Chancellor Gordon Brown has said he would seek to take away benefits from young people who refused to take up education or training opportunities.
Mr Brown will say there must be "no cap on aspiration"
In a BBC interview he advocated a "carrot and stick" approach - education maintenance allowances (EMAs) balanced by "compulsion if necessary".
He wanted to ensure all aged 16 to 18 were in some form of education, as part of a drive to improve the UK's skills.
The Tories say it shows Labour policies for 16 to 18-year-olds are not working.
Earlier this month, the Department for Education and Skills confirmed plans to raise the school leaving age in England, in effect, by 2013.
Statistics indicate 267,000 of those aged 16 and 17 are not in education or training.
The chancellor's interview remarks fleshed out his suggestions in a speech in Scotland, hinting at some measure of compulsion.
Young people will have to be in training or education until 18
His priorities would be "excellence, excellence, excellence", he said.
He also called for employers to take a more active role in training young people.
He proposed adapting the existing "Train to Gain" scheme to provide work-based training for 16 to 18-year-olds, alongside his commitment to double the number of apprenticeships to 500,000.
Mr Brown said young people must realise they could not receive benefits unless they were "contributing to their own training".
"I believe it's the combination of the carrot and stick that's going to make the difference."
But the first stage would have to be consultation with parents and teachers on developing a national programme.
He believed people were generally recognising that, faced with the rise of countries such as China and India, they would have to have better qualifications in future.
"We have got to be number one in the world in education," he said.
"My priority is excellence, excellence, excellence: we have got to upgrade our skills."
Education was "my passion" and "my priority", he said.
"It will have pride of place."
Asked whether he was looking forward to being a parent in the state school system, Mr Brown said he did not want to comment on his children's education.
"The important thing is that every child has the best possible start in life," he said.
Shadow education secretary David Willetts said that at long last Gordon Brown had had to recognise that Labour's policy for 16 to 18-year-olds was not working.
Since 1997, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (the so-called Neets) had risen by 27%, he said.
"That is why Gordon Brown now wants to raise the school leaving age to 18."
But staying on was not the same as getting qualified: more than half of Britain's apprentices dropped out of their courses before they completed them.
He also seemed to be in "a constitutional muddle", given that education and training were devolved matters.
"So why is the UK chancellor talking about creating 50,000 extra Scottish apprenticeship places when this is a matter for the Scottish Executive?
"And why is he addressing the Scottish Parliament on English educational matters over which Holyrood has no powers?"