Are you thinking about a career in educational psychology? Do you want to know what training and qualifications are needed by educational psychologists to allow them to practise in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? If so, the following information should help:
So what does work as an educational psychologist involve?
Educational Psychology is the application of psychological theory, research and techniques to support children, young people, their families and schools to promote the emotional and social wellbeing of young people. Educational Psychologists also support those with learning difficulties to achieve their full potential through the use of assessment, monitoring and evaluation.
Educational psychologists work with children and young people usually between 0-19 years of age experiencing difficulties. For example, to promote learning, develop emotional, social and behavioural skills and support psychological development. They work mainly in consultation with parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, education officers and other people involved in the education and care of children and young people.
Who employs educational psychologists?
Currently most educational psychologists work within the public sector, usually employed in local authority children’s services. Other organisations that employ educational psychologists include NHS trusts, usually in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), schools and school groups (in both the state and independent sector), voluntary and charitable organisations, social enterprises, and private consultancy firms. A small but increasing number of EPs are self-employed, either as sole practitioners or in private practice partnerships. Some educational psychologists are employed as university lecturers and tutors on professional training courses for educational psychologists.
Career prospects for educational psychologists
Currently the career prospects for newly-qualifying educational psychologists are good, with most obtaining their first qualified practitioner post immediately on completion of their training course. In general, demand for educational psychologists within the public sector has tended to outstrip supply. Many local authorities are increasingly providing some 'non-statutory' educational psychology services on a 'traded' basis to schools, with the result that in many areas this has led to a significant uptake of these services, and additional staff having to be employed to meet demand. Recent changes to the law concerning the education of young people with special needs has extended the duty of local authorities to young people up to the age of 25 years. We anticipate that this will also result in an increased need for educational psychologists.
Essential requirements for practising as an educational psychologist
In order to practise as an educational psychologist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland you must have undergone appropriate training and achieved qualifications that are recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as demonstrating your competence and "fitness to practise" as an educational psychologist. Educational psychologists who offer a service to the public are required by law to be registered with the HCPC, which is the statutory regulator for all practitioner psychologists in the UK (also including, for example, clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists and occupational psychologists). Further information about the requirements for registration can be found on the HCPC website.
Current route to qualifying as an educational psychologist
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland new trainees in educational psychology are required to complete a 3-year postgraduate training programme that includes a doctorate qualification. The first year is largely university-based, while in the second and third year trainees spend between three and four days per week on practice-based placement with a local authority educational psychology service or other approved provider of educational psychology services. In the second and third year trainees are also required to complete a substantial piece of original research and a dissertation towards their doctorate qualification.
Currently there are 13 universities in England (together with one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland) running doctorate training courses in educational psychology. The AEP manages the recruitment process for all the courses in England, which are eligible for government funding. Details are available on our Training page.
To be considered for a place on a doctorate training course you must have a first degree (i.e. a BA or BSc or equivalent qualification) in psychology which has been accredited, or is recognised, by the British Psychological Society (BPS) as giving eligibility for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership of the BPS (GBC). If your first degree is not in psychology, you may be able to undertake an approved 'conversion course' that will give you eligibility for GBC. Alternatively, you could read for a psychology-based Masters degree. Further details about accredited psychology degrees and conversion courses can be found on the BPS website.
In addition to academic qualifications, to be considered for post-graduate training you will also be expected to show significant experience (at least one year full-time-equivalent) of working with children and young people in an education, health, social care or childcare setting. See the Training web page for more details.
Experienced teachers training as educational psychologists
Traditionally educational psychologists were largely drawn from the teaching profession, at a time when a teaching qualification and teaching experience, in addition to a first degree in psychology, were a requirement for the post-graduate training courses in educational psychology. Indeed a large proportion of currently practising educational psychologists qualified by that route. Whilst a teaching qualification and teaching experience are no longer a mandatory entry requirement into post-graduate training, experienced teachers still form a significant proportion of the successful applicants for training.
Some psychologists who have qualified abroad as educational psychologists may be eligible to register with the Health and Care Professions Council and thus permitted to practise as educational psychologists in the UK. Details of how they can seek registration can be found on the HCPC website.
What to do if you are still at school, or an undergraduate?
If you are still at school and studying for, or thinking about choosing, GCSE or A-level subjects, then consider taking psychology as an option if your school or college offers this. It is not a required subject for entry to a first degree course in psychology, but it will give you the opportunity to gain a much better understanding of what study of this discipline at degree level might involve, and the particular approaches used in psychology as a social and experimental science. Good qualifications at GCSE and A/AS-level in English, maths and a science subject are likely to stand you in good stead later. Statistics and experimental method are a significant part of most first degree courses in psychology. Also consider gaining some experience of voluntary work with children and young people in an education, early years, or special educational needs setting (your school/college can probably give you some advice about this).
As an undergraduate studying for a psychology degree, you should be aiming for a good class of degree - 1st or 2:1 - to have a reasonable prospect of eventually being considered for a place on a post-graduate course of training as an educational psychologist. Try to get some experience, either in a paid job or as a volunteer, perhaps during holiday periods, of working with children and young people in an education, early years, residential care or special educational needs setting.
After graduation, look for employment working with children and young people in the 0 – 25 year age range, in an education, health, youth justice, early years or social care setting. The successful applicants for post-graduate training in 2014 had worked as teachers, social workers, assistant psychologists, classroom assistants, teaching assistants, learning mentors, residential care workers, and early years workers, amongst other types of work.
Other careers in psychology
If you want to explore different areas of psychology for a possible career, or ways in which the study of psychology may help with other career options, then you can find further helpful information by following the link to this BPS website.
Kelly, B, Woolfsen, L, and Boyle, J. (Eds). (2008). Frameworks for practice in educational psychology. A textbook for trainees and practitioners. Jessica Kingsley.
Cline, Guillford & Birch (eds.) (2015) Educational Psychology. Routledge.