PUPILS whose families are serving in the armed forces suffer from high levels of anxiety which are often not recognised at school, research shows.

A study of Scottish children who had parents serving in Afghanistan found their levels of stress were particularly high in the build up to their deployment with their worst fears being that their father or mother would be injured or killed.

Academics from City University London, who interviewed more than 50 Scottish pupils in 2011/12, also found they felt apprehensive when they were away from home and had difficulty sleeping. Children between the ages of eight and 11 were particularly affected.

Dr Sharon Pexton, who led the research, concluded: "Understanding the challenges and support needs of service children and their families through periods of military deployment is vital in providing appropriate and timely..... support.

"This is essential at times of combat deployments which are not only associated with the extended period of parental absence, but the increased risk of safety to the child’s deployed parent and the wider support needs of bereaved families and families affected by traumatic injuries."

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET), a 200-year-old charity that looks after the educational needs of armed forces children in Scotland, will back the call for change at its conference in Edinburgh.

The trust argues the significant additional levels of anxiety have a major impact on the educational performance of pupils which often goes unnoticed.

Moira Leslie, education manager at RCET said: "There can be significant lapses of concentration in the classroom which is difficult for teachers to pick up because it is not always obvious. That leads to gaps in their knowledge which impacts on their ability to succeed.

"For some children the anxiety makes children withdrawn. For others it can make them more intolerant in their relationships with peers or teachers because they feel no-one understands the issues they are facing. For some children it can even mean they don't come to school at all."

Mrs Leslie said the issue had become more pronounced because thousands of soldiers are returning to live in the UK as the Army's operations in Germany are scaled back and troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan. Deployments of battalions like the Black Watch were also more frequent, causing further disruption, she said.

"There is probably not a school in Scotland that is unaffected by this with families moving back into communities and veterans returning home. That makes it harder to put appropriate levels of support in because we simply don't know where these families are."

Malcolm Noble, chairman of RCET, called for action by the Scottish Government and councils to establish the scale of the issue.

He said: "The impact, particularly if it happens at a crucial time of the school year when they are sitting exams, can mean pupils struggle to get a good job or get into university. We need a recognition from government that this is a serious issue and that schools needs to be resourced."

Mr Noble called for the service pupil premium of £300 for every child on the school roll in England to be applied in Scotland and used by the councils to improve the wellbeing of children.

The City University report calls for more opportunities to be provided at school and at home for children to voice their fears, ask questions and express their worries through times of combat deployment.

The report called for closer monitoring by school and health services to identify children who experiencing high levels of worry. Support interventions such as cognitive behavioural techniques were "most likely" to be effective.

"The co-ordination of support services between schools, parents, school psychological services, community support services and military welfare is crucial in the provision of appropriate support and follow up," the report concluded.