I can inform the Deputy that, in common with many other psychological services and best international practice, my Department’s National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has adopted a consultative model of service. The focus is on empowering teachers to intervene effectively with pupils whose needs range from mild to severe and transient to enduring. Psychologists use a problem solving and solution oriented consultative approach to maximize positive outcomes for these pupils. NEPS encourages schools to use a continuum based assessment and intervention process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and remedial intervention for pupils with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Teachers may consult their NEPS psychologist should they need to at this stage in the process. Only in the event of a failure to make reasonable progress, in spite of the school's best efforts in consultation with NEPS, will the psychologist become involved with a child for individual intensive intervention or assessment.
This system allows psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually. It also ensures that children are not referred unnecessarily for psychological intervention.
Where, by agreement with the school authorities, the child is referred to the NEPS psychologist it is with the full consent of the child’s parents or guardians and commences a formal documented process which is maintained on the NEPS Casetrack database.
This referral process involves a range of information gathering on the child, providing relevant background to the child’s educational and social development and to the particular concerns raised which warrant consideration. Depending on the nature and context of the concerns raised the psychologist may involve themselves directly with the child in, for example, applying a range of psychometric tests or observation of the child in the school setting and-or engage in consultation with parents, teachers and other involved professionals. The overall focus of any or all of these interactions is to enable the psychologist to identify the needs of the child and to make recommendations as to the appropriate intervention(s) to address these needs.
All of the above interventions are considered to be in the context of an assessment process, some involving direct contact with the child, others not. They are all used in part or combination to inform the process. While engagement with parents and school authorities is implicit in each referral, in a minority of cases, direct contact may not be necessary between the psychologist and child.
In this context and relating to the Deputy's specific question I have made enquiries into the matter and can inform her that in 2012/13 some 6,856 referrals with NEPS involved direct contact with the child concerned, in 2013/14 – 6,418 and in 2014/15 – 6,311.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.