The finding, produced as ministers announced that more than 11,000 pupils were being permanently excluded each year, has provoked fury among teachers' unions. They have complained of a rising tide of violence by pupils and parents and have called for more exclusions in a number of high-profile cases.
Ofsted, the national inspection body, says that children quickly learn to exploit inconsistent discipline, poor teaching and a chaotic atmosphere.
Inspectors who visited almost 40 schools in 16 local authorities found that there was an unacceptable variation in schools' practice over exclusion. While some were far too ready to exclude pupils, others were so reluctant to do so that both staff and pupils suffered, their report said.
David Moore, the inspector in charge of the survey, said that in one case boys were excluded for three or four days for failing to wear a tie.
In another, children who started the day sitting attentively "like Sherpa Tensing, with their knapsacks and overcoats on," became increasingly difficult after a form period in which their teacher had failed to impose order, had thrown work given as a punishment into the bin and had released them early to create a disturbance in the corridor.
Some schools failed to impose their own rules consistently, he said, and children took advantage of the resulting confusion.
In others, staff sent pupils to their heads of year for minor offences, leaving them with little time to deal with more serious cases. Mr Moore added that pupils with absent fathers, even those who were often away on business, were more likely to break school rules and to get into trouble.
Successful schools, according to the report, had effective and consistent systems of sanctions and rewards, monitored exclusions rigorously, provided a strong pastoral system and tailored their lessons to fit their pupils' interests and abilities.
Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, said that most schools were orderly and calm places.
"I do not accept that pupils across the country are out of control and that schools are blackboard jungles. Effective schools don't rush immediately to exclusion unless something totally unacceptable happens," he said.
Teachers unions including the NASUWT, which demanded the exclusion of up to 60 pupils at The Ridings School in Halifax, reacted angrily yesterday. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the report carried a "dangerous" message, that boring lessons gave pupils the right to misbehave.
"It is unrealistic to expect everyone to be on top form every day. The fact that they might fail to achieve, this is no excuse for disruptive behaviour and certainly no excuse for violence," he said.
Good and bad lessons compared
Seven (11 year-olds)
7 girls, 9 boys
Establishing starch levels in plants
Clear explanation and definition of underlying principles and of the task, aided by blackboard diagrams.
Questions used well to check understanding. Clear rules on behaviour and use of lab. Time set aside at end to recap
Quiet, methodical and responsible work. Progress and attainment at the level expected
11 girls, 11 boys
Introducing sound and light
Start of lesson spent on administration. Teacher has difficulty being heard. No attempt to organise who sits where. Explanation is rushed and unclear. Teacher's language sometimes not appropriate, worksheet unintelligible to some pupils.
Desultory conversation, unrelated to the task. Pupils wander about, are dependent on the teacher for guidance and support. Some larking about by boys. No progress, much noise, no learning.Reuse content