The Westminster government called for an overhaul of lessons for children aged 11-14 because of disaffection and a dip in performance among some after moving up to secondary school.
But there are fears that the original remit of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to allow teachers greater flexibility has been undermined by Edu-cation Secretary Alan Johnson.
The updated secondary school curriculum, to be introduced to classrooms from 2008, is designed to be more relevant to the modern world. It highlights the importance of creativity and how pupils relate to the outside world. The curriculum will emphasise "social and cultural flexibility" and a "feeling for justice and fairness", the QCA said.
The proposed changes encourage schools to introduce languages such as Mandarin and Arabic and topics including global warming. There will be a focus on "life skills", such as managing personal finances, as well as cooking lessons and nutrition.
A new strand in citizenship lessons will include immigration and equal opportunities. Greater cultural understanding is also expected in music and art, where pupils will study international traditions.
Despite the emphasis on flexibility, the Education Secretary has stressed that there should be a list of prescribed "classic" authors, including Charles Dickens, H G Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson. He also wants compulsory teaching of the history of slavery and the two world wars.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, pressed for a less rigid approach. "We want schools to have flexibility to develop their own lessons and for ministers to resist the temptation to add in their latest fad," he said.