Radical moves to make it easier to take children into care to avoid them joining an "educational underclass" of "lost souls" are being demanded by the Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Action was necessary to stop them joining gangs and ending up in prison, he said in his first speech in the wake of this summer's riots. He also ordered a review of sanctions against truants and their parents.
He promised to introduce measures to make it easier to take children into care or be adopted or fostered by parents who would have them "enfolded in love". The response to Mr Gove's speech was muted last night – largely because teachers and social carers were waiting to see more proposals behind the rhetoric.
One of the major problems identified by ministers in the past has been the low educational attainment of children taken into care – suggesting that care is not a panacea for improving their prospects.
Headteachers, too, have baulked at the suggestion that parents should be taken to court over their children's truancy, preferring to try to reach agreement with them to attend good-parenting classes.
Mr Gove, speaking at an academy school, said: "It is clear we need to be tougher on inadequate parents."
On truancy, he said he was setting up a taskforce of professionals headed by the Government's adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, who has been headteacher of a unit for disruptive pupils, to look at the sanctions available to schools, the police and courts for tackling persistent absentees from the classroom.
"Many appear to shrug off fines and avoid existing sanctions, refusing to take responsibility for their actions," he said.
The taskforce would also investigate alternative means of providing education for young people excluded from school. "These young people are not in school for much of their teenage years – they are on the streets and on my conscience," he said. "It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits."
Mr Gove added that the levels of illiteracy in England were "shocking". The problem, he said, began in the early years with children arriving at school unable to learn.
He said he recognised that labelling children as members of a social "under-class" had "potentially controversial connotations".