Worries about the large minority of young people who get little out of their education are expressed by the National Commission on Education, which fears Britain "will be storing up an extraordinarily difficult problem for itself" as a result.
"There is an obvious problem of social coherence but it is not merely a social problem. No country can hope in an intensely competitive world to go on raising the general standard of living if a large minority of its citizens cannot enter into productive work and instead become a charge on the community."
While stressing it has no easy answer to the problem, the commission considers that the relevant Government departments - notably Education, Employment and Trade and Industry - have a responsibility to recognise the seriousness of the situation and promote education and training measures specifically aimed at enabling teenagers to improve their prospects of gaining and retaining productive work.
Such measures, they say, would include: efforts to raise standards in poorly performing schools; determined efforts to raise standards of numeracy and literacy; specially-designed courses for 14-plus pupils alienated from classroom learning; revitalised training and education programmes to motivate and help unemployed 16- and 17-year-olds towards work; investment in youth services and support for voluntary schemes involving young people in community activities.
The commission is promoting a new framework for foundation learning in England and Wales, suggesting a unified General Education Diploma to be taken at Ordinary and Advanced levels, probably at 16 and 18. It would be developed from the best of existing academic and vocational qualifications and promoting the acquisition of core skills. It would also be credit-based, modular and graded.
At ordinary level it would incorporate the national curriculum and half the diploma would consist of core subjects, including use of English, maths, natural science, technology, citizenship and a modern foreign language.
Balance would be provided by a choice of subjects from other areas, including the humanities and expressive arts.
Advanced level would include in-depth study of a major area, such as engineering, physics and chemistry, or history. Balancing studies in three other areas would form between a third and a half of the total programme. Core skills would also be required.