School-leavers with no qualifications are to spend a term at an American high school at a cost of £1,000 each to the taxpayer. Leigh education action zone near Wigan, Lancashire, is trying to persuade the 16-year-olds not to abandon education and training.
Members of the pilot group of six are likely to have played truant, been excluded from school and to have left without a GCSE pass but all will have been identified as pupils who failed to achieve their potential.
Roland Absalom, the zone director and Wigan's assistant director of education, said: "We are not rewarding bad behaviour. It is a shock tactic for those who have underachieved. We want to kick-start their education."
Action zones have been set up by the Government to promote innovation and to raise standards in areas where students are underachieving.
Pupils from Leigh will spend the autumn semester in Ciyuga high school in upstate New York, a more affluent area than Leigh. They will study vocational courses and will have to agree to return to college in Wigan to continue their education and training.
Mr Absalom said: "We are taking them out of the culture they are in and putting them into a different one, free from domestic and peer pressures. These are people who are likely to end up on the edges of the community at a relatively high cost to the taxpayer."
He said those who criticised the scheme had to answer the question of what else they would do with young people who would otherwise leave school with no qualifications and no prospect of employment or training.
The zone has two secondary schools, Bedford High, where a quarter of school-leavers at 16 fail to enter education or training and West Leigh where a third fail to do so. Teenagers from New York will spend a term in one of the two schools as part of the deal.