Teenagers who drop out of school at 16 and refuse any further education will face fines or prosecution under new plans to raise the leaving age.
Young people will have to be in training or education until 18
Education Secretary Alan Johnson said that by 2015, all youngsters in England would have to be in school or some form of training until their 18th birthday.
Enforcement action would be taken only in a minority of "hardcore" cases who had refused help, Mr Johnson stressed.
Financial help and extra advice would be offered to those who needed it.
The age at which children must be in full-time education was raised to 16 in 1972, but, Mr Johnson said, there had been an ambition to raise it to 18 since World War I.
"There are issues around how we enforce this and what obligations we place on it," he said.
"We need to ensure we have the right carrots and sticks in place and to make sure no youngster would be under the criminal area of the law unless they are really hardcore and have gone through a fulsome process.
"It's a very, very major radical reform and we recognise this."
He added: "We are not going to chain young people to the desk and make them do quadratic equations."
But too many children left school without qualifications and it was these who all too often ended up on the streets or in the criminal justice system, he added.
Those who failed to attend classes or training, after intensive one-to-one advice and support, could be issued with an "attendance order" obliging them to attend.
Fixed Penalty Notice
It would be a criminal offence to breach this order which would be subject to prosecution and an "appropriate penalty", the Green Paper said.
This would mean a criminal penalty for a breach of a civil order - in the same way as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are pursued in the criminal courts.
Or alternatively, the young person could be issued with a fixed penalty notice requiring them to pay a fine.
Mr Johnson said a simple £50 fine could be used to enforce attendance "without having to clog up the courts."
If the fixed notice was neither paid nor challenged, then the young person could be prosecuted in the youth courts and issued with a referral order which would set out an "appropriate intervention".
"Breaching a referral order or not paying a fine will lead the young person further into the youth offending system," the Green Paper added.
Equally, employers who refused to allow 16 to18-year-olds to attend work-based training of at least one day a week could face enforcement action, ultimately ending in a fine.
The move has been welcomed in principle by business leaders and the further education sector.
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
However, teaching unions have criticised the possible use of criminal sanctions on teenagers who fail to attend classes or training.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agree compulsion and threats is the wrong approach to increasing participation.
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.
This means some 200,000 people aged 16 and 17 could be affected.
Young people are already offered financial incentives - the educational maintenance allowances (EMAs) - to help them stay in education beyond the age of 16.
These would be scrapped and a new system of means-tested financial assistance set up - the details of which are yet to be worked out.
The Scottish Executive has no plans to raise the education leaving age from 16.
The Welsh Assembly said it was working to increase the number of 16 to 18-year-olds in education or training and is due to issue a strategy later in the year.