By Ella Mansfield
In January, I wrote a blog post about what an average week is like for a year 1 trainee educational psychologist at the University of Birmingham. At that point, I had no idea that in a matter of months I would be continuing the course from my parents’ home, writing essays from my childhood bedroom and starting my second placement remotely, having never met any of my new colleagues face to face.
Back in March, the university decided not to continue face-to-face lectures. This was a relief, in a way, as sitting in close proximity to twelve other trainees for six hours a day was beginning to feel a little panic inducing. The news about growing infection rates was becoming more serious and we were all starting to worry about the health of both ourselves and our loved ones. When I was sure there would be no more lectures, I had a hasty departure from both my shared rental home and the city, one week before lockdown started. I packed up the car with everything I own, and made my way back to Surrey where my parents and boyfriend live.
This was my fourth week at my second placement in Year 1 of my course, in June 2020.
This morning, I ‘met’ with my placement supervisor via video call to talk about last week’s work and plan for the next few days. Over the last two weeks, we have been co-writing some non-routine statutory casework for a teenager who has had a long history of difficulties in educational settings. The case is complex, as the young person has multiple learning difficulties and social, emotional, and mental health problems. . Social distancing measures have resulted in some adjusts to practice including the inability to visit the teenager in school to assess their needs. This first-hand information would help to fill gaps in the information we are provided by other professionals, so that we can have a holistic view of the case. Instead, we are planning on contacting the young person and their parents via a phone call..
During our meeting, my supervisor and I also discussed a potential training opportunity. My placement service has set up a helpline for parents to offer support during the pandemic. Having volunteered as a counsellor for ChildLine, a listener for Samaritans and managed a phone counselling service for students, my supervisor suggested that it might be useful to share some of my experiences in the hope that it might help support and improve the educational psychology helpline and other phone support services. We discussed the relevance of my experiences and which areas might be helpful for educational psychologists to hear about. Whilst I’m excited about this project, I’m wary that any content I share with my colleagues must be applicable to what they are doing as there is great demand on their time. .
I spent Monday afternoon working on the outcomes and recommendations for the casework and then had a short peer supervision video conference with one of the other year 1 trainee educational psychologists who is on placement at the same local authority. I find these meetings so useful – not just to discuss placement and university, but also for social time and maintaining my own wellbeing.
After work, my boyfriend and I went out for our government-approved exercise – a jog. I decided to force him to run up Box Hill – a famous beauty spot and very steep slope! I instantly regretted it of course, but it was worth it for the views.
This morning I ‘attended’ (via video) a RAG review meeting for a specialist secondary school for pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties. A RAG review meeting involves the identification and discussion of children within a school who are considered the most at risk, which could be due to things such as bereavement, dangerous behaviour, or domestic issues at home.
The school are trying to ensure that pupils who are most at risk are in school if possible. Transport is a problem as many pupils need specialist equipment and travel long distances to get to class. The staff appear to be under a great deal of strain as they try to continue as normal whilst working in shifts, maintaining social distancing where they can whilst also catering for the pupils themselves as the school kitchens are closed. All this with little or no PPE, causing concerns about their own health and the health of their families. I’m looking forward to being part of these meetings on a weekly basis as this has taught me a lot about the lived experience of school staff and pupils during this difficult time. School is so important for these pupils, not just for learning but also for social experience, routine, specialist support, parent respite, nutrition and community inclusion.
This evening I phoned around some local farms to try to source some chickens for my parents. My boyfriend and I have been building a chicken coop in the garden from an old swing set and recycled fence panels. It’s not beautiful but we think it should keep the foxes out!
Today, I mostly focused on my training for educational psychologists on helpline services. As I was wary that some might not find the content of my training applicable to their role, I decided to create a short survey to gauge interest.. I sent it off in the morning and got some lovely feedback from my colleagues about how refreshing it was to complete a questionnaire in under a minute! I was pleased to see that all respondents suggested that they thought the training would be useful. The topics they were most interested in learning about were helpline frameworks, supervision and aural active listening techniques. Now, I suppose, I need to get on with planning it!
During the afternoon, we had a team meeting, chaired by the Senior Educational Psychologist who manages the team. The meetings would usually be fortnightly, but due to the pandemic they’ve become a weekly occurrence. I’ll be honest, I’ve found them a little disorientating, but it’s normal to feel a bit lost when you first start a new placement, simply because you don’t know people’s names or interests and the topics of discussion are different at each Educational Psychology Service. However, when you don’t know what anyone looks like, let alone whose voice is whose, it can be even more confusing! I’ve been trying to let the information wash over me and be at peace with the idea that I don’t need to know everything and everyone all at once. I tend to write down words and phrases I don’t understand and either look them up or ask my supervisor about them later on.
Thursday and Friday
Thursday and Friday are our study days. I’ve been trying hard to keep these days completely separate and use them to only work on things for university. I’m currently writing an essay about the unique role of the educational psychologist in working with children with low-incidence complex individual needs. I chose this topic as, for me, this year has largely been about understanding the educational psychology role and I was keen to know more about how it differed from other specialist roles. Educational psychologists have a broad skill set which doesn’t lend itself to a clear role description when collaborating with other specialists There are certain functions which are unique to the educational psychology role. Collaborative communication with others and skill in building rapport means that educational psychologists are well-placed to gather information and make change in a range of environments, including the child’s school, home and community. Psychological knowledge is therefore a strength, meaning that interventions and approaches can be tailored to the child as an individual.
Ella is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.