The survey for the Department for Education and Skills also found limited support for Tony Blair's plans to hand over control of schools to businesses and church groups. School discipline was rated as the most important issue facing education by the 4,000 members of the public in England questioned. Three-quarters believed behaviour was getting worse, despite a plethora of policies aimed at unruly pupils.
The research, conducted by EdComs and ICM for the DfES, involved polling groups of 1,000 adults in four waves at three-month intervals between September 2005 and June 2006.
The final report said: "Over three-quarters felt that the general standards of behaviour in schools were getting worse. Around half felt that behaviour in their local schools was getting worse."
A spokesman for the DfES said: "While Ofsted tells us that behaviour is good in most schools most of the time, this survey shows that parents are concerned about behaviour.
"This is precisely why our Education Bill confirms the right to discipline, so no pupil will be able to question a teacher's authority and gives teachers the legal right to restrain a pupil where they are a risk to themselves or others."
The research also suggested that secondary school standards were viewed more negatively than any other part of the education system. While half of those questioned thought universities and colleges were good, the figure dropped to a third for secondary schools. In September 2005, 54 per cent thought exam results were the "best ever", but only 36 per cent agreed by June 2006.
Many backed the Prime Minister's drive to give parents more choice over where to send their children, but "they were least in favour of involving outside organisations in the running of schools".
The Education and Inspections Bill will allow businesses, faith groups, universities and other outside organisations to run state schools. Critics of the "trust schools" plan have argued that it represents the back door privatisation of state education.