The Tories announced a back-to-basics approach to education, focusing on standards rather than structures in lessons.
David Willetts, shadow education secretary said it would be "madness" for the Conservatives to announce detailed policies at this stage. But he confirmed that under his party Ofsted would ensure synthetic phonics became the norm in all primaries.
The new primary strategy would be slimmed down and setting would become regular practice in secondaries and its use would widen in primaries. Heads would be able to offer any exams they and parents considered worthwhile, such as the IGCSE.
The roles of the exam boards and Qualifications and Curriculum Authority would be reviewed and the "monstrous" practice of marking by looking for key words would end.
David Cameron pledged to champion parents' entitlement to a good basic education for their children. "We had a Prime Minister that said education, education, education was his priority and yet we are not getting the basics right," he said.
His education team claimed "unlearning" took place in the first year of secondary school. Research from 2003 showed that pupils scored 10 per cent less when they retook the same numeracy test they had sat as 11-year-olds.
Government figures showed the continuing rise in the proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C GCSEs had plateaued when "equivalent"
qualifications such as GNVQs were removed.
The proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English, maths, science, and a modern foreign language, had dropped since 2001 when it was 29.5 per cent to 25.7 per cent in 2006.
Jim Knight, schools minister, said half the Conservatives' "latest ideas"
were already under way in schools, and the other half would not improve standards.