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Since 2007, the Children's Workforce Development Council has administered a funding scheme for the training of educational psychologists, to which local authorities are asked to contribute. However, I am
acutely aware that the current scheme is not operating as effectively as it should be. As my hon. Friend said, contributions from local authorities have been steadily decreasing, and so far this year only 16 out of 150 local authorities have confirmed that they will be contributing, leaving a significant shortfall in funding.
That situation is not tenable. First, it leaves great uncertainty for those considering embarking on a career in the profession. Secondly, it is unfair that local authorities are not paying their share given that the money is included in local authority funding settlements. Thirdly and most importantly, as my hon. Friend outlined, we must have well-trained educational psychologists to provide for children's welfare and development, particularly for children with special educational needs. So, in the context of the Government spending review and the systemic review of special educational needs, we are reviewing current arrangements and trying to find a more sustainable solution. We have had to place a temporary freeze on recruitment until the comprehensive spending review picture is clearer in the light of the significant shortfall in funding from local authorities' contribution, but I am aware that the issue is urgent. I am very aware of the feelings expressed by Members of all parties.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to hear the Minister talk about the importance of supporting local authorities in supporting educational psychologists. Does she not share my concerns that some of the changes that this Government have made to the funding available to local authorities for centrally determined budgets, particularly the money that they have said has to go to academies and to free schools, will undermine authorities' ability to fund central services and to support special educational needs in schools and therefore educational psychologists?
Sarah Teather: Academies are still perfectly free to buy into the services that are provided by local authorities and in many cases they do so, particularly when they are of a high quality. They now simply have more freedom to choose how they do that.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole will understand that, because of the proximity of the comprehensive spending review and the work that is ongoing on the Green Paper, I am not able to say more about the outcome of the work that I have said we want to do to put funding for educational psychologists on a more sustainable footing. As I have said, we are committed to this issue and I am aware that the situation at the moment is simply not a sustainable solution. I am also clear that educational psychologists are a key part of any reformed special educational needs system. Adequate numbers of specialists will be essential, no matter what reform we choose after consultation.
It is worth my saying a few words about some of the key principles that are guiding our work on the Green Paper, because they are relevant to the debate and pick up on some of the points that my hon. Friend made. I am clear that the system is far too adversarial, with parents all too often feeling that they have to battle to get the needs of their child recognised, let alone catered for. There are some excellent examples of good practice, but unfortunately all too often there are harrowing tales of poor practice. We must get better at identifying need
early, diagnosing accurately and putting in place the right support to meet the child's and, indeed, the family's needs.
We need a more transparent system in which assessments are streamlined and easier to cope with-a system that focuses more on outcomes for the child and the family and not just on ticking boxes on a piece of paper. I want parents to have more choice and involvement in decisions about their child's education and care. Much more can and should be done to raise the attainment of children with special educational needs and disability as well as to raise expectations of achievement. Key to all those areas of reform will be educational psychologists. We need to make much better use of their skills in assessment, advising teachers and schools, and working with families and children.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does my hon. Friend recognise the urgency of giving a clear signal that there will be training opportunities for educational psychologists, to both potential candidates and university departments?
Sarah Teather: I recognise that this issue is absolutely urgent, but my right hon. Friend will acknowledge that I am not able to say anything about this before the comprehensive spending review on Wednesday, as it is way above my pay grade. However, I am very clear that this issue is critical to the reform that I want the Government to push forward in the Green Paper, which we will publish later this year. I am sorry; I know it is very frustrating for hon. Members who want answers now. They are quite entitled to come and ask the Government about this and I am relieved that so many people feel so strongly about it, but at this stage all I can do is assure Members that it is absolutely on my agenda.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The current freeze is giving a very unhelpful message, although the reasons for it have been explained in the debate. The hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) has pointed out the problem with the age profile and the need for a sustainable approach, and I welcome the Minister's saying that there will be an answer to the sustainability issue. She talked about an adequate number of educational psychologists: can she give us an idea of an adequate number? That would be helpful.
Sarah Teather: What is an adequate number will depend a little on the Green Paper. The role of educational psychologists might change depending on what we do with the assessment system. I would like them to play a greater role in offering therapeutic advice rather than just being used by local authorities as a gatekeeper to services, as happens all too often. Much work needs to be done with the Green Paper.
Stephen Gilbert: I want to press the Minister on the period of time in which we might expect some clarity on this issue. She has talked a lot about the Green Paper, but when might we see it? Will she commit to coming to the House and telling us about educational psychologists after that?