Education Secretary Michael Gove said tough new targets for raising school exam standards across the country will not return modern classes to a 1950s style of education.
The reforms, billed as the biggest shake-up in education since the Thatcher government introduced the national curriculum in 1988, demand that at least 35% of secondary pupils gain five passes at GCSE, including maths and English.
Primary schools will be expected to ensure that at least 60% of 11-year-olds reach level 4 in national curriculum tests in English and Maths.
Any school that fails to meet the target will face intervention, such as being turned into an academy.
After meeting with year six students at Durand Academy Primary School, Stockwell, south London, Mr Gove dismissed a suggestion from a journalist that the reforms could take English education back to the 1950s.
He said: "What we are doing is accelerating into the future, doing what they are doing in other countries in Asia and Scandinavia, and North America, who have better quality education systems than us. We are learning from them."
Unveiling his education White Paper in the House of Commons later, Mr Gove told MPs it provided "the opportunity to become the world's leading education nation".
But Labour warned that he risked creating a "two-tier education system" where the requirements of academic pupils are put ahead of those wanting to pursue more vocational courses.
Mr Gove's package includes new achievement targets which could lead to as many as 400 more schools being tagged as "under-performing".
The reforms won strong support from Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said: "These radical proposals will give teachers both the freedom and the authority in the classroom that's needed if we are to realise our ambition to drive up standards, improve discipline and behaviour and deliver the world class education that our children deserve."