Sir Alan Steer was appointed last week to chair a working group of heads and teachers, which Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, said would leave no excuses for schools failing to tackle problems.
But Sir Alan, head of Seven Kings high school in Ilford, Essex, said:
"Schools have a huge influence on bad behaviour, but they are not in total control. We are always going to have children with problems because of their social background."
The working group will report in October on whether there should be a national code of behaviour in England's schools, new powers for heads and improved teacher training. Inspection agency the Office for Standards in Education says one in 10 secondary schools has unsatisfactory discipline.
Sir Alan said there was no "magic bullet" that would bring order to every classroom. "We're obsessed with punishment. But it should be about preventing disruption. If you say that, you're called soft, but it's obvious."
See TES Cymru's survival guide for teachers on behaviour, attached to this issue