Vulnerable children will be put at risk if government plans to cut funding for educational psychologists go ahead, education leaders have warned.
The Scottish government's decision to remove funding for training could hit councils' frontline work with children and jeopardise local authorities' ability to provide additional support for learning and implement the GIRFEC (Getting it Right for Every Child) programme, said the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the EIS union.
Both organisations have told the education secretary, Michael Russell, that educational psychologists' work is vital to early intervention, supporting schools' behaviour policies and narrowing the attainment gap.
A typical trainee completes a four-year undergraduate degree, one year of teacher training and two years' teaching. He or she would then have to give up their teaching post for a two-year postgraduate course followed by a probationary educational psychologist post.
Until now, trainees have received a bursary of pound;49,000 over two years - pound;18,350 for tuition fees and pound;30,650 as grant. The government wants to replace the bursary with a loan of up to pound;3,400 per year.
There are 21 students at the University of Dundee who will graduate this year and 22 at Strathclyde who will graduate next year.
Nearly a third of educational psychologists are nearing retirement, said John Stodter, general secretary of ADES. The removal of funding would restrict intake to "people who could afford to lose income while incurring significant costs over a two-year period"; markedly reduce trainee numbers and supply to the workforce; hit areas outside the central belt disproportionately; and cause one or both of the Scottish training courses to collapse.
Drew Morrice, EIS assistant secretary, added: "We fear that the psychological services will be run on a crisis-management basis and that Scottish councils will be further exposed to risk of legal challenge."
Mr Russell said the current funding had been introduced in response to a staffing shortage in the sector but there was now a need to ensure a consistent approach to funding postgraduate training.
"This decision reflects the tough choices that we have had to make to prioritise spending. Those students who are currently in training will not be affected. This means that there will be new educational psychologists entering the system for the next two years. We will use this time to work to ensure a sustainable approach," he said.
Original headline: Fears grow over funding cuts to educational psychology