By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter
A new graduate training programme for educational psychologists will exacerbate a shortage of professionals working in schools, a union is warning.
It is feared pupils will lose out
Graduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will need a three-year Doctorate rather than a Masters degree.
The aim is to bring educational psychology in line with the rest of Europe and with other areas of the profession, like clinical psychology.
But the Association of Educational Psychologists warns of fewer recruits.
With all accredited Masters courses closing in August 2006 and the three-year Doctorate course starting in September 2006, the AEP says there will be two intervening years with no newly qualified psychologists looking for employment.
most employed by local education authorities
tackle problems associated with learning difficulties, social or emotional problems
write reports for special educational placements, court or panel proceedings
work in schools, colleges, nurseries and special units
work directly with children
or indirectly with parents
liaise with other professionals in education, health and social services
plan and carry out research
The association fears this will put strain on local education authorities (LEAs) already struggling to fill posts for educational psychologists.
"Over three quarters of LEAs can't fill their posts," said AEP general secretary, Brian Harrison-Jennings.
"With no educational psychologists emerging from training in 2007 and 2008, it will be even worse."
CURRENT TRAINING ROUTE
Two years' teaching
One year Masters degree
One year of supervised practice
Currently, would-be educational psychologists have to complete a post-graduate certificate of education (PGCE) and teach for at least two years before embarking on a one-year Masters course and completing one year of supervised practice.
The AEP is concerned a transitional year has not been built into the changed training programme.
NEW TRAINING ROUTE
"Relevant experience of working with children"
The British Psychological Society, which regulates courses, had been willing to accredit MSc courses starting in September 2006, to allow for a transitional period, but said no providers had applied to run this alongside the Doctorate.
The Scottish system involves a two-year MSc course followed by one year's supervised practice.
Who will pay?
The AEP also raised concerns about the structure of the new training programme, which has funding for 150 students a year.
In the first year of the Doctorate, students will be employed as a trainee educational psychologists with a local authority.
They will receive a grant of £14,400 (£14,900 in London) which will be paid by the Employers' Organisation for local government.
However, for years two and three, students will need to seek employment with a local authority as an assistant educational psychologist.
The AEP fears many of the 150 students will find local authorities cannot afford them.
"They'll do the first year, but I don't think 150 or anything like that will find employment with a local authority the following year. So that's the end of their course, but the training is the course," said Mr Harrison-Jennings.
"It will kill the profession, because I don't think the courses will survive."
And he says it will be pupils with specific difficulties who will be the losers.
"I'm extremely concerned for the children," said Mr Harrison-Jennings.
"Parents of children with learning difficulties, behavioural problems and so on will say the role of the educational psychologist has been the most valuable they've had. Parents are most grateful."
But Andy Inett, assistant director of negotiations at the Employers' Organisation, said problems with the new training programme were not envisaged.
"It's important to maintain a supply of educational psychologists and it's going to be in the interest of authorities to make that investment," said Mr Inett.
"We are making a unique national commitment to train this group of people. We wouldn't embark on it if we thought there was a problem."