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Chapter One

#[p24] CHAPTER 2. On practice.

The history of educational psychology which follows is a brief account. It is offered partly in order to put some of my current concerns into context, for instance over the recent pace of change in education and associated teacher stress, and over the "scientific" views of psychology colleagues. It sets the scene for the opening of the project.

1. A history of educational psychology.

Throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland there are about 2300 educational psychologists (EPs), the vast majority (95%) belonging to the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) and employed by local education authorities (LEAs). We cover all the state schools in the country. Qualification for this job includes a first degree in psychology (or equivalent), a teaching qualification and experience, and postgraduate training in educational psychology[1] Thus from the outset we have a number of potential identity tensions, Fox (1992), for instance, notes an identity paradox - are we educators or psychologists[2]. My own route into the profession was a little round about as my autobiography indicates.

Although no clear divide exists, for convenience I will split the history in two, using the publication of "Reconstructing Educational Psychology" (Gilham 1978) as a convenient break. The account is not intended as an exhaustive survey of the area.

A. Until the late 1970s

The educational needs of blind and deaf children[3] were provided for in the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act of 1893 (Curtis 1967). In 1899 the Elementary Education (Defective and Epileptic Children) Act created the new category of "defective children" :

...who by reason of mental or physical defect are incapable of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in the ordinary public or elementary schools, but are not incapable of receiving by reason of such defect of receiving benefit from instruction in special classes or schools (Dessent 1978 p.25)

#[p25] Voluntary schools prior to the 1870 Education Act "had been able to reject the duller and more troublesome children if they wished" (ibid p.25). From 1870, compulsory attendance required the teaching profession to deal with "difficult children, urchins who could not be taught, ruffians who could not be controlled." (Williams 1974 p.3). There is some indication that interest in this group may have arisen partly "because they interfered with the ‘payment by results’ method of determining teachers’ salaries" (Dessent 1978 p.25).

Initially "[t]he job of selecting the so-called ‘defectives’ for transfer to special schools fell, not surprisingly, to the medical profession" (ibid p.25). However, assessments were not always reliable "the certifying doctors ... tended to pass on every backward youngster" (ibid p.26). The costs of special education were nearly three times that of normal schooling and "...the Education Committee complained of the expense, the parents complained of the stigma and the teachers complained of the faulty diagnosis." (ibid p.26). The demand for more "objective" methods of selection formed "the historical origins of educational psychology [drawing on ]the work of ...Galton, Binet, Pearson and Burt" (ibid p. 27)

In 1913 the London County Council appointed the first psychologist, Cyril Burt with a broad brief but a priority given to the problem of "how to ascertain educationally subnormal pupils using psychological tests and other scientific procedures" (Burt 1957 cited in Dessent 1978 p.27). School psychological services then slowly spread throughout the country (the next appointment being in Leicester in 1931).

At the turn of the century a multidisciplinary team approach evolved in Italy and the USA. This led to the development of LEA Child Guidance Clinics, the first being established in 1932 and comprising psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric social workers. These expanded quite rapidly.

The teams we work in have historically been termed either "school psychological service" or "child guidance service" or some variation on these themes, reflecting the two traditions. However, my first job was with a school psychology service, which in many #[p26] ways had remnants of a "child guidance" past with three social workers in employment, a culture of family case work and, until shortly before I began, regular sessions with the child psychiatrist. My next position was in what was called a Child Guidance Centre but which had had only weak links with child psychiatry, no social workers and soon lost its two attached educational welfare officers (EWO).

In recent years teams appear to have become known more routinely as educational psychology services, but located in a range of local authority pigeon holes, perhaps reflecting the break up of once massive education departments. Since the 1970s

Dessent points out that the early "medical domination of services" ( Dessent 1978 p.29) constrained the development of psychological approaches in intervention and limited the psychologist’s role "largely to that of tester" (ibid p.29). The Summerfield report (D.E.S. 1968) surveyed psychologists’ work and discovered a continuing strong emphasis on "assessment" and "treatment" of children but a small range of other functions including research and "counselling parents" (ranked 12 out of 14) (Williams 1974 p.10).

B. Since the late 1970s

Dissatisfaction with this restricted role, the apparent failures of individual psychotherapy and intelligence testing, the growth of behavioural approaches to problem behaviour and the insights into "deviance" drawn from sociology (Dessent 1978), amongst other influences, culminated in the publication of "Reconstructing Educational Psychology" (Gilham 1978). This became one of the "landmarks" (Wolfendale 1992 p.1) in the profession’s view of itself, emphasising, as it did, the great variety of approaches available and the rejection of the old image of psychologist as tester.

This shift in emphasis appears to have continued so that Sigston, writing in 1992 can claim "contemporary psychologists might see themselves as humanistic, behaviouristic, social, analytical, phenomenological, cognitive or systemic, to name but a few" (p.20). A glance at any issue of the profession’s journal "Educational Psychology in Practice" will reveal the wide range of interests psychologists currently pursue, from pre-school to F.E., from individual to group work, from child to school to LEA wide interventions, from #[p27] training to counselling to consultation; on top of individual assessment and special research projects. The role of the EP appears very much dictated by a mixture of personal choice and custom and practice in each LEA (see Fox 1992). Some services and EPs have been more traditional and test-orientated, some have emphasised consultation and avoided individual assessment:

Some educational psychologists seem personally antagonistic towards the use of tests explicitly on the grounds of their limited validity, although one suspects the positive desire to be rid of the image of "tester" is allied to the antagonism (Maliphant 1974 p.443).

However, statutory duties connected with formal assessments of special educational needs (the statementing process), may soak up most of a psychologist’s time : " ‘statementing’ has virtually excluded all other types of psychologist’s work" (Gregory 1993 p.68).

The rise in appeals to Special Educational Need Tribunals and the consequent need to defend decision-making with "hard data" may be pushing the profession back towards psychometrics and a more traditional scientific stance (Lokke et al 1997).

Of interest to the present project, however, Sigston (1992) goes on to argue that:

a consensus has emerged that educational psychologists can best assist in meeting the needs of individual children by indirect work, most usually through parents and teachers (p.20)

Whatever the truth of this assertion (and Dessent 1992 in the same edited volume points out the enormous difficulties of maintaining such casework), my work with parents, the starting point of this research, sits firmly within this model.

C. "Reconstructing" revisited.

A recent special issue of the journal Educational Psychology in Practice (1999 vol 14(4)), devoted to a number of reflective, personal views of the profession on the 21st anniversary of "Reconstructing Educational Psychology", records much that has changed; but much that has stayed the same. A common thread in three articles by original contributors to the book ( Gilham, B., Leyden, G. and Burden, B.), as well as pointing up the range of imaginative initiatives undertaken across the country, is the need for an emphasis on indirect means of working, particularly systemic intervention at the school #[p28] and LEA level. Burden (1999), however, cautions that "educational psychology never moved forward much beyond the good ideas expressed in Reconstructing" (p.230) and "Research and practice in psychology has been bedevilled by the positivist process-product approach which is set in the X files mentality that the truth is out there waiting to be discovered" (p.230). He wonders whether educational psychology "has been or ever can be helped by allying itself to the ‘scientific practitioner’ model or whether it would be better served by looking to more hermeneutic or critical theory based models" (p.230). My present explorations take this move away from positivism even further; whether EP colleagues will accept this remains to be seen.

2. Some current concerns.

To better appreciate some of the forces which have helped shape this project, I will recount my concerns over the stress levels of the teachers I work with and some of the tensions within educational psychology, particularly around emotional and behavioural difficulties.

A. Changes in teaching and teacher stress.

Education has never been free of change and its accompanying stresses, Dunham (1992), for example, describes the effects of the reorganisation into comprehensive schools during the 1970s. However, recently the most powerful impact has been through the Education Reform Act of 1988, seen by some as "the biggest single change in education this century" (Wragg 1990 cited in Dunham 1992 p.21) with its national curriculum, arrangements for regular prescribed testing of children, open enrolment, local management of schools with "formula funding" and the recent "league tables" and developing market culture. By 1990 the number of teachers retiring through ill health had nearly trebled compared to 1979, the biggest increase being in 1988 (Dunham 1992 p. xii).

Whatever the cause of these reactions, and whatever the reality of the situation (there may be opportunities as well as threats within current events) my belief is that many #[p29] teachers may be under exceptional stress. I feel that I need to take this into account in my dealings with them. My efforts to do so resulted in the publication of a book (Mellor 1997a). I also continued to subject my practice to scrutiny in the light of assumptions about the extent of this stress and how it might impact on casework (see chapter 4).

B. Identities and tensions in psychology.

We educational psychologists often tend to value our teaching background (Fredrickson and Collins 1997), which may give us credibility with schools, although Maliphant (1994) for one questions this link and recent moves towards doctoral qualification are raising question marks over this aspect of training (see for example Gersch 1997). But are we simply guests in the house of education? Are we psychologists or educators? As one psychologist comments "I recognise that I am divorced from the classroom" (Armstrong et al 1991 p.86).

The LEA generally pays our salaries, but who is our client - the child, the school or the LEA? (see Fox 1992 on the "client paradox"). This issue has been brought more sharply into focus in recent years particularly through a growing number of appeals concerning special educational needs (SEN) assessment procedures - the "statementing" process. How far, for instance, can our professional advice reflect the full needs of the child, when the LEA has a limited budget and limited facilities? Cases of pressure on EPs to amend reports are not unknown in AEP circles (Faupel and Norgate 1993). There is of course the more insidious pressure of self-censorship: the temptation to slant reports towards recommending what provision is readily available within the LEA (Faupel and Norgate 1993). At the same time "there is a real danger that psychological knowledge and skills are being lost" (Thompson 1996 p.99), (or perhaps not developed) as a result of the commitment to formal assessment procedures.

We are psychologists, but may draw less on academic psychology than "craft knowledge" in our day to day work (Thomas 1992 p.52). A long standing bone of contention is psychometrics, although the description of assessment in my present service leaflet reflects a more complex stance on its multi-faceted nature (an appreciation of "the child #[p30] in context", see Burden 1999) than the traditional call for "IQ and reading please" implies. The last three decades have seen a growth in consultation, training, systems intervention and other indirect means of service delivery. Current M.Sc. training courses may be very reflective and self-questioning; a recently qualified (and clearly very competent) colleague commented that her course had given her the confidence to say she "had no answers" (Diary notes 1.9.98).

My own training, however, was heavily psychometric and aimed mainly at thorough assessment of special needs. Work with families, under the influence of Eric Harvey (see chapter 3), felt like a breath of fresh air, along with the training and consultation I gradually developed in two special schools, two assessment units and two residential units for children with severe learning difficulties between 1979 to 1986. At that time I wanted to specialise in severe learning difficulties; it was only later, when I moved to my current post and began to carry out my own "Eric Harvey" work that my commitment to this aspect became so prominent.

In my present service we have a pronounced role as "officers of the authority" in that we administer the statementing process and spend (perhaps a disproportionate amount of) time delivering and explaining the associated paperwork and procedures to parents. Although in some ways an unwanted bureaucratic burden, the service tradition is that this keeps a close bond with the families with whom we had been intimately involved prior to formal assessment. We have generally had few appeals. On reflection, this arrangement may not always have worked to the best advantage of the children. In any case, appeals against formal procedures, and parents with independent support, are now a constant part of the scene.

Another especially powerful source of tension crosses several aspects of our work: problems surrounding children for whom the future of mainstream schooling is in doubt. A particularly site of controversy concerns children displaying emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). There may, for instance, be strong support for maintaining a mainstream placement from the child and parents, yet school may have "come to the end of the line" and may be pressing for either formal assessment or exclusion. A recent

# [p31] National Children’s Bureau paper highlights for instance the ever increasing rise in permanent exclusions from school: from 2,900 in 1990 to 12,700 in 1997 (N.C.B. 1998), and the "high level of social advantage that most [of the children] have experienced" (ibid p.1). There has been a parallel rise in the number of children formally assessed (DfEE 1997).

The psychologist, with knowledge of both the potential benefits and disadvantages of specialised provision, and intimate knowledge of the strains faced by the class teacher (and parents and pupils); driven also perhaps by their own desire to promote inclusion and bring about change in the classroom and the school; under the pressures of waiting lists and formal assessment deadlines; juggling the (often conflicting) needs of the school, the parent and the child (with half an eye on LEA policy and how this may influence and, in turn, be influenced by, the EP’s actions) is caught in a mess of conflicting demands.

I will not pursue issues around formal assessment and EBD provision, the topics are constantly aired in the journal Educational Psychology in Practice. The short discussion above is intended only as a curtain raiser on some of the triggers which formed the starting point of this research. My strongest commitment as a psychologist was (and still is) to one approach to helping children displaying emotional and behavioural difficulties: what I have called the Eric Harvey method. I valued this. It seemed to work. It had potential to prevent exclusion and the need for statements and seemed to lead to happier children and families. I felt good about it, but I did not understand it. Or at least, I did not understand it enough.

Why this particular aspect of my work became the initial focus of inquiry at such and such a time is, unfortunately, lost to history. My autobiography in chapter 1 gives the flavour of my feelings at the outset of the project, but recorded some time later. Let us just say for now, I had an itch and needed to scratch. And the first style of "scratching" I wanted to use was very much in the quantitative tradition I was familiar with, as a later chapter on methods illustrates. My views were, however, to undergo a radical shift. Before turning to questions of research methods, however, I will present some further exploration of aspects of my current practice in chapter 3.

#[p32] 3. Key points emerging from the chapter.

Gilham (1999) describes the roots of educational psychology as "a faded form of psycho-analytic therapy, or the kind of psychometrics that had stopped developing in the 30’s" (p.221). By the 1970s discontent with old roles led to the taking stock and looking forward represented by "Reconstructing Educational Psychology". Since then, a great variety of changes can be discerned in the profession’s work, together with a parallel tendency to revert to old ways of working, partly under the pressure of special needs assessment demands.

My current concerns centre on the possibility of teachers experiencing increasing stress (and what that might imply for work around children displaying EBD- an issue to be explored in later chapters) and tensions within the job (particularly the pressures on casework and how our scientific background has a pervasive influence on work and research). I identify some "identity tensions". The issue of identity, in research, is taken up in chapters 9 and 10.

The particular difficulties concerning casework for children displaying emotional and behavioural difficulties, and my work in this area, the Eric Harvey method (see next chapter) provided the initial focus for the present inquiry. The focus later shifted, however, both away from the Eric Harvey approach and from the quantitative methods of inquiry that I associated with my colleagues, and that I initially embraced. It shifted towards the topic of method itself.


[1] The position in Scotland is different with regard to qualifications and role expectations, see Thompson (1996).[BACK]

[2] To further complicate the issue, many EPs originally qualified in other areas then took a psychology degree or BPS recognised conversion to enter the profession. One of my colleagues whose work I most admire, has a first degree in English. She explained

#[p33] recently that she had learned more about human nature from fiction than she ever learned from running rats through mazes.[BACK]

[3] Further details of the development of educational psychology services and the education of children with special needs can be found in Maliphant (1997).[BACK]

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Chapter Three