The disaffected and disadvantaged need help to tackle school, but their numbers should not be exaggerated, reports Clare Dean.
Whitehall calls them the NEET people - but they feel anything like the bright young things the title implies.
For the acronym stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training, and the 100,000 young people who fall within the category have zero status and see little point or value in schooling.
They will not simply go away with a change of government, and urgent action is needed to help them. Unemployment rates for under-25s are rising, and so is the number of suicides in the age group.
One in three men now has a conviction for a serious offence by the age of 30. And, on average, one or two boys in every secondary school class is a persistent offender.
Nineteen years ago, almost two-thirds of 16 and 17 year-olds were in full-time employment. By 1989 that proportion had fallen to 23 per cent, but now it is just 8 per cent.
In the last seven years, the number of jobless people under the age of 25 has increased by 23 per cent - for those who have been out of work for more than a year, the figure is up by 75 per cent.
Tom Wylie, chair of the National Youth Agency, describes the emergence of a youthful ghetto poor with no role models.
"Many accept mainstream values but lack the structures which will help to sustain them," he told chief education officers last week.
"Young men, in particular, find their self-esteem by performing for their peers, not their teachers or potential employers."
That scenario is played out in schools throughout Britain, with the latest figures showing that the number of children excluded permanently has topped 11,000.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which was involved in four high-profile cases against disruptive pupils last year, believes the figure could be even higher.
Nigel de Gruchy, its general secretary, claims there are 100,000 pupils who are "plain naughty" or in need of medical treatment, and that they should be expelled to restore peace in the classroom.
David Moore, the HM Inspector with national responsibility for behaviour, discipline and bullying, concedes that around 5 per cent of children who are excluded from secondary schools need psychiatric help.
He does not think, however, that schools are out of control. "We are not talking about hundreds of thousands of children screaming up and down corridors, running riot."
Neither does he believe that ejecting disruptive children or creating more special schools - as the NASUWT advocates - will work. "These children will then freewheel for the rest of their time and there is a consequence for the rest of society.
"No society can afford to throw away thousands of children. If you dump children on the streets, they will become street children and they will come back and haunt the rest of society. It is imperative to manage more effectively the education of all our children and ensure they are in the mainstream. "
Children excluded from schools tend to be boys and to have experienced major family breakdown or spent time in care or with social workers. They are likely to have special needs and no-one in their household is in a job.
Tom Wylie told the Association of Chief Education Officers that he believed exclusion had become easier than effective tutorial systems in schools, leading to a cycle of experiences which often ended up with the children going nowhere.
The new government, he said, needed to offer an agenda for social renewal - a strategy post-14, not ad hoc programmes.
Mr Wylie urged the ACEO and local authorities to draw together education welfare, pupil referral and youth services to help the most vulnerable and disaffected to promote their learning.
He said effective youth work could complement the role of schools and respond to the learning needs of young adults by developing their IT skills and their ability to speak cogently.
"Restoring the educational aspirations of adolescents who have dropped out of schooling may only be possible through their interests and hobbies - we need to take these and move beyond them.
"Beyond the school gate we need jobs for young people; (projects) to connect housing and employment; re-engineering of the youth service into education for citizenship, and training programmes which acknowledge that disadvantage and disaffection are different to learning difficulties," he said.