Careers advice does not reach many 16 to 21-year-olds not in work, education or training, commonly known as the NEET group, according to a small-scale study for the Scottish Executive.
Most post-school drop-outs have negative memories of their time at school, but many recognise that education is important and something they could return to.
The study of two groups - young people leaving care and the NEET group - found that careers advice and support varied and "tended to be delivered on a reactive rather than a proactive basis". It was only taken up at the young people's initiative.
Neither group did well at school and left with few qualifications. The care group suffered from frequent changes of placement that disrupted their education, while many admitted to being excluded. They did not like teachers.
Many young people also had health problems, while over half of the women in the care leaver group were pregnant or young mothers.
"Housing instability was a strong feature of the care leaver group. Most across the two groups had experienced periods of employment, education or training since leaving school but, in the main, these were not sustained,"
say the researchers.
Most in both groups knew little about post-16 funding and how to get back into education. Some feared loss of housing benefits and the threat of homelessness.
The researchers say there are multiple barriers to post-16 participation in education. A combination of adverse factors often prevented young people returning.
The study found strong support for a learning entitlement among the groups, who suggested early intervention so that they did not become disengaged.
All said they needed continuing support, such as careers and benefits advice.
The researchers add that even if there was automatic financial support to pay for tuition and maintenance, many would still be unlikely to sign up for more post-16 education. But the concept of a learning entitlement should "not necessarily be abandoned".