English and maths GCSEs are to be reformed to include a new emphasis on the three Rs.
Ahead of Thursday's annual publication of GCSE results, Schools Minister Jim Knight has heralded a shake-up of exams to improve basic educational skills.
He told The Observer : "Every single young person must have a good grasp of the basics. We are changing the way we measure performance and toughening up the English and maths GCSEs to ensure that young people master the three Rs."
The measures come amid concerns, particularly among employers, about skills levels of school-leavers. New courses to be piloted this autumn would see exams changed to address the "functional" skills demanded by employers. "In the future, employers will have a guarantee of the quality of the school-leavers they are taking on. A good pass will mean that young people are equipped with the basics.
"That means being able to write and speak fluently, carry out mental arithmetic, give presentations and tally up a till at the end of the day."
As well as exams, coursework will be overhauled to ensure that pupils cannot cheat or rely on help from third parties or the internet.
An overall pass - currently requiring grade Cs in any five subjects - will require the disciplines to include maths and English under the new measures.
A further rise in those achieving the overall pass is expected on Thursday.
League tables of GCSE results will also be changed to give greater weight to English and maths, thereby pressuring schools to focus on those subjects.
"Alongside the usual five good GCSEs measure, every parent will be able to see how well their school is doing in securing the basics of English and maths," Mr Knight said.
The Observer claimed that this year's GCSE results were also likely to show a fall in the number of pupils taking French and German after the requirement to study a foreign language was scrapped two years ago.
Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts said the Government was trying to pre-empt criticism before Thursday's results.
He said there was too much course work used to assess pupils at GCSE level: "It's important that we can control the amount of course work."
Mr Willetts said that the Tories also wanted universities to be given students' marks to help them identify the most suitable candidates.