EP and happy child

In this detailed and insightful post, Dr Halit Hulusi, Principal Educational Psychologist at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, outlines what you should expect from working with an Educational Psychologist and how they can support your child.

I guess that if you’re reading this, you and your child may be about to meet an Educational Psychologist (EP or Ed Psych as we are often called). In this article I’ll do my best to give you a sense of what to expect when working with an EP and our role in the Education, Health and Care (EHC) assessment process.  

What is an EP?

EPs are a profession of applied psychologists (around 2,236 in the UK: HCPC data 2018). The route to qualify as an EP takes about eight years from initial undergraduate degree, relevant experience/employment and the three-year doctorate. The training route is tough and extremely competitive. Once qualified, most EPs work in local authorities, however, there are a minority of EPs working in private practice. In order to offer services to the public, all EPs are required by law to be registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). Being registered with the HCPC means that that the EP has undergone appropriate training and achieved qualifications that mean they are deemed ‘fit to practice’.

What do EPs do?

Essentially, EPs work with children, young people and adults aged 0-25 years and the educational settings, families and communities around them. Broadly speaking, EPs will conduct psychological assessments, training of others, research and work with children, young people and adults. Some EPs may also provide a range of therapeutic interventions. Much of how EPs work with people is through what we call ‘consultation’. This can be a very empowering conversation that we use to enable those we work with to find solutions to challenges they might be experiencing. If you meet an EP, you’ll probably notice that we do a lot of listening. As psychologists we try to be compassionate, curious and caring. It’s a fantastic privilege to be an EP and work with children, families and schools. 

When might an EP get involved in supporting your child?

Most local authority EP services are now traded. This means that schools may need to buy in EPs to support their work with children and families. In my experience, most schools do access EPs, either through the local authority or privately. Schools may ask their EP to support their work with your child if, despite their best efforts, they feel they are a bit stuck or where they want a psychological view for what might be a barrier for your child’s progress. The school should always ask for your consent before an EP becomes involved in direct work with them, your family or your child. Informed consent is a golden rule for EPs and makes up part of our ethical code of conduct.

EPs might also work with children, families and teachers when things are going well. Many schools I’ve worked with have asked me to run parent/teacher drop-in sessions or training sessions about behaviour, child development, teaching approaches. Our team recently ran evening sessions for parents in schools to help them understand their child’s mental wellbeing. Being a parent is a tough job. There is no training or instruction manual and it’s exhausting! The parents we’ve worked with consistently tell us that they value the sessions we run. Thankfully, many schools also see the value of these sessions and prioritise their precious EP time for this work.

EPs and EHC assessments

For some children, their complex needs mean that they require additional support that is beyond that which a typical mainstream school can provide. In some of these cases, the school or the parent might make a request to the local authority to request that they conduct an EHC assessment (Children and Families Act, 2014). If the local authority agrees that your child requires an EHC assessment, an EP will be formally asked to conduct a psychological assessment.

Hopefully, if you’ve got to the point of an EHC assessment, an EP will have been already involved in supporting school, your family and your child. Sadly, in many cases, the EHC assessment might be the first time you might meet an EP. In my experience, the best psychological assessments for an EHC assessment are where the EP has known the child, the family and the teachers over a longer period of time. In these cases, the EP has probably been part of the team that put together the school’s request to the local authority to ask for an EHC assessment. 

What does a psychological assessment for the EHC assessment look like?

There really isn’t an exact answer to this question. In my experience, every child is unique and that means that every assessment is unique. This means that the EP will decide what assessment tools they are going to use based on what they feel is going to help them to best understand your child, their needs and their strengths. Having said that, I’d expect a good psychological assessment to have the following elements:

  • The EP should arrange a meeting with you before seeing your child. This might be arranged directly with you or through the school’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo). This meeting might be at the school or your home. Your first contact with the EP is important. They should explain who they are and what they are proposing to do. They should also let you know what will happen after their assessment and what to expect once their report is complete. Sometimes they may arrange another visit or phone call to discuss their report if required.
  • The EP should be interested to explore your family’s journey to this point. What has happened in the past can be a helpful way of understanding what is happening now and how things might be improved in the future. Making sure the views of the child and parents are listened to is a key part of the Child and Family Act (2014).
  • The EP should also find a way to get a clear sense of your child’s views. For me, this is probably the most important part of the assessment and is again enshrined in the Child and Family Act (2014). Regardless of how young or how challenging this might be for your child, EPs are trained to get a clear picture of your child’s views.

The psychological assessment should explore the key areas of your child’s development. This is usually through observation in school and/or the family home. The EP might also work directly with your child. In their assessment, the EP will focus on the following areas with a greater focus on areas where your child might experience the most need:

  • Cognition and learning (maths, literacy, problem solving, concentration and attention skills).
  • Social communication and social interaction (how your child communicates with others and how they understand the complex rules of interacting with others).
  • Social emotional and behaviour (your child’s emotional wellbeing and how they regulate their emotions).
  • Physical development (their ability to move around and manage their environment).
  • Additional medical needs that might impact on their development.
  • Independence and self-help skills (are these in line with what other children of a similar age are usually able to do)?
  • Social needs (activities your child requires outside of school that help them to be part of the wider community, e.g., sports, clubs and interests).

The EP report for the EHC assessment

The EP is required to produce a report for the local authority detailing their psychological assessment findings. Again, the format of these reports will vary slightly across different local authorities. However, the final report should give you the feeling that the EP understands who your child is, what they are good at, what they find difficult and most importantly, what they need in order to achieve even more. A good EP report should also have a section that psychologists call a ‘formulation’. This is a section where the psychologist tries to explain what they think might be leading to the challenges your child might be experiencing.

Sometimes, the EP will write a formulation that might make for difficult reading for parents, teachers, the child or the local authority. It is important to remember, that although the local authority employs most EPs, our assessments are objective and we write with the child in mind. 

EP recommendations

The EP report should also have a fairly detailed section with clear outcomes that they feel your child should be working on now and in the future. Outcomes should be written as things your child will be able to do rather than things others should be doing, e.g., ‘Fred will be able to read ten words, rather than Fred will have a literacy intervention’. This section should also set out the provision the EP feels your child will need to achieve these outcomes. The provision should be based on what EPs call ‘best evidence’. This means that any recommendations should be based on what the research in that particular field suggests is most effective. In many areas there isn’t any research, or the research does not indicate a clear finding. Where this is the case, I’d expect the EP to recommend provision that has worked for your child in the past, or provision that looks like it might work based on the findings of the assessment. 

What happens next?

Technically, EP involvement in terms of the assessment ends once their report for the EHC assessment has been submitted. Whether an EP continues their involvement at this point is dependent on how the EP service is commissioned in your local authority or whether the school prioritise your child for continued EP involvement. If the local authority decides to issue an EHCP at the end of the EHC assessment, the EP might remain actively involved until the EHCP is finalised and the provision is in place. If an EHCP is issued, the local authority or the school might ask an EP to become involved again when the EHCP is reviewed. 

Some final words

In my experience, most schools have excellent working relationships with their EP and will ask us to become involved if they feel this is necessary. The EP advice for the EHC assessment is one part of what EPs do. In the best-case scenario, the EP will have been involved before, during and at some level after the assessment. I would recommend that parents maintain a close and positive working relationship with the EP. We are good listeners and are able to provide you with a space to think and develop a plan for your child.