Educational psychologists to take strike action
EPs in England and Wales will be striking tomorrow and again on the 13th December. We spoke to Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the AEP, and EPs who are striking to explore the issue further.
Why Strike: Pay, conditions, and being able to effectively support children
In a recent ballot of members, seeing a national turnout of 70%, 86% voted in favour of industrial action.
We asked the General Secretary of the AEP to provide some background to the overriding problem, Dr Cath Lowther explained:
Between 2011 and 2021 EP pay has been eroded in real terms by 17%. Throughout this time there has been a shortage of EPs in the workforce and workloads are spiralling out of control. In England, this has been fuelled by an exponential growth in requests for education, health and care needs assessments which, in my view, has at least been partly caused by a lack of funding to schools and other education settings as well as decreased access to specialist early preventative support as a result of austerity.
In Wales, although the ALN reforms and the new curriculum are welcome, the result is more complex casework for EPs taking more time and therefore increasing workload.
Money in both nations continues to be tight with not enough being spent on public services to ensure that they are effective and provide early interventions.Dr Cath Lowther, AEP General Secretary
Some of the issues that Dr Lowther raises are also referenced in a recent workforce report, commissioned by the Department for Education. The report cited the vicious cycles of high statutory workloads leading to a reduction in effective early intervention work, reduced job satisfaction and EPs leaving Local Authorities.
One EP we spoke to highlighted their concern with Local Authority EP services being able to recruit and retain EPs, particularly to ensure schools have fair, timely and cost-effective access to EP support:
It’s vital that local authorities can continue to attract and retain EPs, to ensure cost-effective and fair support is available to schools, not just for EHCP assessments but for early intervention, staff training, and consultation work. Without a fair increase to the employment conditions offered to EPs employed on the Soulbury scale, the move to locum work will increase, further stretching the tight budgets of LAs.EP, London
Newly qualified EPs have also expressed concern about the future of the profession, indicating a tension between a strong belief in the provision of Local Authority EP services, and many EPs feeling that they have no option but to move to private work:
One of my key reasons for striking is the future of the EP profession. The way things are going, EPs will be driven out of LA work and forced into private work. Being relatively near the start of my career, I am worried for the future of the profession.Newly Qualified EP, London
Dr Lowther further explained that “We need to be accessible to any child, young person, family member or professional who needs our expertise. This can only be possible through a properly funded, core public service – free at point of contact like the NHS”.
A decision not taken lightly
A common view across many of the EPs we spoke to was that voting to strike is a hard decision.
In caring professions there’s alot of guilt around the fact that you are going to be depriving your services in the short term… For people who aren’t working in caring professions it’s helpful to know that practitioners feel that. I think that the fact that we can feel that guilt and still strike is a real indication of how important we feel it is, in terms of trying to change things.EP, South-West
One EP we spoke to highlighted the unacceptable negotiation strategy of the Local Government Association (LGA), explaining that “…the LGA have refused to negotiate with the AEP on the 2022 pay deal, making ‘final offers’ without discussion. An amended, acceptable offer was made in September then inexplicably retracted after the LGA apparently had not fully thought it through!”
Dr Lowther reiterated: “Taking industrial action is done as a last resort to put pressure on employers to change their pay offer… this action will also shine a light on the current crisis in local authority educational psychology services and put additional pressure on local authorities and the government to rethink how EPs are deployed and valued”.
The word ‘crisis’ came up frequently and some of the contextual information regarding LA EP services paints a worrying picture:
- 88% of local authorities report difficulties recruiting EPs with 48% citing pay as a key reason.
- 69% of local authorities are ‘not confident’ they will be able to meet the demand for EP services if there is no change in funding, training and service delivery models.
- 96% of those local authorities reporting recruitment and/or retention issues stated that these difficulties affected outcomes for children and young people requiring support.
Supporting the campaign and getting involved
edpsy is run by and for EPs. Three quarters of our team are EPs and we exist because of our amazing community, so we have no reservations signposting readers to some of the materials the AEP has put together to support the current action and campaign.
The AEP has a page of resources to explore, but some key actions include:
- Write to your MP to explain why the strike is happening and ask for support
- Join the strike rallies in Cardiff or London
- Talk about the current issues – either with children and families, or service leaders and colleagues