SCOTLAND is facing a growing crisis over the number of trained psychologists who work with pupils with special needs.

New figures show applications to study educational psychology at universities here has plummeted in recent years.

The fall comes just weeks after it emerged that the number of educational psychologists working in schools dropped by 10 per cent in just three years from 411 in 2012 to 370 in 2015.

At the same time pupils identified with Additional Support Needs (ASN) have increased dramatically from 131,621 in 2013 to 153,190 in 2015.

The shortfall has been blamed on a decision by the Scottish Government in 2012 to scrap the bursary that was paid to trainee educational psychologists.

That means each individual student is responsible for meeting the entire £18,000 university tuition fee from their own pockets as well as covering living expenses such as food, travel and accommodation over the two-year postgraduate course.

Bill O'Hara, principal educational psychologist for Aberdeen City Council, raised the issue with Education Secretary John Swinney at the recent Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow.

He highlighted the fact students studying clinical psychology have a training salary of £25,500 funded between the NHS, Education Scotland and health boards.

He said: "About eight years ago funding was removed and, at that time, the two university courses at Dundee and Strathclyde attracted somewhere between 170 and 220 candidates.

"This last year the most recent recruiting programme received 30 applications and, for the first time ever, they had to have a second recruitment phase.

"They attracted eventually 19 candidates for 24 places, but in the last few weeks two of those candidates dropped out because of a lack of funding. We used to have a bursary system which covered fees and also gave a small living allowance. There is clearly an equity issue."

Scott Hardie, chair of the British Psychological Society’s Scottish branch, said educational psychologists played a crucial role in supporting vulnerable children.

He said: “These figures show the cuts to funding for the training of educational psychologists have had a significant impact on the number of people wanting to enter the profession which will in turn have a serious impact on the availability of these key individuals in the future.

“Service provision has already been undermined by the fall in numbers of working educational psychologists and the situation is compounded by the increasing number of pupils presenting with additional support needs.

“The Scottish Government must continue to work with local authorities and professional bodies to identify the required number of educational psychologists to safeguard a sufficient level of service for all children and young people.”

Scottish Labour's inequality spokesperson Monica Lennon added: “This drop in the number of applicants for educational psychology comes amidst a backdrop of repeated missed targets for mental health treatment.

Responding to Mr O'Hara at the Scottish Learning Festival Mr Swinney said: "I will go and look at the situation with educational psychologists and I am very happy to have a conversation with my officials about those issues."