The percentage of 16-year-olds continuing in education has fallen for the first time in seven years, a survey of more than 600,000 teenagers has revealed.
Across the country, growing numbers are rejecting school, college and training schemes while the proportion going into jobs or on to the dole queue is increasing.
The annual school-leavers' destination survey published today reveals the percentage of 16-year-olds continuing in education either full-time, part-time or via work has dropped from 83 per cent in 1994 to 81 per cent in 1995.
The percentage of 16-year-olds staying on in full-time education has also fallen - from 68.1 per cent in 1994 to 67.6 per cent in 1995.
Careers service officials who kept track of the teenagers warned the decreases were particularly worrying given the rise in the number of 16-year-olds.
And the Association of County Councils and Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which jointly published the survey's findings, called for research to identify the causes of the trend.
Graham Lane, chairman of the AMA's education committee, added: "The increased costs students have to face are driving some people out of education."
The survey comes just seven months after research from the Institute of Education, London University, revealed the UK has much lower levels of participation in full-time education at 16 to 18 than its competitor nations. It is based on evidence collected by careers officials by letter, phone, interview, with schools and colleges, through employers and training providers.
Changes in the telephone system and the new Management Information System of student records used in some colleges have made keeping tracking of all pupils difficult in some areas.
But the findings of the survey of what the teenagers were doing in the November after their 16th birthday were very much the same throughout England - showing a decrease in the proportion going into education and youth training.