At least 50,000 teenagers have no hope of getting a job or going to university because they are studying on 'Mickey Mouse' courses, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research.
The Institute said more than one-in-five pupils are currently taking sixth-form qualifications that are likely to leave them unemployed by the age of 19.
Kayte Lawton, senior research fellow at IPPR, : "Young people who don't do well enough at school often end up taking colleges courses that don't prepare them for work or further study.
"Many of these courses don't include enough decent work experience and often fail to lead to a recognised qualification."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We agree with the IPPR that too many qualifications are far removed from the needs of employers, with students spending time working hard but getting nowhere.
"That's why from next September we will remove thousands of courses from college and school sixth-form performance tables so that only those which lead to skilled employment or higher education count.
"We have also introduced high quality tech levels which will be specifically endorsed by relevant employers.
"In addition we are raising the quality and status of apprenticeships so they are on a par with academic courses, and hundreds of businesses are already offering young people work placements under our new traineeship programme."
However, Michele Sutton, president of the Association of Colleges, said: "It's not true to describe such courses as 'dead-end' because they are often important stepping stones."