Vulnerable children are being denied vital support from educational psychologists because of a Scotland-wide recruitment crisis in the profession, a report has warned.
Highland Council, which produced the report, said it is being forced to use retired psychologists, employed on temporary contracts, and trainees to keep services going.
Rural authorities are experiencing "widespread" problems, with new entrants to the profession favouring jobs in the Central Belt, the report added.
Meanwhile, TESS can reveal that applications to study educational psychology have dropped "significantly" since the Scottish government withdrew central funding to support students through their studies.
Until last year, students studying the MSc in educational psychology at either Dundee or Strathclyde universities received a bursary of #163;49,000 over two years - #163;18,350 for tuition fees and #163;30,650 as grant. The government replaced the bursary with a loan of up to #163;3,400 per year.
At the time the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists (ASPEP) warned that the cuts could lead to a national shortage of educational psychologists.
A University of Strathclyde spokesman said: "The withdrawal of training grants for educational psychology training in Scotland by the Scottish government was followed by a significant decrease in the number of applications for the MSc programme at Strathclyde.
"However, the number of highly qualified successful candidates who were offered and accepted places is in line with previous years."
In July last year, a workforce planning report by ASPEP said a shortage of educational psychologists was "close to being a certainty" because of the ageing profile of the profession: in September 2011, almost a quarter of educational psychologists (23 per cent) were 55 or older, it revealed.
Rural authorities would be particularly hard hit by shortages, the ASPEP report continued.
This has now been borne out by Highland Council's experience. Its psychological service had been operating below capacity for a few years, according to a report to the authority's adult and children's services committee, which was published last month.
The report, by Louise McClatchey, principal educational psychologist, said a restricted service was operating in several areas and four vacancies remained unfilled. In September, the service will lose two educational psychologists to retirement, with two others eligible to retire, it added.
"This is impacting on our ability to offer equitable support to children with additional support needs," the report said.
The council hopes to recruit four assistant educational psychologists and support them through their professional training.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said it was "committed to ensuring that all children and young people with additional support needs get the necessary assistance to realise their full potential".