Colleges have joined Gordon Brown and other senior political figures in backing the call for the education leaving age effectively to be raised to 18.
John Brennan, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:
"Raising the age of leaving education and training is an essential step towards equipping all young people with the skills and knowledge needed for personal success and towards overcoming that legacy of under-performance which continues to hold back the British economy.
"Individuals, employers and the nation will all benefit from the revolution in our national attitudes to learning it will engender."
The call was made in a private members' Bill by Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education select committee. Mr Brown has hinted that compulsion may be necessary if incentives, such as the education maintenance allowance, fail to convince all 16-year-olds to continue in education.