By Ella Mansfield (Year 1 trainee educational psychologist)
A week as a Trainee Educational Psychologist is hugely varied. Though it can sometimes feel overwhelming, I’ve found that I’m learning a huge amount and finding it both challenging and rewarding!
This Monday I woke up to horrible weather – I cycle to university so waking up to rain is never a good start! Still, I packed my bag and headed out into the damp, arriving at university at 9am for a meeting with five of my course mates. We were preparing for a 30-minute presentation on frameworks for practice to help educational psychologists formulate our casework that we were presenting to the rest of our cohort that morning. We sat in a café and ran through our slides, discussing any changes we needed to make. Having been a teacher before the course, I tend not to get too nervous about presenting, but that’s not the case for everyone as we’re from a variety of different backgrounds with different experiences. Our lecture started at 10am, each group presenting a different framework.
Presentations finished, we had a lecture on supervision in the afternoon. We have been on placement two days a week in various educational psychology services in the West Midlands for around three months now, each with a designated supervisor – a qualified EP who looks out for us and helps us organise our time. In the lecture we reviewed how we thought our supervision was going, and if there were any things that could be developed.
I try and do one thing each day that isn’t to do with the course. Having moved to Birmingham to study, two hours from where my family and friends live, I knew that I would need a structure to my week to help me meet new people and de-stress so, Monday is my ice hockey evening.
Another university day! We started at 9.30am with a cohort meeting. We have these meetings every fortnight to give us an opportunity to ask any questions we may have and plan events as a group. This week we mostly talked about socials coming up (we usually talk about things that are much more serious and important!).
Following this we had a lecture about assessment through teaching – a way of working out children’s needs through looking at how they learn over time. We focused on Precision Teaching, as this links to a task we are currently doing at placement. Maths skills is an area often overlooked in educational psychology, so it was valuable to learn how these skills develop for children and how Precision Teaching could be used to measure their learning.
In the afternoon, we had a lecture about the WIAT-III. This is an assessment used to measure a pupil’s attainments in language, literacy and numeracy. A focus in lectures is of the ethical implications of these tests and determining how and when they are appropriate for use.
My non-EP related activity of the day was a yoga class, which I do through the university’s student guild.
The first of the two placement days this week. My placement’s office is a half an hour drive from my house, which isn’t too bad at all. This Wednesday I had scheduled a day in the office to write up a report for a child I had been working with over the last few weeks. Her speech and language therapist had requested a report from an educational psychologist to help to see if she would benefit from a specialist speech and language provision.
I used the British Ability Scales 3 which is a cognitive assessment. I found this write up and scoring challenging as the assessment is new to me. I enjoyed some aspects of it, like analysing the results and trying to work out what might be the main cause of the child’s difficulties, as well as considering environmental factors and suggestions for how she could be helped in the classroom. However, I struggled with the idea that whatever I wrote in the report would have an impact on a real child and might change how life is for her. Next week I have a morning set aside to talk through what I have written with my supervisor, so I can check that I’m on the right track and discuss my thoughts about it.
Wednesday is pottery night!
My second placement day of the week. I was contributing to training about working with children and young people with ASD and ADHD for employees working in a range of social care roles in the local authority. The training lasted all day and was run by two educational psychologists from my placement service, as well as my course mate Dawn and myself. I found some aspects of the presentation difficult – there was an emphasis on personal stories to illustrate examples of practice. With a background in counselling I found this a bit tricky as I’m used to focusing on the individual rather than trying to relate things to other people’s experiences. I did think of a few examples I could use, but I know that as my placement experience continues, I will get more in tune with what kinds of examples might be useful, and how to present things in a confidential and respectful manner.
On Fridays we have a personal study day so all of the things I have put on my to-do lists over the week can be caught up on and I can get on with writing my essays. I always spend my study days in the library on the university campus as I find that I’m far more productive there than I am at home.
At the moment, we are working on our Assessment and Intervention module assignment, for which I am focusing on theories of dyslexia, and specifically whether it can be considered a specific learning difficulty or if it should be considered a spectrum of difficulty relating to poor reading skills. I’m finding the essay challenging as it’s a complex debate and there’s a lot to get into 4,000 words! However, I’m learning a lot from my writing, both about the topic area and about how to write academically at doctoral level.
So, there we go, that’s my week! I think from having written it down, I’ve realised how much I’m currently doing. The course is challenging and intense but also immensely engaging and worthwhile. Though I often feel overwhelmed by how much needs to be done, I’m always excited for what the day has to bring, and I feel immensely lucky to have the opportunity to study such a fascinating subject.
Before starting the course at Birmingham, I worked for three years as a Psychology Teacher and Specialist Mentor for 16-19 year olds at a large comprehensive Sixth Form College in Surrey. I volunteered and worked in counselling roles at charities since the age of 17 (the Samaritans, Nightline and Childline) and co-ordinated a branch of Nightline whilst at university. I also worked with children (5-25) with multiple and profound disabilities for four years at an afterschool and holiday club.
I realised that I wanted to be an Educational Psychologist when I was 19, as a friend’s mum suggested that it might be a role that would suit both my interests and my personal skills. Having applied through the AEP in 2017 and being unsuccessful (I had one interview that year at UEA, but if I’m honest, I didn’t fully understand what I was applying for!), in 2018 I applied for four universities (Birmingham, Southampton, UEA and Cardiff) with a fresh sense of purpose. The interview process was demanding – continuing with my full-time job whilst studying in my evenings and weekends. But the hard work paid off and I accepted a place at Birmingham, my favourite of the universities I had applied to! I chose the Birmingham course because of its holistic approach to educational psychology; it offered the opportunity to develop my skills without being directional in the type of practitioner I would become. So far, I am finding it a thoroughly positive experience. I have settled in well at Birmingham and whilst the course is intense, I am loving it.