Behaviour specialists could be the key to reducing the number of children excluded from school, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research. Its new report calls for a greater emphasis on teacher-pupil understanding.
The foundation says that, while out-of-school options for excluded pupils have burgeoned, less attention has been given to how difficult children are treated inside schools.
Teachers with a particular talent for understanding and relating to difficult pupils - "kid whisperers" - could be key to promoting inclusion in schools.
"Recognising the causes and appreciating the affective experiences underpinning young people's behavioural difficulties seem fundamental components of successful practice," says the report.
"There is a clear obligation for all teachers to become sensitive to addressing the needs of youngsters with behavioural difficulties, and perhaps even reappraise some of their assumptions," it says.
The researchers found that secondary teachers were much less likely than primary colleagues or "behaviour experts" - such as special needs co ordinators - to take an individual interest in difficult pupils.
Teachers focused more on maintaining and conveying general standards of classroom control rather than recognising and responding to individual needs and circumstances.
One in three did not consider that "respect for pupils" was a key factor in behaviour management.
The foundation's report, which draws on a survey of 120 schools, also found that a sixth of secondary teachers believe their colleagues are not backing school behaviour policies.
One in five teachers felt that there were no clear guidelines and procedures to follow in the first place.
That contrasts with senior managers, who were much more upbeat about the effectiveness of school policies and the support they have among staff.
Education authorities are required to produce behaviour support plans setting out the support available for difficult pupils, while governors and headteachers are responsible for developing school policies.
Raising Behaviour: A School View, pound;6.50, from the NFER, telephone 01753 574123.