EFPPA European Federation of Professional Psychologists Associations Task Force Report – Psychologists in the educational system in Europe – April 1997


At the 1993 General Assembly of the European Federation of Professional Psychologists’ Associations (EFPPA) representatives from ANOP (France) proposed that a Task Force be established entitled “Psychologists in the Educational System in Europe”. Although no formal terms of reference were drawn up, it was agreed that the role of the new Task Force was to:

  • conduct a survey of current training and practice in school and educational psychology among EFPPA countries;
  • make recommendations to the Executive Council of EFPPA concerning the greater harmonisation of professional training and practice and on ways to enhance the recognition and status of the profession

Mr Jean Paul Kerherve (France) was the convenor of the Task Force and the Executive Council liaison officer was Mr Patrick Cohen (France). Both are representatives of ANOP. The Task Force has met four times between October 1994 and March 1997. The full list of members and dates/venues of meetings is presented in Appendix I.

The aim of this report is, firstly, to present the results of a survey the Task Force has conducted into the training and practice of school and educational psychologists in EFPPA countries and, secondly, to highlight key issues of concern and make recommendations for consideration by the EFPPA General Assembly.

(Note: for economy of presentation, in the remainder of this report we use the term educational psychologists – EPs – as the generic term to encompass both school and educational psychologists.)


2.1 Data Collection

The questionnaire (see Appendix 2) was finalised following the first meeting of the Task Force. As it was the intention to obtain as many completed returns as possible, the number of questions was kept to a minimum. These covered questions on the number, training and registration (licensing) of EPs, their key tasks, employment prospects and current issues facing the profession.

All EFPPA associations were asked to complete the questionnaire. Eleven replies were received from the 29 countries to whom it was sent. An analysis of written comments from Slovenia, which did not specifically answer the points raised in the questionnaire, was also included as were the responses from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, who replied to a similar questionnaire that had been circulated previously by the president of EFPPA, Ingrid Lunt. This made a total of 15 responses from different countries, just over 50% of those contacted. A summary of each country’s response to every question together with the names of those countries who did not respond is presented in Appendix 3. The questionnaires were completed by a representative of each country’s psychological association (or similar organisation), and therefore the responses may not necessarily represent the views of the majority of Eps working in those countries. An overview of all the responses is presented in the following sections.

2.2 Number of educational psychologists and the ratio of psychologists to children

Although it was only possible to obtain estimated figures, there appears to be a large difference between the responding countries in the numbers of EPs who are employed. In Malta, for example, there are only four whereas in Spain there are 7,500 and in France there are 8,000, made up of school psychologists (3,500) and counselling psychologists (4,500).

The picture becomes clearer when one examines the ratio of psychologists to school children. Again the figures are estimates and there is tremendous variation. In Slovenian mainstream and special schools, for example, the ratio is as high as 1-640 and 1-384 pupils respectively. However in Malta the ratio is 1-60,000 children aged 0-19. For six countries, Sweden, Norway, Israel, France, Denmark and Belgium, the ratio is more consistent and varies from about 1-1,300 to 1-2,500. In the UK, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany the ratio is between 1-6,500 and 1-15,000.

2.3 Who employs educational psychologists

The vast majority of EPs are employed by local, municipal or provincial educational authorities. In Spain EPs can be employed by local authorities and by central government. In smaller countries, e.g. Malta and Iceland, the government education department is the main employer.

2.4 National associations representing educational psychologists

All responding countries referred to national organisations which represent the interests of the profession. Sometimes, as in the case of the UK and Denmark, there are two associations, one which has trade union responsibilities and one which is purely a professional association.

2.5 Training issues

There is no consistent pattern of training in educational psychology among the countries who responded to the questionnaire. In four countries, Finland, Germany, Iceland and the Netherlands, there does not appear to be a specific training route, although there is an expectation that EPs will have obtained certain qualifications and experience, for example specialist knowledge in developmental psychology. All professional psychologists in Norway and Sweden, including those who work as EPs, attend a 6 year training programme of which the final year is an internship. In Spain the training period is 5 years. France, England (not Scotland), Malta and Switzerland all require EPs to have worked as teachers. Only four of the respondents explicitly stated that EPs need to have a qualification at Masters degree level.

The number of universities providing training in educational psychology varies from none in Malta to 15 in the UK and 18 in Spain.

2.6 Employment prospects

Israel, the UK and Iceland reported no problems for the employment of newly trained EPs and in France the situation is improving. On the other hand, Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Malta, Spain and Switzerland all commented that the employment situation was poor or very uncertain. Spain, Switzerland and Finland stated that there were a number of EPs who were currently unemployed.

2.7 Key tasks performed by educational psychologists

On the whole the responses to this question were extremely consistent across all the countries who took part. EPs throughout Europe are involved in the assessment of children who have learning and behaviour problems, in counselling children, parents and families and in giving guidance to schools. The majority are involved in running inservice courses and working with schools to bring about institutional change. Most are also involved in offering career guidance and in carrying out research projects.

2.8 The licensing/registration of educational psychologists

EPs from nine of the responding countries are licensed by “law”. Others, for example the UK and Switzerland, are working towards this.

2.9 Current issues facing the profession of educational psychology

There was a great deal of variety in responses to this question. Respondents from Switzerland, Belgium and Finland focused on current problems faced by children and families, for example, increased violence and drug taking among school children and increasing levels of unemployment, all of which have a direct impact on the range of work in which EPs become involved. Furthermore the Netherlands and Israel referred to the likelihood of additional work for psychologists occurring as a result of the increase in the number of children with special needs being integrated into mainstream schools.

Other concerns focused on the possible effect on the work of EPs of the way they are employed. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Iceland all expressed concern that changes in the school system and the decentralisation of power may influence the work that EPs are able to undertake. The UK mentioned that problems caused by limited resources in local authorities can restrict the work they do.

A further concern expressed by France, Malta, Germany and the UK is the lack of recognition of EPs’ work by employers and other professional groups and the effect this has in restricting the work they do. Germany also referred to the need to increase the level of qualification for educational psychologists, an issue which is currently being debated in the UK.

2.10 Summary

The findings from this survey suggest that there are marked similarities and differences in the work of EPs among EFPPA countries. In particular EPs appear to perform similar tasks throughout Europe and are employed by local educational authorities; most of them are also linked to a professional organisation within their country. There are also similarities in the concerns they express about the range of work they do and about achieving sufficient recognition among employers and other professional groups.

On the other hand there are considerate differences in the ratio of EPs to children, in their training and in their prospects for employment.


In considering the key issues facing the profession of educational psychology the Task Force have discussed the implications of the survey, they have consulted recent literature, and have held detailed discussions about particular problems facing EPs in the countries represented by Task Force members.

The following key issues relating to the training and practice of educational psychology have been highlighted by the Task Force. Some of these are linked to specific recommendations.

3.1 The training of school/educational psychologists

There are a number of interrelated aspects of the training of EPs which the Task Force would like to highlight.

  • a. The relevance of teaching to the training of EPs. In a number of EFPPA countries it is a requirement that EPs should be qualified and experienced teachers. Whilst this may increase EPs’ credibility with teachers as they, too, may have experienced similar problems in the classroom, the Task Force believe that, on balance, the teaching requirement should not be a mandatory part of EP training. The main reasons for this are as follows. First, the need to qualify as a teacher before training as an EP can give the impression the EPs are teachers first and foremost and that the psychology is added on as something extra. This can have the effect of devaluing the psychological nature of EP work and threatens their identity as applied psychologists. Second, the teaching component lengthens the whole training period and, if this experience comes between obtaining the psychology degree and acquiring a professional qualification – as happens in many countries, trainee EPs can forget much of the psychology they learned on their first degree. Third, the need to become a teacher can deter suitable applicants with a first degree in psychology from applying to join the profession. Rather than insisting on EPs being qualified and experienced teachers, the Task Force would prefer entrants to the profession to have gained some prior experience with children in a variety of contexts; experience which could form part of an integrated training scheme.
  • b. The length of training. EFPPA has an agreed policy that professional training in applied psychology should be of six years duration. The Task Force considers this to be the minimum period necessary to gain the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to function effectively as an EP. This period should comprise a three year academic degree in psychology followed by three years’ professional training. However additional, supervised preparatory work with children prior to beginning the professional training component would be desirable.
  • c. Joint training with other branches of professional psychology. The Task Force considers it regrettable that in many EFPPA countries (Sweden being a notable exception) training routes in the different areas of professional psychology are separate. This sows the seeds for further divisions between different groups of psychologists once people become qualified. As there is a large degree of overlap in the skills and knowledge required of all professional psychologists, there is much to be gained if some of the training was combined. Indeed the Task Force considers that the first and much of the second, year of the final three years of the professional qualification could be taught jointly. It is only towards the end of the training period that trainees should specialise in their particular branch of professional psychology.
  • d. The balance of theory and practice in professional training. In view of the practical nature of EP training, the Task Force believe that practical work should be fully integrated within training courses with trainees working in field settings as a practitioners with appropriate levels of supervision for increasing periods of time, particularly over the final three year period.
  • e. The level of qualification (Diploma, Masters, Doctorate). The Task Force believe that the level of theoretical and practical knowledge and skills required to complete a professional training programme in educational psychology is equivalent to that of students enrolled on taught doctoral programmes in Europe and the USA. Therefore, all trainee EPs should be awarded a doctorate on successful completion of their training.
  • f. Financial support for training. In many countries EPs in training have to undergo considerable financial hardship in order to complete their qualification. This prevents many able candidates from entering the profession as they have insufficient funds to support them through the training period.


Recommendation 1a
The training period should last at least 6 years in line with EFPPA policy.

Recommendation 1b
There should be no mandatory requirement for EPs to be qualified and experienced teachers.

Recommendation 1c
Joint training between the various branches of professional psychology should take place, where appropriate, until the final year of the programme.

Recommendation 1d
During the final three years of the programme increasing amounts of time should be spent undertaking practical work in field settings.

Recommendation 1e
The final level of qualification should be at Doctoral degree level.

Recommendation 1f
EPs in training should receive adequate financial support from their governments throughout the training period.

3.2 The Role of Educational/School Psychologists

The survey referred to above indicates that EPs across Europe perform many functions but that the core of the work involves the assessment of children with learning and/or behaviour difficulties and the offering of guidance to schools and families. There is evidence of an increasing demand for EP services and that members of the profession work under considerate pressure. EPs also report ongoing problems about the restrictions which employers sometimes impose on the work of EPs and about role ambiguity both within and outside the profession. Some EPs have expressed concern that the overlap between their work and other professional groups can cause confusion, misunderstanding and resentment. It is also recognised that expectations about the current and future role of EPs are continually changing. Additional concerns have been expressed about the need to ensure the highest possible ethical standards particularly in regard to confidentiality and to respecting the rights of different client groups.

The general view is that EPs should be seen as professional psychologists working with children and youth in an educational setting. The bulk of this work is in schools but also includes nurseries, hospitals and children’s homes. Inevitably this involves working with, counselling and supporting families, teachers and other professionals who work with children. Furthermore EPs work with schools and other organisations to help them develop management policies., assessment and intervention strategies for children with problems.

Recommendation 2
Professional associations in member countries associated with the work of EPs should actively promote the profession of school/educational psychology by circulating booklets and guidance about the work of EPs to schools, social services departments, health services, public libraries and other organisations.

3.3 The licensing (registration) of EPs

In many EFPPA countries the profession of school/educational psychology is not licensed although some are working towards this. In those countries where the profession remains unlicensed, it is possible for people without recognised training and qualifications to work as EPs and the general public has no way of knowing whether the psychologists who advise them are fully qualified. The Task Force consider that licensing (registration) is an essential step towards establishing the credibility of the profession and for ensuring the highest possible ethical standards of professional practice.

Recommendation 3
There should be a legal requirement for all EPs to be licensed (registered).

3.4 The ratio of EPs to children aged 0-19.

At present the ratio of EPs to children varies enormously across EFPPA countries. This clearly has an effect on the range and quality of services that EPs can offer. In order for children who are in need of psychological advice and support to be able to receive it promptly, there needs to be a large increase in the numbers of EPs. Without such an increase many EPs will continue to work under extreme pressure and with limited impact.

Recommendation 4
EFFPA countries should ensure that the ratio of EPs to children is sufficient to enable them to carry out the range of applied psychological work for which they were trained. In many countries this will result in there being a large increase in the number of EPs being employed.

3.5 The Continuing Professional Development of School/Educational Psychologists

The profession of school/educational psychology is still developing and therefore new techniques of psychological assessment and intervention are being continually being evolved. For this reason EPs need opportunities to undertake further training so as to update their professional skills and knowledge. This will help to ensure that the quality of EP work is improving all the time.

Recommendation 5
It should be a condition of employment for EPs to be given opportunities to undertake further training.

3.6 Other issues

In the course of its discussions the Task Force considered two other issues relevant to the development of the profession of school/educational psychology. First, members thought that in the longer term there may be a need to consider developing a unified profession of child psychology in which child clinical and school/educational psychologists would work together in the same centre and in a unified service. They would receive similar or possibly identical training and have the same status although their roles might differ somewhat, depending on the specialist functions each performed within the organisation. This would help to clarify certain role ambiguities which exist at present and to define more clearly the scope and nature of professional psychological work with children.

Second, in order to facilitate the continuing exchange of ideas and information on applied psychological services across Europe, EPs and their organisations should update each other on developments through the use of the Internet and through regular newsletters featuring the work of EPs in different countries. This is essential in order to help EPs across Europe to keep informed on developments.


The Task Force welcomes the closer links that are being established between professional psychologists across Europe.

EFFPA in general and the Task Force in particular, have an important role in understanding, promoting and developing professional practice in school/educational psychology. The recommendations contained in this report, if adopted, will help member countries to exert some influence over the relevant organisations in their own areas and should make a major contribution to the development of a more unified system of training and practice in applied school/educational psychology across Europe.

The Task Force has now completed its work. However in order to facilitate the implementation of our recommendations, it is important for organisations such as EFPPA to be active in working with member countries in supporting the future development of school/educational psychology training and practice.

Recommendation 6
A newly constituted Task Force with fresh terms of reference should be established which would develop mechanisms for improving liaison between countries and with the International School Psychology Association, prepare newsletters giving information about the development of training and practice in school/educational psychology across Europe, organise occasional courses and seminars and, where appropriate, advise member countries on the implementation of this report’s recommendations.

(Task Force on Psychologists in the Educational System)

(European Federation of Professional Psychologists Associations)

(Summary of responses to the questionnaire on school/educational Psychology Training and Practice in Europe)