DEAF and blind pupils are struggling to cope in their local schools under the controversial policy of inclusion, experts have warned.

Inclusion is an international strategy backed by the United Nations that promotes the right of every child to be educated in their local community.

However, representatives from leading charities said the policy was failing many pupils in Scotland because the levels of support required to make it work were not available - particularly in a climate of cuts.

The warning came as the Scottish Parliament's education committee held an evidence session as part of its inquiry into the education of pupils with sensory impairments.

Dominic Everett, education manager from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said provision was "extremely fragmented" with some councils not providing the depth of support necessary to the 70 per cent of blind pupils who attend mainstream schools.

He quoted examples where blind children would be taught by a trained teacher as little as once a month, with the rest of time being spent largely unsupported.

He said: "We have lots of children right across the country who are really struggling. We are making unemployable young people. A major failing is that they don't have the skills that make them ready for work. Our children are surviving in school. They are certainly not thriving.

"There are major problems with what we are delivering to pupils across Scotland. It is not happening. Teachers are not qualified, councils are trying to do things on the cheap and staff are retiring and being replaced by inexperienced teachers. Local authorities don't have the money and therefore are not meeting the needs of these pupils."

Sally Paterson, chairwoman of the Scottish Association for Visual Impairment, said the presumption of mainstreaming worked well in some cases, but was not the best place for many children to be.

She said: "Because of the presumption, the number of places available for children who would be better supported in a more specialised environment has reduced."

Representatives from deaf organisations also issued warnings over the "shameful" lack of trained teachers - with some 30 per cent of support staff not qualified and severe shortages in rural areas and smaller councils. Wider expertise in British Sign Language was identified as a key step to improving the situation.

Dr Audrey Cameron, a research fellow at the Child Protection Research Centre, said inclusion was "excluding" pupils and called for smaller groups to be taught together by experts.

She told the committee: "We are falling woefully short when it comes to educating deaf children. I had to go to England to get a decent education.

"If it was a hearing child there would be outrage, but we seem to find it acceptable for deaf children."

The committee also heard evidence of a significant lack of data on exactly how many pupils with sensory impairments there were in Scottish schools with estimates of the number of deaf pupils ranging from 869 to 2,200.

The investigation follows recent figures which highlight a significant attainment gap between such pupils and the rest of the school population.

Deaf pupils have an average qualification tariff score of 289 compared to 439 for those that can hear while the average tariff score for pupils with a visual impairment is 249. Ten per cent of deaf pupils who leave school have no qualifications compared to two per cent for all school-leavers.