What is Educational Psychology?
Psychology is the science of understanding our minds and behaviours. An Educational Psychologist (EP) can help in understanding a child’s learning, development and behaviour in relation to their education. This includes cognitive (thinking), social and emotional processes that are important for learning.
An EP gathers information through an assessment, then uses knowledge of child development and psychological theories to interpret findings and identify reasons why a child may be having difficulty at school. Recommendations are then made for interventions and support that can help the child make progress, including building on their strengths. The psychology of teaching and learning is central to the role of an EP.
Adopted children / children in care
As children grow up they develop a greater understanding of life. Children who are adopted or have been in care may revisit and question their life experiences at different developmental stages. This can be emotionally confusing and lead to changes in behaviour at home and/or school. An educational psychology assessment can help in understanding how a child’s emotional needs are impacting on their learning, exploring areas such as attachment, risk and resilience factors, and the child’s perspective.
It is important to explore the reasons a child is having behaviour difficulties, in order to ensure the most appropriate strategies and interventions are put in place. An educational psychology assessment is a great place to start, particularly if there are behaviour difficulties at school. Understanding how a child makes sense of their world is crucial for bringing about positive change.
The level of support a child with cerebral palsy needs at school varies form child to child. An educational psychology assessment can explore a child’s strengths and how they can be supported to access the Curriculum, demonstrate their learning and cope with any social or emotional needs. Advice is given for reasonable adaptations that can be made in ensuring a child with Cerebral Palsy is able to be as independent as possible in their educational setting.
Children with Down’s Syndrome typically have delayed learning and development. An Educational Psychologist can help by identifying learning, social or emotional needs, and recommending best practise for supporting children with Down’s Syndrome in their education.
Children develop at different rates, particularly during their early years (0-5). If you have concerns about your child’s development, it may help to speak with someone at your local Children’s Centre. In particular, look out for delays in language development, as this is a very common area of need for this age group. An Educational Psychologist can use a combination of play-based observations and cognitive assessments to identify a young child’s emerging strengths and difficulties.
Education, health and care plan (EHCP)
If a child’s needs are severe and complex they will likely require a high level of additional interventions and resources to access the curriculum. An Educational Psychologist can identify areas of need and recommend provisions for helping the child make progress. Parents and schools often use an educational psychology report as supporting evidence for requesting an EHCP, or appealing a refusal to assess.
Children with special educational needs often require access arrangements in exams, to be able to show their knowledge to the examining boards. Examples include additional time, a reader or use of a laptop. An Educational Psychologist can make recommendations for access arrangements during exams, such as SATs, 11 plus and GCSEs.
Some children find it hard to learn to read, spell and write. In some cases, this can indicate a specific learning difficulty. An educational psychology assessment can help to identify whether a child has developmental gaps or an underlying disability, such as dyslexia.
Some children are better able to show their learning through talking than writing, often due to difficulty with handwriting. Hypermobility is a common cause of poor fine motor skills, and can also affect gross motor activites, such as catching a ball and running. An Educational Psychologist can explore motor skills as part of an assessment, making recommendations for school-based provisions and advising on whether it would be helpful to refer the child to an Ocupational Therapist.
Having a physical or sensory disability (e.g. using a wheelchair, visual or hearing impairment) does not automatically mean a child will have problems learning. However, there may be challenges or accompanying difficulties at different times in their development. An educational psychology assessment can help in understanding your child’s strengths and difficulties, as well as provisions that can help with their learning.
Speech, language and communication
There are many aspects of speech, language and communication that are important for learning and developing relationships with others. Examples include being able to understand language, express thoughts verbally, say sounds clearly when speaking, interpret facial expressions and understand the intended meaning of what is said (pragmatics). An Educational Psychologist can explore speech, language and communication issues as part of an assessment, making recommendations for school-based provisions and advising on whether it would be helpful to refer the child to a Speech and Language Therapist.
Attention and concentration
There are many reasons why a child may find it hard to pay attention, listen, or concentrate on a given task. Sometimes there is an underlying difficulty with how their brain is wired. However, many children present with poor attention if they are feeling anxious or have a learning difficulty that has not yet been identified. An educational psychology assessment can help in understanding causes of behaviours, such as being easily distracted, impulsive and fidgety.
Bereavement and loss
From a favourite teddy to a grandparent, the experience of loss for a child can be emotionally overwhelming and sometimes leads to difficulty concentrating at school. Children respond to grief in different ways and their understanding will vary depending on their age. An educational psychology assessment can help in understanding the child’s perspective and how their grief is impacting on their learning.
Intellectually gifted children
It is not just children who have difficulty learning that require different teaching approaches. It is important to understand the cognitive profile of children with very high intelligence, to ensure they are given appropriate opportunities to achieve their potential. Such children often experience social and emotional difficulties at some point during their time at school. An Educational Psychologist is well placed to assess all areas of development, and how they link together.
Most children will experience worry, frustration or anxiety at some point during their childhood. Many find ways to safely express and cope with their feelings, building resilience as a result. For some children, their emotional needs are so great that it impacts on their ability to pay attention and remember information. Anxiety and stress inhibit learning, calmness and positive thinking enable progress. An educational psychology assessment can explore factors leading to negative emotions, and how these are impacting on the child’s learning.
General learning difficulties
If a child struggles in many areas of the curriculum, they may have a general learning difficulty. As well as low cognitive ability, they will likely have under developed social and life skills. An Educational Psychologist can diagnose a learning difficulty and recommend provision for interventions and support.
A common conern parents/carers have relates to their child’s difficulties with organisation skills. Sometimes this is developmental, though it may also relate to a broader difficulty with executive functioning, i.e. the ability to plan, organise and keep track of tasks. It can also affect a child’s ability to control their emotions. An educational psychology assessment can help to understand and begin to address difficulties in this area.
Processing and memory
We each learn in different ways but all need to process information through our senses and use our memory stores. Difficulty with processing or memory can impact on a child’s ability to learn, especially in a classroom. An educational psychology assessment can help identify strengths and difficulties in these areas.
If your child is having difficulty building friendships and interacting with others, it can be helpful to identify the reasons for this. Examples of issues affecting social skills include: delayed language, emotional needs, or an underlying difficulty with how their brain is wired. An Educational Psychologist can screen for social communication difficulties as part of an assessment, making recommendations for school-based provisions and advising on whether it would be helpful to refer the child to a health professional.
We use our senses to take in information about our environment and interactions with others. Sometimes children are over or undersensitive to sensory information. This can lead to behaviours where a child is trying to seek sensory input or avoid sensory overload. An Educational Psychologist can explore sensory processing issues as part of an assessment, making recommendations for school-based provisions and advising on whether it would be helpful to refer the child to an Occupational Therapist.
Tics and tourette's syndrome
Tics are not a learning difficulty, however sometimes they may have an impact on a child’s learning. There may also be emotional difficulties for children who expeirence tics. An Educational Psychologist can help by identifying any links between tics and learning, social or emotional difficulties, or whether there is another underlying condition present. Recommendations are made for how to support a child at school, including best practice for educating children with tics/tourette’s syndrome.
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