MIKE Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, will head a taskforce on 14-19 reform that will deliver recommendations on a new partnership between schools and colleges in the next 18 months.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the group's work would be crucial.
"For the first time universities and employers will be round the table," he said. "You won't get parity of esteem unless employers and higher education are alongside. Getting the Confederation of British Industry and Universities UK on board is a prize worth having."
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said he was also optimistic.
"There has never been so much consultation, and this is the first time any paper has gone below the compulsory school-leaving age," he said.
He said he was pleased that the Government was not imposing its will but asking the practitioners to get involved, and that the challenge for the Government was to show colleges were not just a repository for the less able. Fifty per cent of youngsters were achieving GCSEs at grades A*-C, he said, which meant 50 per cent were not. Of these, up to 10 per cent were not attending school.
"We can't afford that amount of waste. We want to see work-related programmes so young people can see the relevance to job opportunities," he said.
Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said it was important to provide vocational courses across the ability range. Mr Tomlinson's group has been asked to look at a baccalaureate-style qualification to suit "English" needs.
Mr Miliband assured students and parents that there would be no new radical overhaul of A-levels and promised stability for all students, including pupils thinking about their GCSE choices.
He said there was an old English curse of 'more means worse', but this flew in the face of logic. Teaching was getting better, students working harder so that standards would rise.
The CBI stressed that the new initiatives should not distract from problems of numeracy and literacy. "Allowing teaching time to be spent in workplaces will re-engage some students, but employers will only ever be able to help a limited number," it said.