Parents in some parts of the country face unacceptably long delays until their children get special educational help, according to the Audit Commission.
Councils like Barnsley, Lambeth, and Sandwell are attacked for generating anxiety and stress in families with vulnerable children.
The commission demands urgent action to speed up statements of special need - the formal promises of additional help for the weakest 2 to 3 per cent of pupils.
While more councils are providing a better service, says the report, most still fail to get through the paperwork in time while some authorities are worse than ever.
The Government has set an 18-week target for producing draft statements. It was met by 48 per cent of authorities in 199697, an improvement of 8 per cent on the previous year.
But the report says: "There are a few authorities where performance was already poor and has improved only slightly or in a few cases worsened. As in previous years these poorly-performing councils did not have a significantly bigger workload than other councils."
Hammersmith, Bexley, Southwark and Newcastle all scored well, producing nearly 100 per cent of their draft statements in the 18 weeks. But Barnsley, Shropshire, Sefton and others managed to hit this target in only 1 or 2 per cent of cases.