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What is an educational psychologist?

All educational psychologists have a Masters degree or a Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology. Their training and experience focuses on using applied psychology to help support the development and educational progress of children and young people aged 0-25.

What do educational psychologists do?

Educational psychologists work with the staff of schools and other organisations, as well as parents/carers and the young people themselves, to develop and improve understanding around a young person’s needs and support with planning and intervention.

They work directly with children and young people, and their work usually focuses on consultation, assessment and intervention. The aim of their work is to support change and improve outcomes for young people and their families.

How does the educational psychologist become involved with my child?

Educational psychologists are often asked to become involved in supporting a young person when things seem stuck, or when there is a feeling that something is getting in the way of the young person feeling happy, settled, and able to learn.

A young person will typically be referred to an educational psychologist by the school’s SENCo (usually after several cycles of planning and intervention), or by a parent, or sometimes as part of a statutory process such as an Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment. It’s always a good idea for the referrer to work openly with parents, school staff, and the young person so that everyone has a shared understanding of why a young person is being referred.

An educational psychologist can’t see a young person under the age of 16 without the informed consent of an adult who has parental responsibility for the young person. The parent/carer must therefore complete a consent form before anything else can happen.

For young people aged over 16, a decision regarding their capacity to give consent will be made by those who know them well. For all children from Key Stage 2 age, informed assent is requested, which means an adult should discuss with the young person who the educational psychologist is and why they are coming to see them (if they are).

Once a consent form has been completed, the educational psychologist will often request further information from parents/carers and school through a combination of referral form and questionnaires. They will then discuss a plan with the referrer.

Every plan is different, but it will often include direct work with the young person, and will always involve discussion/s with the adults around them (including parent/carers). Once a plan has been made, this will be communicated to parents/carers and dates for the work to be carried out will be agreed. In most situations, a report or consultation record will be produced by the educational psychologist following their involvement. This will always be shared with parents/carers and the commissioner of the work (i.e. usually school or the local authority).

What happens when an EP assesses a child?

The purpose of assessment is always to try and identify a child’s unique profile of strengths and needs. This helps support understanding, target setting, and intervention. Not every child will need direct assessment but if this is the part of the plan, please be reassured that children generally quite enjoy themselves during these tasks!

The type of assessment carried out will depend very much on what is causing concern, and what sort of information is already available. Parent/carers will always be told when an assessment is going to happen, but educational psychologists can’t always say exactly which assessments will be used, because they will always try to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the children they see.

Parents/carers will not normally be asked to attend the assessment. At the assessment, the educational psychologist may decide to do some of the following:

  • Observe the child in familiar situations, such as in class or at play
  • Work or play with the child, using a range of tasks and materials
  • Find out, wherever possible, the child’s views about how things are for them and what, if anything, they may like to change
  • Use a range of tests. These can help to get a standardised picture of some of the child’s skills and allow comparison with others of the same age

Assessment is usually completed over the course of a day, with a mixture of direct work and other methods. The child will always have access to their usual breaks and lunch time, and their individual needs will be accommodated. Sometimes, because of the referral question, child’s age, or the child’s needs, assessments will be split over several sessions. This will be discussed at the time of arrangements being made, but will also be adapted as needed throughout the session.

What happens when a parent/carer meets the educational psychologist?

Parents and carers are the experts on their children. Their knowledge and experience of your child will be an essential part of the assessment and their input in any plan moving forward, is crucial.

The educational psychologist will want to find out about things like:

  • The child’s early development
  • Their family background
  • The parent/carer’s view of their child’s difficulties
  • The child’s strengths
  • How the child is at home, particularly in terms of the concerns that are being experienced in school
  • Any sort of help the parent/carer has been able to offer the child
  • Any input from other professionals
  • The parent/carer’s opinions about their child’s progress and the sort of help that may be needed

If it helps, parent/carers may bring a relative or friend to the meeting with the educational psychologist. Before the meeting, parent/carers may find it helpful to jot down or collect any information to take to the meeting, or to make a note of any questions they might want to ask. They can also make notes during the meeting.

What happens next?

Most of the work of an educational psychologist will result in a written report, which parent/carer’s will get a copy of, and involve an action planning meeting, which parent/carers are generally involved in. This gives the adults around the child a plan for getting things moving. Sometimes, depending on the nature of the child’s needs, there will also be longer-term recommendations that help guide the support for a more extended period. Responsibility for helping the child remains with the school though, and their progress will continue to be monitored and reviewed by the SENCo there.

Sometimes an educational psychologist may remain involved over a term or longer, but this would be at the discretion of the SENCo and very much dependent on the needs of the child.

If the child is seeing an educational psychologist as part of a statutory EHC assessment, the SEN caseworker will be able to talk to parent/carers about next steps.

Got more questions?

You’ll find lots more useful information in the FAQs at the bottom of the Families page of my website.

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