The overhaul is expected to include a cut in the number of courses - there are currently 480 separate syllabus documents. New GCSE criteria are expected to be sent to exam boards by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority next month, with the new syllabuses issued to schools in November. The new courses will be examined from 2003 onwards.
The authority has also drawn up plans, to be considered by Education Secretary David Blunkett, to let less academic 14-year-olds opt out of the full curriculum to take a work-related science course - equivalent to four GCSEs. Youngsters would drop formerly compulsory subjects to pursue a national vocational qualification. If successful, QCA officials hope to extend the scheme to cover vocational courses in catering, construction, information technology, retail, media and performing arts.
The scheme follows major changes to post-16 exams, due to take effect next September, designed to increase flexibility and breadth while maintaining the so-called A-level "gold standard."
Writing in this week's TES (Platform, page 17), the QCA's chief executive, Nick Tate, says the reforms will allow schools to construct their own do-it yourself baccalaureates, mixing academic and vocational courses.
Meanwhile, Mr Blunkett's plans to introduce performance-related pay for good teachers received support of a sort from the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.
David Hart was reported to have said teachers' personal appearance and attitude would be key factors in deciding if they should get a pound;2,000 pay rise uder the Government's merit scheme.
"Teachers who are scruffily dressed, late for classes, or who don't show commitment in the hours that they work are going to stand less chance of being assessed as good teachers than those who obey a modern, sensible dress code and are punctual and thoroughly committed to the school," he said.
Another plank of the teaching reforms - the new fast-track career programme for teachers - has come under fire from unions, who say it will put the power of appointment in the hands of the Department for Education and Employment. The complaints are led by the Secondary Heads' Association, which says that headteachers should be the ones who determine the recruitment and promotion of teachers.
Local government leaders also stepped into the reform arena this week, announcing an inquiry into the prospects for a five-term school year.
The review will be led by Chris Price, a former Labour MP and chairman of the Commons education select committee, who said changes in the "medieval" school year - originally designed to fit in with the cycle of harvests and religious festivals - were inevitable. One option, he said, would be to devote four terms to the national curriculum and free one term to follow a curriculum devoted to art, literature and creativity, which had been squeezed by the focus on literacy and numeracy.
This week it was also revealed that sports minister Kate Hoey has asked the Office for Standards in Education to carry out a survey of games facilities in English schools.
The results will be fed into a new strategy to encourage more children to take up sport and, hopefully, produce a new generation of top sportsmen and women.