Two-thirds of excluded children receive less than 10 hours alternative tuition a week, according to the official spending watchdog.
Its figures suggest that ensuring all excluded pupils get a full-time education by 2002 - a government target - could prove a struggle for many education authorities.
Some 10,400 pupils were permanently excluded in 199899, 83 per cent of whom were boys. Ministers want all such youngsters to get 25 hours of schooling a week by 2002.
But the Audit Commission figures show that only 9 per cent of excluded children in England attended alternative education for more than 20 hours a week in 199900. Just over one in five attended between 10 and 20 hours and the rest - 67 per cent - received less than 10.
In 13 councils, no child got more than 10 hours. In most authorities (86), more than half of pupils were getting less than 10. In just over a third (58), none got more than 20 hours.
The Audit Commission says figures were not supplied or were dubious in nearly a third of councils. The figures were collated for the first time this year as part of the commission's annual survey of local-authority performance. They are based on actual attendance by pupils.
From April, schools and education authorities will get pound;174 million to spend on behavioural issues and education for excluded pupils - up a third on 199900. The Government says 1,000 more places have been created in pupil-referral units, with 250 more teachers working in them.
A Department for Education and Employment spokeswoman added: "We started from a very low base. Typically,some children were only getting two or three hours a week."
But the Audit Commission figures suggest many councils have a long way to go. One head of service in a unitary authority said the number of "hard-core pupils" did not justify a pupil-referral unit. " Even if we were providing full-time education, whether these young people would use it is another matter," she added.
A colleague in another unitary said that local government reorganisation had left it with few local services, but the number of excluded and other pupils out of school did justify a separate service, though setting it up was "not the easiest task".
Others were more upbeat. Rob Faulkner, the Isle of Wight's principal officer for special needs, said schools had virtually eradicated exclusions among 14 to 16-year-olds, thanks to joint working and shared alternatives. Younger children receive individual tuition and placements.
He said: "Like many local authorities, we are working towards it (the Government's target). It's something we can't ignore because pupils have an entitlement to education."
All excluded children in the following LEAs attended alternative tuition for less than 10 hours a week (199900):
Isle of Wight
Bath amp; Somerset
Windsor amp; Maidenhead
Only four LEAs had half or more of excluded pupils attending for more than 20 hours (199900).
Redcar amp; Cleveland
* Doubts expressed by the Audit Commision about the council's arrangements for producing the required information