Disabled people are being deterred from working in schools and are sometimes forced to drop out of teacher-training courses, a new organisation for staff has said.
The Disabled Teacher Taskforce (DTT) has been launched by the General Teaching Council for England to encourage more people with disabilities to become teachers and ensure they get the support they need.
Although registered disabled people make up 14 per cent of the population, they only account for an estimated 1 in every 1,000 teachers. But figures published in November by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) suggest more disabled people are in training.
This year 1,585 people who began teacher training declared they had a disability, taking the proportion of registered disabled trainees up to 5 per cent, from 4.1 per cent in 2004.
However, Professor Barry Carpenter, who chairs the taskforce, said that more work was needed to attract disabled applicants.
"To create inclusive schools we need to ensure not only the inclusion of pupils with disabilities, but also teachers with disabilities, who can be their role models," he said.
Professor Carpenter said there was anecdotal evidence that disabled teachers had dropped out of training courses because of a lack of support, but it was unclear how widespread the problem was.
"There are pockets of good practice in some higher education institutions but more widely there can be problems with practical aspects of the courses, such as school placements," he said.
"Many schools are still in Victorian buildings, so we will be making sure they meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act."
One would-be teacher who was forced to abandon his training course is Henry Holmes, who has been visually impaired since birth.
He began a graduate teacher programme at a London primary school in January 2004 and was due to complete it last December, but was unable to finish because his poor eyesight meant that he struggled with reading and lesson preparation.
Mr Holmes has since received help from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and is now a teaching assistant at West Wimbledon primary in London.
He said: "There is a lot for schools to learn to become fully disability-aware. The knowledge disabled teachers have, which could help pupils with special educational needs, is not getting through to mainstream schools."
The taskforce, which is composed of representatives from 15 organisations, including the Department for Education and Skills and TDA, plans to carry out a long-term study of the staying-on rates of disabled trainees.
It will report in the spring with recommendations that are expected to include giving disabled teachers a higher profile in recruitment advertising campaigns.
For more information go to www.gtce.org.uk