Colleges are calling for the power to take charge of diplomas and admit 14-year-olds directly.
With just 12,000 students starting the new qualifications this year, less than a quarter of the projected number, colleges say the qualification needs to involve more hands-on work to appeal to teenagers.
David Collins, president of the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges should be able to take the lead rather than local authorities in driving the diploma programme. In a number of cases, students who came in on the increased flexibility programme (the exiting scheme for 14 to 16-year- olds) were students that schools couldn't necessarily cope with easily.
"This would be a free-range choice for students who felt the college experience was more to their interest. For young men in the 14 to 16 age range particularly, there is research that they need to be active and doing things." The first five diplomas, in health and development, information technology, construction and the built environment, society, and engineering, began in schools and colleges in September and are intended to expand to 17 subjects.
Local consortia, involving 107 colleges in the first year as well as schools, other training providers and employers, take on the teaching responsibilities jointly, combining class learning with practical study and work experience.
Jim Knight, minister for schools, said the diploma was on track and providers understood the qualification would grow gradually.
He said: "Our partners, including local authorities, employers, universities and colleges, understand our evolutionary approach to slowly but surely build a system that will suit the needs of all young people staying in education and training, whether they do an apprenticeship or study a diploma or A-level. That's why with the diploma, we have focused on quality not quantity rather than going for a `big bang' launch."