The new curriculum, prepared by Sir Ron Dearing, the Government's chief exams adviser, was drawn up after teachers boycotted testing in protest at the workload. The original 330 pages have been cut to 215; 996 detailed statements showing what each child could do have been replaced by 200 general descriptions.
Proposals for a canon of authors in English, big increases in the amount of British history and compulsory competitive games for all those aged 14 to 16 will meet stiff resistance from teachers.
But most teachers' unions cautiously welcomed the slimmer curriculum. About one day a week will be freed for teachers of 5- to 14-year-olds to use at their discretion, and more time will be released for older pupils to pursue vocational courses.
John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said: 'We are meeting the concerns of teachers for greater freedom and flexibility. This is a vote of confidence in their professionalism, which of course carries with it accountability.'
Mr Patten is adding his own changes to those proposed by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA). He wants teachers of all subjects to correct pupils' written and spoken English and more emphasis on the need for five- to seven- year-olds to be taught British history.
He is also considering scrapping the top two levels of the 10-level scale on which pupils are graded, as the scale will no longer be used for assessing pupils beyond the age of 14. Bright pupils should take the GCSE exam early instead, he suggested.
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said: 'While I welcome what he has done so far, I hope that he will see fit to reduce the content across the board by 50 per cent.'
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'Except for the proposal to make team games compulsory, which is plain silly, today's developments represent further solid achievement in slimming down both the statutory national curriculum and teachers' workloads.'
Dr Alistair West, vice-chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English and a member of the SCAA advisory group on English, said: 'The prescribed authors list will be very unpopular and do little to achieve what it is intended to do, namely promote enthusiastic, wider reading of classic texts.'
The largest consultation exercise in the history of British education now begins, with a series of conferences and the distribution of 1.5 million documents to schools at a cost of pounds 1.5m. The new curriculum will be in schools by January next year and in place next September. Details include:
English: All children to be taught to speak and write standard English as defined by the Government. Secondary children to choose from a 'canon' of authors. Reading and writing standards for 5- to 7- year-olds raised.
Maths: Primary children to concentrate mainly on number work. Geometry and data handling to be taught later.
Science: All pupils to do more experiments and investigations. Less able 14- to 16-year-olds to be able to spend less time on the subject.
Technology: Emphasis on designing and making things rather than theory. Time spent on it for 11- to 14-year-olds up from 45 to 63 hours to allow more practical activities.
History: Proportion of British history up from 50 to 75 per cent. No revisiting by older pupils of earlier topics - ie, Stuarts only covered once instead of twice - and 20th-century British and world history covered before age of 14.
Geography: Study of many themes and places removed, while 11- to 14-year-olds no longer study local area, comparative study of US, Japan and Russia or communications and movement.
Modern languages: After 14, pupils can do short course, including vocational qualification. Number of topics pre-14 cut.
Physical education: Competitive games compulsory for ages 14 to 16.