Colleges are being dismissed as the poor relations, according to the national survey of careers education and guidance, published jointly by the Office for Standards in Education and the Department for Education and Employment.
"In such cases, students are placed under pressure to stay at school," says the report on the survey, covering secondary schools and sixth forms.
Next year the DFEE will look at career guidance in colleges, in partnership with the Further Education Funding Council.
The Association of Colleges has continually raised with government the difficulty of getting information into schools from colleges to help pupils to make decisions about possible future moves.
"Objective information and data are a prerequisite for impartial advice, but do not, by themselves, ensure that appropriate advice is given," said an AOC spokeswoman.
"This depends crucially on the knowledge and expertise of the giver of the advice and the way in which information is portrayed. We think colleges should be entitled to have direct access to school pupils, via (postal) addresses or setting up meetings for Year 10 and 11 pupils."
The report says that sixth-formers aiming for higher education are well- informed, but schools are less effective in finding out about work options, including modern apprenticeships or training.
There is no general consensus about the content of - and skills to be developed in - a careers programme aimed at post-16 students, says the report.
As a result, the careers and guidance curriculum varies widely, and links between sixth-formers and employers were not consistent.
George Mudie, the lifelong learning minister, said the Government intends to develop a nationally-recognised qualification for careers co-ordinators. People would need to demonstrate their ability to plan, co-ordinate and review careers education programmes.
"We have commissioned work to identify National Occupational Standards for all of those who deliver careers education and guidance. These will be used to design in-service training programmes for careers teachers that are more effective and relevant to current best practice ," he said.
The role of careers guidance was all the more important for the next millennium, when people could expect more change in the kind of work they would do, he added.