Education secretary Alan Johnson is considering plans to raise the school leaving age to 18, it emerged last night.
The plans are said to have the full support of chancellor Gordon Brown, and would represent the first increase to the minimum age Britons can leave full-time education since 1972.
Mr Johnson is set to publish a green paper on increasing the minimum age pupils can leave school from 16 to 18 by 2013.
"It should be as unacceptable to see a 16-year-old working, with no training, no education, as it is now to see a 14-year-old," he told The Times.
"A 14-year-old at work was common until the Butler changes [contained in the Education Act 1944], but now you would find it repellent.
"We should find it equally repellent that a youngster of 16 is not getting any training."
The changes, under the proposed timetable, would affect pupils who are currently ten-years-old and are set to enter secondary education next year.
Pupils will not be allowed to leave the educational system until the age of 18, unless they take a job which includes a minimum level of training.
There would also be exemptions for under-18s who are teenage parents or are caring for relatives.
The move has been welcomed by teaching groups.
The Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) as "forward-thinking" and "historic".
"The economy is changing, with more highly skilled jobs and fewer unskilled ones. The government's proposals are the next logical step in a coherent strategy that embraces the every child matters and extended schools initiatives," said PAT general secretary Philip Parkin.
"PAT looks forward to taking part in the consultation process, which needs to address a number of key issues."
The teaching group highlighted curriculums as well as training and resources for education professionals as issues, along with support and motivation for young people to stay on in education or training.
"It should not be seen by the less motivated as some sort of conscription," Mr Parkin said.
"There needs to be carrot rather than stick to avoid the image of a new compulsory and onerous national service."
The new rules, if they come into force, will affect about 330,000 teenagers.