The numbers of teenagers staying in school after age 16 has fallen for the first time in a decade, according to Government figures.
At the same time, the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds that are considered "NEET" - not in education, employment or training - has risen by 8%.
The statistics show that 70.5% of youngsters in this age group were in full-time education in 2011, compared to 70.6% in 2010, a fall of almost 32,000 students.
It is the first time the numbers have dropped since 2001, and comes amid a move to raise the school leaving age.
From next year, pupils will leave education and training at age 17, and in 2015, this will be raised to 18.
Overall, there were fewer young people aged 16 to 18 in 2011 than there were in 2010, according to the Department for Education figures.
Some 8.1% of 16 to 18-year-olds, were considered NEET in 2011, the statistics show, against 7.5%, the year before - an 8% increase.
It means that an extra 8,280 young people were NEET in 2011 compared to 2010.
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said the figures were a "clear sign" that the education system needs to do more to give young people the skills that businesses and universities want.
He said: "The number of young people not in education, employment or training has been too high for too long - this is not a new problem. But we are determined to tackle it."
The Government is spending £7.5 billion on education and training and £126 million over three years on extra support for the 16 and 17-year-olds most in need of help, Mr Loughton said.
Shadow minister for young people Karen Buck said: "This generation of young people is paying a huge price for the recession made in Downing Street - long term youth unemployment has more than doubled in the last year.
"Whether it is cutting support for young people to stay in school, trebling tuition fees or ending face to face careers advice, this Government is hopelessly out of touch with the needs of the next generation."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "Education is a key social and economic driver and can help young people develop the necessary skills to find jobs and realise their potential. Instead of erecting barriers to study, such as hiking up university fees, the government should follow the example of other countries and invest in education, not cut the very services young people need."
The new figures also show that the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in any kind of education and training has risen from 84.1% to 85.4%.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "It is no coincidence that the numbers of young people staying in education post-16 have fallen for the first time in a decade a year on from the Government's scandalous decision to axe the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
"Removing this funding prevented thousands of our most disadvantaged young people from accessing further education and, combined with the hike in university tuition fees and cuts to the careers service, has effectively locked out a generation from gaining the skills and opportunities they need to succeed."