The new "learning licence" would take its place in a system in which traditional tests and exams might eventually be replaced by moderated teacher assessment.
Behind the proposals, in a pamphlet published with exam board Edexcel, is the controversial belief that current qualifications do not qualify students to do anything. An A-level in biology, for example, would not qualify anyone to be a vet or a doctor in the way that a driving licence qualifies someone to drive.
The pamphlet says the present system attempts to provide an indication of pupils' ability to thrive in higher education or employment. But it fails.
Too often students simply had to memorise information to pass exams without gaining any deep understanding of the subject.
Demos therefore wants the ability to learn explicitly assessed .
Traditional, exam-hall tests might be phased out in favour of classroom-based teacher assessment whose prime function was to guide pupils' future learning.
Employers and universities should help devise the tests, which would assess "deep knowledge", and could embrace team-based projects and pupils making presentations.
Demos rejects the baccalaureate because under it ministers envisage no major changes in the way pupils are assessed.
"Beyond measure: why educational assessment is failing the test" can be ordered at pound;10 via the website www.demos.co.uk or by calling 020 8986 5488.