Educational psychologists have been left fearing for the future of their sector following a decision last month to freeze training, the profession's leaders have warned.
There is growing concern about a government decision to put recruitment of trainees on hold ahead of a proposed overhaul of the entire SEN system.
Children's minister Sarah Teather, who instituted the freeze last month, said she wants radical change to the role of the profession, which is key to identifying special educational needs (SEN) and treatments.
Ms Teather told MPs last week that she plans to examine whether educational psychologists are the right people to act as the "independent gatekeepers" to local authority services, given that they are employed by councils.
But the profession's leaders have attacked this view. They say the freeze on recruiting new educational psychologists, combined with public service cuts, puts the future of the service in jeopardy.
Educational psychologists identify SEN and help to devise ways of assisting children with problems to do better at school.
They also help teachers to develop the curriculum and support pupils with special needs, gifts and talents. Their skills enable children get an early diagnosis of conditions such as dyslexia.
There are 2,200 practising educational psychologists in England and Wales. The Children's Workforce Development Council has calculated that 120 new entrants are needed every year to maintain this number and meet local authority demand.
This was the number due to graduate in 2011 and 2012, but the freeze in training means this is now uncertain.
Dr Michael Hymans, head of the educational psychology service at Brent Council in north London, chair of the National Association of Principal Educational Psychologists and chair of the National Forum of Educational Psychology Training, said the situation is increasingly desperate.
"This situation is of grave concern to those in the profession," he said. "If there are problems with training for one year, it's not a given that courses will be picked up again smoothly. If this doesn't happen there is a danger universities will not continue to run the course.
"We will be denying the most vulnerable group of children their chance to have their needs assessed. Sarah Teather described us as gatekeepers - but there needs to be someone to make decisions about provision."
Kate Fallon, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Psychologists, agreed. "We are running out of time to find next year's entrants very rapidly and universities are very worried," she said.
Lib Dem MP Annette Brooke, who organised a Commons debate on the subject, said she is "deeply concerned".
"The age profile of the profession is such that a sizable number of educational psychologists are approaching retirement.
"There is a national shortage and significant numbers of educational psychology services are carrying vacant posts," she said.
Speaking last week, Miss Teather said: "I am acutely aware that the current scheme is not operating as effectively as it should be.
"That situation is not tenable. First, it leaves great uncertainty for those considering embarking on a career in the profession.
"I would like educational psychologists to play a greater role in offering therapeutic advice rather than just being used by local authorities as a gatekeeper to services, as happens all too often."
More details about changes to the profession will be outlined in the forthcoming SEN green paper.
Psychologists: At the heart of SEN assessment
Most educational psychologists are employed by local authorities. They assess children with special educational needs (SEN), make recommendations about their education and help schools and councils to devise policies. They also carry out research.
Salaries start from pound;25,200 and rise to pound;58,710 for principal educational psychologists.
The current SEN code of practice means educational psychologists have a legal requirement to be involved in statutory assessments of SEN. To do this they use interviews, observation and tests.
- Original headline: Psychologists say training freeze puts service at risk