Funding chiefs this week made it clear that disadvantaged teenagers should be recruited for Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes only if they can move into work or training within 22 weeks.
But training providers have reacted with fury, saying that the restrictions will bar young people who may need a year or more to acquire the skills and confidence to be ready for work.
Caroline Neville, director of learning at the Learning and Skills Council, denied that it is "cutting adrift" thousands of teenagers who are not in education, employment, or training. She said: "Recent actions are designed to ensure that their needs are best served by the significant funding we have made available.
"We know from our data that a significant proportion of learners are staying on programmes much longer than the planning assumption of 22 weeks.
"We haven't introduced a time limit but we have asked providers to review the progress of such learners to ensure that the programme continues to be suitable. E2E is a groundbreaking programme for which recruitment has been excellent. We want to make sure that the right people are benefiting."
The TES recently reported that an estimated 9,000 teenagers will be turned away from courses as the E2E programme is left with the same pound;240 million budget as last year.
The Association of Learning Providers warned Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Chancellor Gordon Brown that there would be social consequences if E2E did not get funding for growth.
Graham Hoyle, ALP's chief executive, reiterated those concerns this week.
Writing in the ALP newsletter Countdown, he said he is aware that the LSC intends diverting applicants onto longer college courses. This, he stated, is despite the fact that the Connexions service continues to recommend E2E.
He added: "Those teenagers not in training or education have already decided to leave school and chosen not to accept offerings at their local college. I am therefore amazed that the LSC feel this is a better solution."
Richard Jackson, who runs Camden Jobtrain, London's largest E2E programme with 273 participants, said: "Established providers despair at the prospect of this long-awaited course now resembling little more than a conveyor belt experience, accessible only to the elite of the not-in-training-or-education group.
"It means we can't take people who have complex problems of illiteracy, innumeracy, homelessness, or drug and alcohol problems. It is criminal."
But Ms Neville said: "Our actions are designed to ensure that more of the most deprived are able to achieve their potential by successfully progressing from E2E to a job or further learning. I urge all providers to work with us to make E2E a truly successful programme."