Western Australia’s Department of Education, employs over 300 school psychologist FTE, equating to 400 psychologists, providing services to students (Kindergarten to Year 12) across 800 public metropolitan, regional and remote schools. The School Psychology Service supports schools in collaboration with other in-school and inter-agency service providers. The last seven years has seen dramatic changes in the School Psychology Service and the role of school psychologists as the service has adjusted and adapted to align with significant changes in public sector education.
A number of important changes
Since 2008, there have been a number of important changes, including:
- Inception of Independent Public Schools (IPS). IPS schools have been empowered to make staffing, resourcing and other decisions based on local needs, including autonomy to appoint and manage their own school psychologist. They can purchase more FTE but cannot trade their school psychologist FTE for other personnel;
- Districts were restructured into regions with new leadership and roles;
- School psychologists were relocated from districts into host schools;
- Creation of a Manager, School Psychology Service position and central team; there had been no central leadership positions for the service for many years beforehand;
- Creation of a Competency Framework for School Psychologists. This defines five dimensions and three phases of development for each;
- Development and implementation of a single process for equitable allocation of school psychologist time to all schools;
- Creation of over 60 additional permanent school psychologist positions; and
- Creating 25 FTE new lead school psychologist positions to oversee professional practice and provide higher-level support for schools.
Communication, innovation and improving outcomes in service delivery
These important changes created an environment where innovation to improve service delivery was possible. Initially, new communication systems were implemented. For example, an e-newsletter for all school psychologists was established that provided a single source of information. In addition, a lead school psychologist network was formed to allow shared leadership of the service and a weekly bulletin created for the leadership team.
Other innovations included establishing a new records management system, collaboratively developing professional practice guidelines, and developing and implementing new attraction and recruitment processes. A governance structure that included a Reference Group was also reconvened, and the two-year, six module Graduate Induction Program for provisionally registered psychologists was strengthened to align with the requirements of the Psychology Board of Australia, the Competency Framework (2015)1 and school needs.
Even though the changes caused many rearrangements and movement of personnel between schools, the need for more formal feedback on service delivery from principals was recognised. An electronic feedback survey was developed and distributed to a representative sample of principals in 2011 to ask about satisfaction with service delivery, satisfaction and support from lead school psychologists, rating of school service priorities and identification of issues requiring attention. The exercise was repeated again in 2013 and 2015. In 2015 the survey was sent to all principals; the 73% return rate was astounding. Data gathered over the three surveys has enabled identification of some issues and improvements to be instigated.
Similar surveys were conducted over the three time periods with school psychologists and lead school psychologists. As with principals, whilst the data from the first survey showed that the rearrangements initially resulted in some difficulties, these were settled by the second survey. The positive results continued in the third survey. One issue recognised is the need to maintain a focus on professional collegiate support and avoid a sense of professional isolation which lead school psychologists are continuing to work hard on.
Innovations in the School Psychology Service has included a cross-sectoral, funded agreement with Catholic Education and the Association for Independent Schools WA for the provision of service to all non-government schools in the Kimberley. This initiative has been a resounding success with positive benefits for all. Further, suicide prevention work by the School Psychology Service, funded by the Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention, has allowed preventative approaches to be implemented across all three school sectors.
Challenges ahead for the School Psychology Service and schools include the high demand for school psychology services by schools, self care for school psychologists, operating alongside new agencies offering school site based mental health services and maintaining a balance between responsive and preventative services.
The author can be contacted at Chris.Gostelow@education.wa.edu.au
- Department of Education. (2015). Competency framework for school psychologists. East Perth: Department of Education, Western Australia.