THE number of school staff trained to deal with the most challenging pupils has halved over the past five years sparking fears of a “lost generation”.

New figures show the number of behaviour support staff in Scottish schools dropped from 180 in 2012 to just 79 last year.

The decline comes at a time when teachers have warned disruption is at an all time high.

Official figures from the Scottish Government also show the number of educational psychologists has declined since 2012 from 411 to 356.

However, the overall number of support staff - including classroom assistants - rose from 12,992 to 13,761.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, a group of private and voluntary sector organisations, warned of a “lost generation” of pupils.

A coalition spokesman said: “While there has been a welcome increase in the number of support staff overall, there has been a notable drop in those providing specialist support.

“The number of those providing behaviour support has fallen by more than half since 2012 and the number of educational psychologists is at an all-time low of 356.

“The number of ASN pupils has increased by more than 50 per cent since 2012 and the number of specialist staff, even on the Scottish Government’s own estimation, has been unable to keep pace with this increase.”

There was also concern from Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union.

She said: “Behaviour support staff and educational psychologists provide a wide range of specialist additional support for young people, many of whom are facing challenging personal circumstances in schools across the country.

“The significant reduction in the number of these staff is a cause for very real concern and raises questions about the levels of support available to young people.”

Opposition politicians also went onto the attack with Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray describing the trends as “worrying”.

He said: “All school pupils who require support should have access to these services.”

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, accused the Scottish Government of “failing” children with additional support needs.

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, added: “The main worry is the very sharp decline in the number of teachers specialising in behaviour support and those who are specialist psychologists.

“There is no shortage of evidence that these professionals are crucial when it comes to turning around the behaviour of pupils.”

However, the Scottish Government said the latest data was not directly comparable with previous years.

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said: “We are determined all pupils get the support they need to reach their full potential.

“Pupils should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether in a mainstream or special school setting.

“All teachers provide support to pupils, not just those recorded as ‘support for learning’ teachers.”