A new effort is being made to ensure that the one in six children in England with special needs get the best possible educational opportunities.
Boys are more likely to be classed as having special needs
The government aims to end variations in provision around the country.
It says that, despite many improvements in recent years, too much still depends on where children live and the school they attend.
But head teachers complain of limited resources, excessive bureaucracy - and the impact of school league tables.
SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
SEN children "have a significantly greater degree of difficulty in learning than the majority of their age in local mainstream schools" and need "additional or different" help
about 17% of children are considered to have SEN
of those, 64% are boys
3% have "statements" of the most severe need
wide variations between education authorities
The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, said: "All children have the right to the best possible education, the opportunity to fulfil their potential and play a full part in the life of their school and their community."
Official statistics show 4.2% of children in Rotherham, for example, had formal "statements" of special educational needs (SEN) last year, while the incidence in Hull, a similar-sized authority, was 2.4%.
Mr Clarke said there was too much variation in provision in different parts of the country.
"This situation, where children still face real barriers to learning and parents lack confidence in the commitment and capacity of our schools to meet their child's needs, cannot be allowed to continue."
He said the reform of children's services set out in the consultation called Every Child Matters - with its focus on early intervention, preventative work, and integrated services - would "deliver real and lasting benefits" to children with SEN and their families.
'Removing Barriers to Achievement' strategy:
- focus on early intervention - to identify children's needs as soon as possible and provide the right support to help them learn
- personalise learning for all children and make education more responsive to their diverse needs
- remove barriers to learning by developing teacher skills to meet the range of needs and focus on children's progress
- more children with SEN to be educated in mainstream schools, supported by special schools which will become centres of excellence
- clear and continuing role for designated special schools - educating children with the most severe needs, working closely with mainstream schools to share expertise and extend learning opportunities for children in both settings
- closer partnerships between education, health, social services and the voluntary sector to ensure children with SEN and disabilities get the necessary services
The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said mainstream secondary schools wanted to play their part in creating opportunities for children with SEN and in raising their expectations and achievement.
But he added: "Lack of resources, especially in the funding situation in which many schools currently find themselves, often makes it difficult for mainstream schools to give children with special educational needs all the support they deserve.
"Excessive bureaucracy is a factor in many aspects of work with children with special educational needs. This must be cut to the minimum.
"The misguided accountability regime for secondary schools, with its emphasis on league tables, penalises schools with large numbers of SEN pupils and rewards schools that have few such children."
He said his members would welcome a government promise to review the performance tables.
The Department for Education said many head teachers had concerns the tables did not consider how inclusive a school was - in accepting special needs children - and appeared to show them performing less well than their less inclusive neighbours.
"We will explore how we could better reflect the progress made by all children in national performance tables."
This was expected to involve greater emphasis on value added measures, developing measures to reflect the progress by pupils working below the level of the tests, and including Ofsted judgements about how inclusive a school was.