P.E.I.'s Department of Education is reviewing psychological services in schools to try to reduce wait times.

Sandy MacDonald

School psychologists are being called to do more than assess learning disabilities, says deputy education minister Sandy MacDonald. (CBC)

It currently takes two to three years for a student to get a learning disability or behavioural assessment from a psychologist. Those delays are predicted to get worse because half the English board's psychologists are on leave this year.

Deputy Minister Sandy MacDonald said staffing levels, pay, and working conditions are under review, but he also thinks workload could be an issue. MacDonald said psychologists do a lot more student risk assessments these days.

"There've been a spate of school shootings in the United States, and the news media is full of kids who have been dangerous to others or dangerous to themselves," said MacDonald.

"I think that heightened awareness has caused parents to be a lot more vigilant, and quicker to make a referral, as well as school staff are much quicker to make a referral. And while that's a good thing in one sense that we're not going to miss anybody, it puts a significant demand on the system."

MacDonald started his career in education as a school psychologist. At the time there were four psychologists for 18,000 students. There are now eight for 20,000 students and MacDonald said they cannot keep up with the demand for services.

The English Language School Board attempted to find replacements for the psychologists on leave this year, but could not find anyone to fill the positions. Education's initial review suggests pay levels on P.E.I. are eight to 10 per cent lower than in other parts of Atlantic Canada. MacDonald said pay rates will be part of the review.

MacDonald hopes the review will be finished before the end of the month.

The School Board has found the money to pay a private psychologist to do 10 to 12 assessments to help reduce the impact of half the staff being on leave.

For mobile device users: The Department of Education is reviewing four things to improve school psychologist wait times. Which is most likely to work?