Teachers say the policy of including more and more children with special educational needs in mainstream schools is a costly disaster.
Teachers say there need to be fully-funded alternatives
The annual conference of the NASUWT teachers' union has called for the official "inclusion" policy to be redefined.
It wants the reinstatement of fully-funded alternatives for pupils with behavioural difficulties.
In 1983, there were 1,562 special schools in England. In 2003, there were 1,160.
The numbers of children with the most severe needs who are in mainstream schools has gone up 49% in the past decade.
The proposer of the resolution, Croydon English teacher Amanda Haehner, said the traditional system of special schools allowed those who needed it to access an appropriate education delivered by well-trained experts.
But the policy of "inclusion" meant pupils who needed special help were subjected to "the rigours of the national curriculum" and testing.
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 deemed to have SEN
of those, 64% are boys
3% have "statements" of the most severe need
wide variations between education authorities
So the most vulnerable experienced failure over and over again - and not surprisingly became disaffected.
In February, the English education inspectorate, Ofsted, said special needs pupils should be set "challenging" targets in an effort to raise standards.
The NASUWT conference has already expressed its alarm at the disruption caused by children who exhibit what is termed "challenging" behaviour.
One child screaming, swearing, hitting others and running around was hard enough for a teacher to cope with, Ms Haehner said - at what point did the job become undo-able when there were several in a class?
Amanda Haehner: Called for a rethink
But it is not only a matter of disruption. A child with emotional difficulties might be extremely withdrawn, not violent - but needing almost one-to-one attention.
And the NASUWT's deputy general secretary, Chris Keates, said the problem was that special schools had been seen as a form of exclusion - whereas they were a mainstream part of the education system as a whole.
She acknowledged that parents of different children with particular needs could be very divided on whether their children should be in mainstream schools or in special schools.
"I suppose the ideal is to have both," she said, "but that's a funding issue."
Yet part of the union's case is that "inclusion" is an expensive practice.
Where children could be in a mainstream school they should be, Ms Keates said.
But those with behavioural problems were being admitted without the proper resources to meet their needs.
"Schools are spending months if not years acquiring those resources and not able to give the child the education they deserve - and to the detriment of the majority of children.
"Special units and specially-trained teachers have got to be cheaper than trying to replicate that in every single school."
A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said: "It is important to strike the right balance between giving teachers the power to deal with children who have behavioural problems and giving children the best opportunity to learn.
"We believe we have struck the right balance."
The department recently published a new 10-year special needs strategy.
The Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, complained at the time that 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.