Disability advocacy groups warn mainstreaming is failing disabled children and that too many are being sent home by schools that cannot cope.
"A lot of students aren't attending school 9 to 3," IHC southern region advocate Pip O'Connell said.
Instead, schools are sending children home at lunchtime or telling them to stay home on days when there is no teacher aide.
The practice is illegal, say advocacy groups, but they are unable to stop it.
Christchurch mother Carolyn, who asked not to be named while she negotiates attendance with her son's school, says her 12-year-old is allowed at school only for the morning.
He has autism and had been sent home regularly for disruptive behaviour or hitting, sometimes twice a week, sometimes after only a couple of hours at school.
His school is now trying him on shortened days, but Carolyn is worried about how much school he is missing.
"They're just going to make matters worse. It's so unsettling."
Autism New Zealand Canterbury advocate Glenys Fry said more than half of her member families had been asked to withdraw their children from school or have pulled them out because it was too difficult to keep them there.
"If you have a school ringing up every day at 11am to say `pick your child up, he's not coping', it's easier to find another school or home school."
By law, special needs students have the right to an education like everybody else, including the right to be educated in the mainstream.
However, Christchurch advocacy groups say the number of children falling out of mainstream schools and enrolling instead in special education units is on the rise.
They describe parents trying up to five schools before finding one that will accept their child.
New Zealand Principals' Federation president Judy Hanna conceded inclusion had become a battle between schools and parents, but said principals could only do so much with current resourcing.
Too few children qualified for funding and, if they did, it was usually not enough to buy the support they needed to cope in the mainstream.
"If the Government is serious about inclusion they need to make sure they fund it so it happens," Hanna said.
"Principals want to do the best by these kids but if they haven't got the resources they can't, and the other kids in the class are disadvantaged because of the amount of time teachers spend with special needs kids."
Trish Grant, IHC's national advocacy director and spokeswoman for the Inclusive Education Action Group (IEAG), which was launched last week, said the Government needed to fund better teacher education on inclusive practices, as well as have effective monitoring of how well schools adhered to special education policies.
- The Press