The head of the UK's biggest education authority says some children should have the option to leave the classroom at 14 to learn a trade.
Pupils currently have to stay in school until the age of 16
Tony Howell, from Birmingham City Council, says such a scheme would help to plug the skills gap.
"Some 14-year-olds will probably be better off in some kind of apprenticeship," he said.
But the National Union of Teachers said children who leave school early may not be taking the best course of action.
Mr Howell said that some children of 14 were the "kinds of learners" who were better suited to apprenticeships.
"That's how they will get success," he said.
"And we need to cater for the range of people and the range of jobs we all have in society."
John Bangs from the National Union of Teachers said that early school leavers would not earn as much as those who have stayed on and gained qualifications.
"As you look at the passage of a youngster as they grow up and go on having got a qualification, the amount of money those youngsters earn, or all youngsters earn, is much higher if you do have a qualification than if you've just simply left school very early and gone on to do some very specific training."
The Department for Education and Skills confirmed plans in January to raise the school leaving age in England to 18.
This means that, by 2013, all pupils will have to stay in education or training until the end of the school year in which they turn 17. By 2015, this leaving age will be raised to the 18th birthday.
This will not mean that pupils have to stay in the classroom or continue with academic lessons, but they will have to continue to receive training.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "We want to get the very best out of all young people. That is why from September 2008 we are introducing the new Diploma qualification which will provide the best of basic skills, theoretical knowledge and practical work based learning.
"We are also driving forward a massive expansion in apprenticeships from 150,000 to 240,000 to ensure every young person that wants to learn in the work place can do so.
"With these new choices young people can then carry on learning until they are 18, with many benefits to them and the economy as a result."