Teenagers who skip school should face prosecution - as well as their parents, a researcher says.
The current campaign of threatening the parents of truants with jail or fines is not working, according to new research.
Children who went before the courts could be ordered to attend school or even be put into foster care .
Ming Zhang, principal education welfare officer at the Kingston-upon- Thames local education authority in south London, studied figures on school attendance and truancy prosecutions for 43 councils in England and Wales.
He found no link between levels of absenteeism and prosecution of parents.
Ming Zhang said the families of persistent truants had so many problems that sanctions such as fines or even jail would not change their behaviour.
The time has come, he believes, to target the children themselves - if they are old enough.
"We all know the fact that many truants, who are absent themselves from their final stage of schooling are genuinely out of their parents' control," he said.
"These youngsters also need support through an enforced educational programme while their parents being held accountable for their children's behaviours."
Ming Zhang says the prosecution of children themselves could allow courts to order children to be taken into foster care if they did not improve their attendance record.
He is not calling for teenage truants to be fined.
The government rejects the view that the policy of prosecuting the parents of truants - or threatening to - does not work.
A spokesman said: "Prosecution is and will remain the last resort, however, even the threat of prosecution can get hard-core parents who refuse to engage their children in education to do so."
The spokesman pointed to the success of Liverpool's education authority in tackling the parents of persistent truants.
Liverpool had used a new "fast-track scheme" introduced this year which was being spread across England.
Under the scheme, parents were given a court date three months ahead and told that if they did not get their child back into school, they would have to attend.
The spokesman said that in two-thirds of cases, the child's attendance improved dramatically.
Phil Willis, the education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, attacked the idea of prosecuting children.
"Britain desperately needs an education system that interests our young people," he said.
"Education must be made accessible and relevant to young people - this means innovative thinking not criminalising children."