The Government has been urged to increase the number of educational psychologists across the country by 60% due to the volume of children needing psychological support.
According to Impact trade union, which represents members of the National Educational Psychological Service, 15%-20% of students have significant emotional or behavioural issues and are reliant on schools to help meet their needs.
At present there are 162 full-time equivalent psychologists providing a school psychology service to all primary and post-primary schools in the country.
The union wants the immediate recruitment of at least 94 more to meet “current needs”. It is also wants a commitment to recruit an additional 17 psychologists to meet expected demands on the service by 2021.
Impact’s Tony Martin said Neps had been subject to restructuring and restrictions on recruitment since 2008.
He said the Programme for Government included a commitment to raise the number of Neps by 25%, but the most recent information the union had was that none of these additional posts have, as yet, been sanctioned.
The union held a briefing for Oireachtas members earlier this week at which educational psychologist Richard Egan pointed out that Ireland ranks 26th in the world in terms of the pupil to psychologist ratio for its educational psychology service, while one in four Irish pupils have special educational needs, and up to one in five are experiencing emotional or behavioural disorders.
“Based on current demographics, a total of 250 psychologists is needed to achieve the internationally accepted psychologist-to-student ratio of 1:3,500,” he said. “Based on current projections, this figure would have risen to 267 psychologists by 2021. These figures do not include the additional 20 to 30 psychologists needed to provide a service in the Early Years and Youthreach settings.”
The department said the service had, over the course of recent economic difficulties, not only maintained psychologist staffing levels within Neps, but had increased them by 10% since late 2008, to 162. It said the Programme for Government commits to bring the total number of Neps psychologists to 238 from the current sanctioned limit of 173.
The department said the psychologists are recruited via regional panels formed from national recruitment competitions but the panel which had existed had “reached the end of its useful life” and was unable to meet recruitment needs.
“It has now been closed,” it said. “A new national recruitment competition has been put in place to fill vacancies within all Neps regions. The closing date for applications is now passed and work is ongoing in relation to the examination of applications and short-listing for interview.
“It is envisaged following interviews that recruitment panels will be formed and active filling of vacancies will commence in the new year to provide for expanded staffing provision countenanced in the Programme for Government as resources allow.”
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