By politics.co.uk staff
A quarter of all pupils identified as having special educational needs (SEN) may be wrongly classified, schools watchdog Ofsted has said.
Its report suggested the classification could be incorrect because teachers are not concentrating on improving educational standards for all.
Christine Gilbert, Ofsted's chief inspector, told the Today programme a "shift in direction" was needed towards the 1.7 million pupils in England who have SEN.
"We felt that schools and teachers were well intentioned but they were over-diagnosing the problems - teachers in the classroom weren't confident they could deal with the problems," she said.
"We feel teachers and schools need to have more confidence themselves about looking at what are barriers to learning."
Ofsted's report was informed by inspectors' visits to 228 nurseries, schools and colleges where they carried out 345 detailed case studies.
The study was attacked by the Association of School and College Leaders, however, despite it acknowledging that the SEN assessment process is excessively bureaucratic.
"It is nonsense to say that 'simply' improving teaching and pastoral support would address the issues around SEN in schools," general secretary Brian Lightman said.
"Of course the quality of teaching and pastoral support plays a role, but the issues are much more complex.
"The fact is that more young people today bring behavioural and emotional issues into school and need intensive, often one-on-one help inside and outside the classroom. Teachers are not social workers."
The coalition government is working on a green paper on SEN which will overhaul the current system by giving parents more choice.