Schools for disruptive children are failing to provide an adequate education for vulnerable young people unable to cope with life in the mainstream, David Bell, chief inspector, has said.
One in seven schools for children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties inspected last year was placed in special measures. The figure is four times the failure rate for all schools.
Evidence from the Office for Standards in Education shows that teaching is worse and achievement lower in ESBD schools than in other special schools.
This is partly the result of widespread staff recruitment problems and insufficient support by local authorities.
Three-quarters of those schools placed in special measures had difficulties in attracting and retaining high-quality staff. Leadership and management is weak and the work of governors is unsatisfactory in a third of schools.
Mr Bell said: "Pupils with special educational needs have a right to a good quality education no matter what type of special school they attend.
"The weaknesses identified in many EBSD schools must be tackled to ensure that this very vulnerable group of pupils do not lose out.
"When schools for pupils with EBSD get things right they can make a real difference to the lives of these young people."
Ofsted inspected 39 of the 197 EBSD special schools in England during 2003-4. Of these, six (15 per cent) were put in special measures.
By contrast, only 162 (3.7 per cent) of the 4,443 schools of all kinds inspected during the same period were judged to be failing.
Although nearly half of EBSD schools were judged to be good or better, inspectors found them to be less effective than other special schools. They account for about half the special schools judged by inspectors to have made insufficient progress between inspections.
John Wright, of the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, said EBSD schools had been left to cope with a wide range of children - from autistic pupils to those who have been abused - who needed more specialist provision.
He said: "These schools tend to be used as a dump for children with very different needs."