A Commons Education and Employment Select committee report this week estimated that between 100,000 and as many as 220,000 14 to 19-year-olds were not in education, training or work.
Margaret Hodge, committee chairman, said: "Tackling disaffection among young people is the key to creating a more cohesive society. Today's disaffected are tomorrow's unemployed.
"Without prompt and determined action we are in danger of creating an education underclass, a class of young people without qualifications, without chance of a job, and without hope."
The hard-hitting report contains 27 recommendations for action on what it describes as "a major public policy challenge".
* A Government audit of the scale and causes of disaffection. "No figures are kept that can be quoted with rigour," says the report. Government departments should set the lead by improving the co-ordination of their resources, possibly through the Social Exclusion Unit.
* Better local co-ordination of action being taken by mainstream education providers and other agencies. These forums should listen to the views of young people, and should be responsible for establishing a strategy and action plan.
* Wherever possible, schools should retain responsibility for excluded pupils. While they continue to receive funding for such pupils, a proportion must be allocated for the alternative provision being made.
* Schools which are successful with previously excluded pupils should be rewarded - perhaps with a financial bonus for each pupil gaining a Level 2 (GCSE standard) qualification.
* Teaching standards in pupil referral units should be improved.
* The New Deal should be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds.
* The national curriculum at key stage 4 should be reviewed. "It is counterproductive to push pupils into studying physics or French to GCSE level," says the report.
* More use should be made of vocational and basic skills qualifications in schools. "We believe there would be advantage in developing a system for recognising achievement at modular level," said the report.
* School performance tables should be amended to show the number and proportion of pupils who leave without sitting examinations or gaining qualifications.
* The Personal and Social Education curriculum should be more focused and measured against clearly defined outcomes. "Too much of current personal and social education lacks structure and direction. If PSE is to be a success, it must amount to more than waffle I PSE should not be an add-on to the curriculum, but integral to the life of the school. The curriculum should focus on life management skills such as family planning, personal finances, employability, using information and avoiding drug and alcohol misuse."
Disaffected Children is available from The Stationery Office Ltd. Price pound;8.80.