Sir Ron Dearing, who heads the Government's curriculum and assessment review set up in April, is due to deliver his interim report to John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, at the end of next week.
The options in his report are expected to include:
Replacement of the present 10-level scale on which all pupils are placed at the ages of 7, 11 and 14;
Making only English, maths, science and perhaps a modern language compulsory after 14 (at present, pupils must also study technology, physical education, history or geography, or short courses in both);
Giving teachers more freedom to choose what they teach by cutting down the compulsory material in each subject;
Taking into account teacher assessment in test marks (at present, external test marks override teacher assessment).
Sir Ron was appointed after protests from teachers that testing was too time-consuming and the curriculum overloaded. Ministers hope he will extricate them from the controversy which led to a successful test boycott by the three biggest teacher unions this summer.
He has to satisfy ministers who believe teacher assessment is unreliable and teachers who would like their own assessments to predominate.
His interim report draws no conclusions but will put forward options. These include retaining the 10-level scale, which many critics blame for the system's complexity, improving it or introducing new arrangements. The new arrangements would still test at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 and would take the GCSE at 16, but instead of being placed on a 'level' they would be graded from A to E as they are in the GCSE exam.
The standard required for a C might be specified and perhaps also for an A and an E. The review group has been working on examples showing how it might apply in English.
Sir Ron has also examined how to combine teacher assessment and external testing, as happens in the GCSE exam. In most GCSE subjects, between 20 and 40 per cent of marks go to teacher-assessed coursework. A similar combination might be used in testing younger pupils.