Labour is set to announce plans to ensure all teenagers study maths and English up to the age of 18.
The proposals will form part of a major new education paper, which will outline plans for an international baccalaureate to help young people into work. It is designed to reduce the number of people who are classed as NEETs (not in education, employment or training).
It goes further than the coalition government's current system, in which students are required to continue studying the subjects beyond 16 if they fail to obtain a GCSE grade C.
Under the new proposals, some of schools' funding will be dependent on pupils progressing post-16.
The reforms would bring the UK into line with other developed countries, in which key subjects are compulsory until teenagers leave school.
Recently, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that England is the only developed country in which the generation approaching retirement has better literacy and numeracy skills than the youngest adults.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: "Labour will deliver for the forgotten 50 per cent through a Technical Baccalaureate with rigorous vocational qualifications, requiring schools and colleges to collaborate to reduce NEETs and transforming careers advice by working with local employers so young people have the best chance of succeeding in the job market. And under Labour, all young people will study maths and English to 18."
Education leaders have questioned the proposals, however. Martin Doel, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, told the Observer that while they are a good idea in principle, they would require a great deal more investment and more teachers.
Labour's plan for NEETs highlights the link between vocational education and unemployment rates among young people. The party hopes plans for a national baccalaureate system will reduce the number of NEETs, which is significantly lower in countries such as Norway and the Netherlands.
Maths and English would form a compulsory element of the national baccalaureate system, which would also include a personal skills development programme and an extended project.