Young people will be required to stay in school, training or workplace training until the age of 18.
Young people will have to be in training or education until 18
The Department for Education and Skills has confirmed plans to raise the school leaving age in England by 2013.
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.
It would mean raising the leaving age for the first time since 1972, when it was raised to the present 16 years old.
The proposals would seek to tackle the problem of young people leaving education without qualifications or workplace skills.
Despite repeated efforts to tackle this stubborn problem - the most recent figures for England showed that 11% of 16 to 18 year olds are still outside education, training or work.
At present, 76% of this age group are in education or receiving training - which will mean that the remainder will either have to begin workplace training or return to further education.
Teachers' leader Steve Sinnott described the raising of the leaving age as "inevitable".
Plans for funding and implementation are reported to have been drawn up in meetings between the education department, the Treasury, business representatives and head teachers' leaders.
Proposals for the changes are expected to be published in the spring.
Among the examples of how this might be enforced is a scheme in Canada, where under-18 year olds cannot get a driving licence without proof that they are in education or training.
And the education department already offers young people financial incentives - the educational maintenance allowances (EMAs) - to help them stay in education beyond the age of 16.
The Education Secretary Alan Johnson told The Times that it was "repellent that a youngster of 16 is not getting any training".
SCHOOL LEAVING AGE
1870:First compulsory school for younger children
1880: Attendance officers enforce school for 5 to 10 year olds
1899: Leaving age raised to 12
1918: Full-time education compulsory up to 14
1944: Education Act raises leaving age to 15
1964: Raising of school leaving age to 16 announced, but not in place until 1972
Reflecting on his own experience, Mr Johnson said: "I regret not staying on in education... when I left school there were loads of jobs you could could walk into without qualifications. That's not going to be the case in the future."
John Dunford, head of the Association for School and College and Leaders, cautioned that "we need to be clear that this is not strictly about raising the 'school' leaving age, but about keeping young people in some kind of education or training until they are 18, most of them full-time, including apprenticeships and work-based training".
Steve Sinnott, leader of the National Union of Teachers said that the move was "inevitable".
"We cannot afford to neglect those young people who currently leave school at 16 unprepared for the rigour and demands of life in the 21st Century."