Teachers, heads and union leaders have reacted angrily to Ofsted accusations that children are being wrongly labelled as having special educational needs to cover up for poor teaching.
The damning allegations, in a report published last week, are "insulting and wrong" and schools are being made "scapegoats" just for following government guidance, critics have said.
Ofsted's report says half of the 916,000 children on the "School Action" register - the first stage of support - should not have been identified as having special educational needs. Inspectors say effective identification of SEN and good-quality extra help in schools is "not common" and this results in children developing needless problems.
Chief inspector Christine Gilbert has called for a "change in direction". She wants teachers to be more "accountable" for SEN and to take "greater responsibility".
"If children learned more effectively, their needs wouldn't go on to become so acute," she said. "If there was more emphasis on children's progress, it would engender trust in the system."
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said it was "unacceptable to scapegoat teachers" for failings in the "complex" SEN system, while Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said inspectors were "insulting and wrong".
Ms Blower said the national curriculum was acting as a "barrier" to teachers responding adequately to the needs of children.
The inspectors' findings coincide with a recent change in national SEN policy, encouraging teachers to improve their identification of special needs. The new Government also wants less "bureaucracy" in the system to allow it to cope with less funding.
The report, ordered by former Education Secretary Alan Johnson, says the new Ofsted inspection framework, which started last September, has made schools more anxious about the performance of lower-achieving pupils.
At one secondary school, all Year 11 pupils who were at risk of not getting their expected GCSE results were put on the SEN register and given additional mentoring. Ofsted says this was "inappropriate".
Another school with many Armed Forces families said children were underachieving because their fathers were in Afghanistan, and so had been put the SEN register.