While they supported the concept of inclusion, a different picture emerged when they discussed day-to-day work in the classroom.
Plymouth university researchers said staff complained of inadequate training, a lack of funding and the curriculum not meeting the needs of all pupils. They also felt unable to cope with poor behaviour and thought the education of the majority could be suffering because of disruption by a few.
The study comes a week after figures showed children living in parts of the North-east were 24 times more likely to be taught in a segregated setting than youngsters in Newham, east London.
Academics, led by Dr Hazel Lawson, carried out 60 interviews during three visits to one primary and one secondary school in the South-west of England. The schools were chosen because they had no specific inclusion policies.
The academics found that when asked what they thought about inclusion, staff tended to repeat the rhetoric found in government and other official documents, referring to it in human rights and equal opportunities contexts.
But their own experiences revealed problems with the policy. One teaching assistant described how a boy with behaviour problems punched and kicked his classmates. "There was very little we could do. He wasn't meant to be here and now he isn't, but how many children have suffered while we were going through all that?"
A teacher said: "We are putting these children in a failing situation. It's almost like you put everybody into a school and see how they cope."
A female secondary teacher described inclusion as "a very, very nice idea", but added: "Everyone just thinks you can cope with it. But it makes me quite angry. You do the best you can but you know you are not trained in these things. Yes it's nice people have faith in me, but there is only so much you can do."
Dr Lawson said: "Our conversations showed a tension between the educational ideal and the day-to-day living of inclusion, and between an espousal of government rhetoric and teachers' experiences. Their stories reveal and illuminate the realities."
Understandings of Inclusion: The Perceptions of Teachers and Teaching Assistants by Hazel Lawson can be obtained from: firstname.lastname@example.org