As Jim Hines of John Mason School, Abingdon, says: "We need to go where the light is, rather than hanging around in the dark."
The Oxfordshire school has been analysing the attitudes of high and low achievers in an attempt to find more effective ways of motivating pupils.
Simple remedies are elusive because, as the research has confirmed, underachievers do not necessarily think they are poorly motivated. But a questionnaire survey of staff and pupils has identified some problems that merit attention and underlined the need to tackle poor motivation in key stage 3 rather than wait until the GCSE years.
It suggests that, apart from accentuating the positive more often, teachers need to encourage pupils to talk more. Pupils said that praise about specific aspects of their work was encouraging, as was feedback on their work in the form of careful, regular marking. "Tatty" classrooms, on the other hand, were listed as a demotivating factor.