A new report, Principles into Practice, from the Office for Standards in Education on pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties condemns such behaviour.
But tackling illicit smoking is a minor problem faced by these schools, it finds. Their pupils range from excluded delinquents and victims of child abuse to those with psychiatric disorders.
Such schools often feel unsupported by education authorities and find psychiatric help for pupils is unobtainable or subject to lengthy waits. They also feel let down by social services staff who, they say, give a low priority to education, and by mainstream schools which resist taking difficult pupils back.
Even the best schools for difficult pupils struggle to make lessons more attractive than the "horrendous" street culture and crime with which many pupils are so familiar. They admit the needs of up to 10 per cent of pupils are not being met because of the complexity of their problems or the lack of specialised help.
But some have overcome these problems to provide positive and effective opportunities for their pupils, say the inspectors.
The report, which provides guidance on effective education for disturbed pupils, draws on inspection evidence from 40 special schools judged good or very good, and four schools which were previously failing.
The inspectors also consulted parents, pupils, education authorities, educational psychologists, education welfare officers and others about provision for pupils with difficulties.
As reported exclusively by The TES (July 9), the report says mainstream schools need better behaviour management. It urges closer working relationships between them and EBD schools.
All teachers need a better understanding of pupils with behavioural difficulties, and how teachers and pupils can move between special and mainstream schools.
The huge variation between education authority areas in the level of support available for disturbed pupils also needs to be tackled, it says.
Principles into Practice is available from OFSTED publications centre. Tel 0207 510 0810. (Ref. HMI 177)