A business leader has said it is "a national disgrace" that half of young people leave England's schools without at least five good GCSEs.
The BCC director general says technical schools should return
The system was in the "last chance saloon" after "endless" government initiatives, said David Frost of the British Chambers of Commerce.
If performance still failed to improve, academic selection should be brought back, he told its annual conference.
The government said there had been "major improvements" in recent years.
In 2006, 43.8% of youngsters obtained the Department for Education and Skills attainment benchmark of the equivalent of five good GCSEs including English and maths.
Mr Frost said: "It is nothing short of a national disgrace. This is in the 21st century, not Victorian Britain."
He said other statistics showed that more than million young people were not in work, education or training.
One in five were facing a lifetime on government handouts, double the figure in Germany and France and still growing, he said.
"I can understand the desire to upgrade every school building in Britain but it is what goes on in the classroom that matters and clearly there is something wrong."
He added: "This is the last chance saloon.
"If we again fail to improve the performance of our schools I believe it is time to look at the reintroduction of selection at the age of 13, to reintroduce grammar schools which were the great escape route for the working class in post-war Britain."
He said the country should also introduce technical schools, not for "metalwork and woodwork" but information technology, specialist engineering and science.
Mr Frost said he feared people leaving school with minimal qualifications would find it increasingly difficult to get work, especially when faced with competition from hard-working Eastern Europeans.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said the government did not support selection and did not wish to see it extended.
"We are clear that we want every young person to go to a good school and there have been major improvements in the last decade including slashing the number of schools where less than a quarter of pupils get five good GCSEs from over 600 to around 50.
"Clearly there is still more to do to ensure there is a high quality education for all and measures within the Education Act will help to make this a reality," she said.