The mental health of NSW kids is at risk as school psychologists suffer a high rate of burnout amid worsening job insecurity.
The need for better conditions comes as the Federal Government considers a recommendation to introduce a ratio of one psychologist per 500 students in schools. But the union is warning a lack of proper recognition of the psychologists’ qualifications in the education system is learning to a high churn in the workforce.
“There is a mental health crisis in NSW schools and the best people to help kids are school psychologists,” said Stewart Little, general secretary of the Public Sector Association.
“But currently, because of ongoing job insecurity and poor conditions, there’s a revolving door of psychologists though schools and kids are missing out.”
To end the revolving door of school psychologists the Public Service Association, is asking the NSW Department of Education to develop a new award. Currently, school counsellors (qualified teachers who have completed post-graduate study in psychology) have access to school holidays and greater flexibility within in the system – conditions school psychologists can’t access.
“School psychologists aren’t asking for more money or better conditions than their colleagues – they just want working conditions that fairly represent the work they do within the school environment.”
Recently, the Federal Parliamentary Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention released made 44 recommendations to improve the mental health system, which is at “a tipping point”, including introducing a student to psychologist ratio of one to 500.
“We absolutely welcome any improvement on the existing ratios but there is a high level of frustration about poor conditions and lack of professional recognition within schools, particularly in comparison to their school counsellor colleagues. That is a key factor in the poor retention rates.”
Currently, NSW schools have a ratio of about one psychologist to 1000 students, with 250 psychologists working in schools across the state.
The union says together with improved ratios, there also needs to be assessment of the complexities among low socio-economic, poorly resourced communities and schools to recognise the increased workload within those communities. There is also a lack of Aboriginal and Torres Islander representation in mental health service provision and School Psychologist roles in schools.
Statement edited: school counsellors (qualified teachers who have completed post-graduate study in psychology)