Too many children are appearing before the courts because teachers lack the confidence to deal with them, the head of the Youth Justice Board has said.
Teachers often lack the confidence to tackle poor behaviour
Rod Morgan said the courts were increasingly dealing with youngsters whose behaviour would previously have been tackled by schools or care homes.
He blamed a decline in respect for teachers and a fear of legal action.
The government said legislation going through parliament would give teachers the legal right to discipline pupils.
Mr Morgan said: "It is very much better, it is faster and it is cheaper, if we deal with bad behaviour in situ rather than bringing it before the courts. We have got to rebuild the confidence of teachers and care home workers."
He said teachers were often worried about legal repercussions and parents were often "less deferential" towards authority than they would have been in the past.
The result was that increasing numbers of young people were being "criminalised" and less engaged with society, he said.
Giving teachers greater authority coupled with changing the curriculum to make it more relevant to less academic pupils would help, he added.
Head of education at the National Union of Teachers, John Bangs, said the union welcomed Mr Morgan's comments - and the legislation currently going through parliament which would give teachers the legal right to discipline pupils.
But he added: "I don't think legislation is sufficient on its own. It has got to be followed up by high quality training for teachers."
Schools Minister Jim Knight said behaviour in schools was improving according to the education watchdog Ofsted.
"We take this whole issue very, very seriously," he said. "That is why we are introducing these new measures in the bill that is going through parliament."
He added: "If a child, for example, is blocking the way out of a classroom and the teacher feels it's necessary to physically move them out of the way, then they can feel confident that they have the right in law, freshly passed by parliament, to do so with a reasonable defence.
"Then the whole business of children turning round to teachers and saying 'you haven't got the right to touch me' is knocked on the head firmly and squarely by this bill"