Raising the school leaving age to 18 would tackle social problems and improve skills, the education secretary Alan Johnson said today.
Outlining proposals for extending compulsory education until 18 years old, Mr Johnson claimed there is wide-spread support for such proposals.
Research by the Department for Education and Skills found nine in ten people are in favour of young people being made to continue in academic or vocational education until 18, with support strongest among parents and grandparents.
Mr Johnson argued that raising the school leaving age would benefit both young people, the economy and society by improving individual life chances and aspirations and also plugging the skills gap.
"There's a spiral of despair for a significant minority which starts with disinterest at school, turns to disillusionment with society, and ends up presenting huge problems for society," he said.
Mr Johnson continued: "The evidence suggests that the younger a person leaves school, the more likely he or she will be to use drugs, become engaged in prostitution or commit crime; finally winding up in prison, unemployed or homeless - often all three.
"Today's stable economy and renewed educational infrastructure puts us in a strong position to introduce this major reform."
A green paper will be published on the issue shortly, followed by a consultation period. Ministers are thought to have given provisional support to the idea.
The Conservatives accused Mr Johnson of a policy 'own goal', with the number of school leavers not in education, training or employment having risen by a quarter over the past ten years.
Young people are dissatisfied with state of education and skills training in this country, argued shadow education secretary David Willetts, concluding: "So it is a bit of an own goal for Alan Johnson to be boasting about it.
"What we need is to ensure is that the education or training provided is of a high quality, so that these crucial two years between 16 and 18 are not wasted," he said.