Michael Gove announced partnership with China in 2010
Michael Gove is due announce his plans to scrap GCSEs in the next two weeks (Reuters) Reuters

The education secretary is planning to scrap GCSEs and bring back "explicitly harder" O-levels in a radical shake-up of the schools exam system.

Gove also plans to throw out the national curriculum, so that head teachers can decide what pupils should study.

Pupils will begin studying for "explicitly harder" exams in English, maths, physics, chemistry and biology from September 2014, according to a leaked document seen by the Daily Mail.

Pupils would take the first O-level exams in 2016. Pupils starting their GCSE courses in September 2013 could potentially be the last to take them.

The document suggests the new exams will "meet or exceed the highest standards in the world for that age group".

Gove reportedly wants to reverse the "historic mistake" by the Tory government in the 1980s to switch from GCSEs to O-levels, which he believes led to a collapse in academic standards and a rise in the number of "Mickey Mouse" courses.

The leaked document also plans to scrap the benchmark in which schools are measured - pupils expected to receive five good GCSEs (grades A* to C) including maths and English.

There are also plans to a return to individual examinations in physics, chemistry and biology instead of a single, combined science qualification.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg was doubtful that the proposals would improve standards in schools.

He said: "Michael Gove must explain his changes to parents and pupils. Will going back to O-levels for some and CSEs for the rest really improve standards for all? Labour wants to see a robust, rigorous and broad curriculum and exam system that is trusted by parents, pupils and employers. We will set a series of tests to measure these changes.

"With no secondary national curriculum, how will he ensure a rigorous approach to learning in all schools? When the Tories abolished O-levels and introduced GCSEs in the 1980s they said standards would rise. Now they say they've fallen."

Gove is expected to announce the plans in the next two weeks. None of the plans requires an Act of Parliament.