Excluded pupils last week blamed poor teaching and a lack of attention for crashing out of school.
Six teenagers, all from Pembrokeshire, gave evidence to an inquiry into child poverty, with reference to education, by the Assembly's children and young people committee, explaining why they had dropped out.
Most thought that poverty-stricken and less-able pupils were left to fall by the wayside in secondary schools. They believed teachers needed to concentrate more on the neediest pupils and have greater empathy for the disadvantaged to end a vicious circle of poverty and low achievement.
One 15-year-old girl said pupils who are struggling do not get enough one- to-one mentoring from teachers. She claimed that large class sizes and few teaching assistants in secondary schools made some pupils from poorer homes feel left out.
The teenagers also called for more vocational options, including carpentry and bricklaying, at GSCE level for the less able.
The rising cost of school uniforms was also criticised. "My mum is a single parent," one girl said. "She had to get three uniforms, then she had nothing left."
Although children from low-income families are entitled to a one-off pound;85 uniform grant when they enter secondary school, the pupils said the money did not cover the full cost which, with gym kit and shoes, can exceed pound;180.
Committee chair Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru AM for Llanelli, said secondary schools were failing poorer pupils. The Assembly government is aiming to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
The 14-19 learning pathways initiative, with the introduction of learning coaches and more vocation-led learning, is gradually being introduced to help more pupils engage with the curriculum.
But teaching unions that have already given evidence to the committee say a huge policy shift in schools by the Assembly government is needed to lift one in four children in Wales out of poverty.
The Assembly this week voted on the final draft of the Vulnerable Children and Child Poverty Legislative Competence Order which, if approved, could pave the way for a Wales-only law to tackle child poverty. First Minister Rhodri Morgan also pledged to place a duty on public bodies to demonstrate their contribution to ending child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010.