This week, Gordon Brown's first Queen's speech set out a plan to serve fines on 16- and 17-year-olds who do not remain in education or do at least one day's training per week.
The General Teaching Council for England condemned the sanctions as counter-productive. But teachers' unions have broadly welcomed the plans.
The reform will not become law until 2015, but ministers want schools to lay the groundwork now.
However, The TES has learnt that one of ministers' key schemes for reaching pupils most at risk of becoming Neets (not in education, employment or training) is in jeopardy. By 2010, all schools will be expected to offer child care and activities outside school hours. But more than 100 after-school clubs in the country's most deprived areas have closed this term, and another 50 are expected to follow, because parents cannot afford the fees.
Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that extended schools give children from poorer homes access to the wider range of experiences often enjoyed by children from better-off families.
The Government clearly expects teachers to do more to reduce the number of Neets by spotting young people who are likely to fall through the gaps and working harder to engage them.
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "We know that persistent truants are seven times more likely to become Neets at the age of 16. Schools have a key role to play in early identification and intervention with young people at risk."
The staying-on law will come into force for 17-year-olds in 2013 and for 18-year-olds in 2015. But Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said: "This is not a rise in the school-leaving age." Most teenagers targeted are likely to take work-based training courses, which will affect FE and sixth-form colleges rather than schools.
The TES is helping the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produce a report offering practical suggestions for breaking the link between poverty and a lack of education. It will be presented to the DCSF at a seminar on November 29.
Families are key, page 10
Losing clubs, page 10
Leading article, page 28
FE Focus, page 3.