Most children with severe behaviour difficulties attend mainstream rather than special schools, official figures reveal.
More than 20,000 children with behaviour, emotional and social problems who have statements of need are educated in mainstream local schools, against 12,250 who attend special schools.
The figures will add to the growing debate on pupils with special needs in mainstream schools and the campaign to stem the closure of special schools.
Richard Reiser, director of Disability Equality in Education, has organised an advert with 600 signatories, which appears in The TES this week (page 11), in support of inclusion. He said: "More resources and training are needed in mainstream schools. The NASUWT are guilty of arguing for a one-dimensional approach to behaviour. Schools need to differentiate between what can be expected of different children with different needs."
Teachers' leaders said too much is being expected of mainstream schools.
Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, the second largest teaching union, said: "There are plenty of mainstream schools where children are admitted with serious behaviour difficulties but teachers are not given the training and resources to properly support them."
Baroness Warnock, the architect of inclusion, recently switched sides in the debate and called for a "radical revolution" to reverse the damage caused by educating pupils with severe needs in mainstream schools. She also called for the current system of statements for children with the greatest need, which she originally proposed a quarter of a century ago, to be scrapped because it is bureaucratic and delivers different support for children with similar needs.
Latest government figures show the number of pupils educated in special schools has dropped by more than 5,000 since 2001, although this falls to 4,400 when reductions in the overall school population are taken into account. The number of pupils with statements of need has also fallen, to 242,600, the lowest total for five years.
Campaigners said the reduction in statements did not mean there were fewer pupils with needs but instead indicated that many local authorities were reluctant to commit resources to support them.