Talented pupils can opt out of GCSEs
Specialist schools which devise an alternative timetable for their most promising pupils will be allowed to exempt them from compulsory GCSE courses - such as science or modern languages - under proposals from the Government's curriculum quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Meanwhile, any secondary pupil who would struggle to take eight compulsory subjects may also be allowed to drop subjects for lessons in study skills, say QCA advisers.
Education Secretary David Blunkett has said he wants the national curriculum review for 2000 to create a more flexible timetable for 14 to 16-year-olds but has said that no subject will actually be dropped from the compulsory timetable.
However, he wants more children to take advantage of current rules which allow them to drop two subjects out of science, modern languages and design and technology.
These rules, which were introduced in September, have so far allowed nearly 9,000 youngsters to spend up to a day a week in the workplace or on vocational training.
However, QCA officials are investigating how the regulations can be extended to allow more children to study the mix of subjects that suits them best - within schools.
The Government has expanded the specialist school initiative and aims to have 500 schools focusing on technology, languages, sport or arts by 2002.
Any secondary school can apply for specialist status but must raise pound;100,000 business sponsorship to match the same amount in Government funding.
Specialist schools are able to select up to 10 per cent of their intake by "aptitude" in their specialism.
A QCA spokesman said: "New regulations could allow pupils who are making slower progress than their peers to study fewer national curriculum subjects so they can participate in a programme designed to develop their learning skills.
"They could also allow pupils to develop their strengths and talents by exchanging a national curriculum subject for further study in a particular subject area."