The MORI study is based on the views of more than 4,000 pupils aged 11-16. It comes amid growing concern about shortages of secondary-school staff and the effect this could have on teaching quality.
MORI asked children what made it difficult for them to learn new things. The most commonly cited obstacles were: poor teaching (77 per cent), feeling unhappy (74 per cent) and teachers who do not understand how children learn (72 per cent).
Older pupils are particularly unhappy with teaching quality, the survey reveals. Eighty per cent of Year 11 pupils cited it as a barrier to learning, compared with 64 per cent of Year 7 pupils.
Other problems the children cited were: too many things to think about (64 per cent), lack of opportunity to learn things which interest them (55 per cent), noise and distractions by family members (47 per cent) and fear of criticism from friends (43 per cent).
The findings are countered by more positive figures about children's general attitude to school. Almost four in five say they enjoy learning new things, with ethnic minority (87 per cent) and younger pupils (86 per cent) feeling most positive.
The study, which was commissioned by the Campaign for Learning and supported by the Department for Education and Employment, is likely to influence policies to increase children's motivation. There is considerable support for ministers' plans to offer on-site learning for pupils after school.
Just over half the pupils questioned believe that learning outside school hours, but on school premises, is very important. Support is particularly strong among boys (56 per cent), seen as a key target for Government action.
However, when asked what changes they would like to see in their school, just 15 per cent chose after-hours clubs, and only 4 per cent opted for more homework.
Next week Estelle Morris, education junior minister, will outline changes in initial and in-service teacher training. Teachers are expected to be offered help in motivating disaffected pupils.
Bill Lucas, Campaign for Learning chief executive, said: "Our survival in the next century will depend on our ability to learn. This poll contains uncomfortable data about current barriers to learning in schools. Young people need to be motivated to learn effectively. This is the message to our talented teaching force."
Adult learners' poll, page 31