Keir Bloomer, chief executive and former director of education in Clackmannanshire, told a seminar in Dundee: "Adolescence has become a fundamentally unsatisfying time of life when people are energetic, with no outlet for their energies and no prospect of economic independence. The sole occupation prescribed by society - secondary schooling with an academic diet - is not enough."
Mr Bloomer added: "Children are saying that the thing they found memorable at school was not the mainstream curriculum but careers visits, outings and projects in the community. We should therefore carefully consider easing the transition from adolescence to adulthood by involving all young people with not just a week's work experience but a spell of work, including community work."
This would give teenage pupils an "inwardly felt sense of purpose".
Mr Bloomer made his remarks at "What Matters is What Works", a national seminar by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration. The administration's annual report showed a 10 per cent rise from 32,938 to 36,820 in the number of children referred. Total referrals amounted to 68,380 - 63 per cent on care and protection grounds and 37 per cent for offences.
The number of children referred for committing just one offence was up by more than 11 per cent, from 7,560 to 8,446. The rise offset an 11 per cent reduction in the number of cases of persistent offending.
Speaking to The TES Scotland, Alan Miller, principal reporter, suggested that schools could step in to support children waiting for a hearing. "This may influence the decision of panel members when the hearing does take place," Mr Miller said.
One of the biggest annual rises in referrals involves under-age drinking and drugs misuse - up by a third from 1,272 to 1,697.
Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said national pupil surveys showed a levelling off and even a slight fall in the incidence of drugs misuse.
But Mr Miller took issue and felt that referrals for substance misuse are likely to be the tip of the iceberg. "We must never lose sight of the fact that large numbers of young people are misusing both alcohol and drugs," Mr Miller said.