforce Development Council administers a voluntary subscription scheme for local authorities to fund the entry training of educational psychologists to help ensure supply. This scheme has become unsustainable because so many local authorities are not contributing. We want to place the training of educational psychologists on a more secure footing in the context of the forthcoming Green Paper on SEN.
I thank the Minister for that semi-positive reply. Does he accept that many children who have social and emotional problems need educational psychologists to support them and their families? Does he further accept that without the help of educational psychologists many of these children simply will not receive the support they need? Could he give more details about the recruitment and training of psychologists? What will the Government do to insist that these educational psychologists are present in schools?
I certainly accept the two points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about the importance of educational psychologists and the role that they play. As I explained in my first Answer, the difficulty with training is that the money that has been given to local authorities so that they can make a voluntary contribution to the Children’s Workforce Development Council is not being paid. Only 16 local authorities have paid that money. We clearly need a better solution than the current one to make sure that funding for training is on a secure footing, which it clearly is not at present. In addition to that, the Green Paper, which looks more generally at the whole future of special educational needs, will look at the question of educational psychologists and, for example, whether we should separate funding from assessment. That is an extremely important issue, which we debated in this House a couple of weeks ago, and it would be part of that process.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of any cost-benefit analysis of the value of early assessment of children’s difficulties by properly qualified professionals? Does he agree that there is probably an opportunity cost if those professionals are not available?
I very much agree with my noble friend that there clearly must be an opportunity cost if those professionals are not available. I have not seen any cost-benefit analysis but I do not need to be convinced of the benefit and the good that educational psychologists do.
My Lords, given that 50 per cent of adult mental health problems begin in childhood, and that educational psychologists are utterly crucial in identifying those and providing the children concerned with the right care, does the Minister agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and me—I think he was agreeing with us—that leaving training to the vagaries of the local authority is simply not working? Can he reassure us that educational psychology will join the other healthcare professions in having a training strategy that is determined by central bodies rather than being left to the vagaries of local authorities?
I am not sure that I can give the noble Baroness the specific assurance for which she has asked. However, I can give the assurance that all these issues and the best sustainable system will be considered by my honourable friend Sarah Teather as part of the Green Paper consideration. There are a number of ways in which one can approach this matter and I know that she will be keen to give it the fullest possible consideration.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not simply the training of educational psychologists that is a problem but the number available, given that so much of their time is spent purely on annual statements? Will he give the House an assurance that when his right honourable friend—sorry, he is my right honourable friend as well—devolves all budgets to individual schools, the funding for educational psychologists and their training will come from a separate pot rather than from individual school budgets?
As I am sure my noble friend knows, currently educational psychologists are funded separately and the relevant money does not come from schools’ budgets. I accept his point that it is important not just to get the training right, although that is important, but that one has to look at the numbers as well. The advice we have received from the CWDC is that the numbers seem to be appropriate, but I agree that one needs to keep that very much under review.
My Lords, in anti-bullying week, can the Minister say what the future prospects are for educational psychologists to carry on their work not only with vulnerable children but with their families and school professionals if the Educational Psychology Service has such a question mark over it? Can he also say what contact he has had with local authorities and schools on this issue?
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that educational psychologists play an extremely important role, not least in the context of anti-bullying. My honourable friend Sarah Teather, the Minister for Children and Families, has had a whole series of meetings with local authorities about these important issues. The department generally has been talking to a range of local authorities about the future arrangements for special needs education. I agree that it is vital to get those right. I certainly give her the undertaking that we will continue to keep a very close eye on it. We need to ensure that there are enough educational psychologists and that they are properly trained. I do not accept that there is a serious question mark over the future, but I do accept that we have a short-term issue about training and getting the funding from local authorities, which we have to address.