Review may drop core subjects
Instead, pupils may be required to take a short-course GCSE in religious education under draft plans being drawn up by the Government's curriculum quango.
More flexibility in primary teaching may also see many great names and important events dropped from the national curriculum. In future, children could study the Tudors with no mention of Sir Walter Raleigh, the Armada or Shakespeare.
The plans are part of a wide-ranging Government review which aims to focus the curriculum on outcomes, rather than dictating exactly what should be taught. It proposes to give teachers more flexibility by cutting down on the compulsory aspects while retaining the breadth and balance of the curriculum.
The proposals have been drafted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which will present its plans for a new curriculum for five to 16-year-olds to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for education, at the end of the month.
They will recommend that primary children should, unsurprisingly, concentrate on literacy and numeracy. But at key stage 2 teachers will be given more freedom on how to deliver the rest of the curriculum. In non-core subjects there will be much more flexibility: either by introducing a choice of optional modules alongside compulsory units or by describing every unit of study so broadly that teachers have far more choice of what to cover.
The least change is expected at key stage 3 while at KS4, or GCSE, the emphasis will be on reducing core subjects in order to create more flexibility.
The leaner core is expected to include maths, English, science, religious education, physical education and information technology. But academics and subject organisations oppose the dropping of languages and design and technology.
Professor Alan Smithers, of Liverpool University's centre for education and employment, said young people would lose vital practical skills if design and technology was dropped. He said: "This was the first time good applied education had been included in the national curriculum. Young people who preferred to devote their energies to practical activities were also given a better understanding of physics and maths than they would otherwise have been exposed to."
Ruth Wright, education executive at the Engineering Council, said making design and technology optional at key stage 4 would damage the subject at all levels.
Dr Brigitte Boyce, Association for Language Learning president, said:
"Making languages optional has been our biggest fear. The European Union talks about proficiency in two foreign languages - if British young people do not even study a language until 16 I do not see that happening."
But lobbyists for non-core subjects, such as history, geography and the arts, are delighted at the prospect of fewer core subjects.
The future curriculum will also include "preparation for adult life" covering citizenship, personal, social and health education, morality and spiritual education.