The changes have been recommended by an independent review led by Professor Graham Donaldson, who was responsible for the major reform of education in Scotland.
The Successful Futures report was produced following a national and international evidence-gathering exercise which included more than 700 responses from young people, practitioners, parents and businesses. It covers learners from the current Foundation phase right through to key stage 4.
The report identifies six areas of learning and experience as a means to combining subjects such as maths and numeracy, science and technology. The existing key stages would be replaced with “progression steps”, relating broadly to expectations at ages five, eight, 11, 14 and 16.
It introduces three cross-curriculum responsibilities – literacy, numeracy and digital competence – that would be expected of all teachers and is set to mean extra training.
In a move welcomed by unions, teachers will have more autonomy and there will be less focus on paperwork and more on teaching.
Teacher assessment remains the main vehicle for assessment before qualifications.
Teaching of the Welsh language remains compulsory up to the age of 16, but there would be a new expectation that learners gain “transactional competence” by end of their studies.
“This report is called Successful Futures because it signals the vital importance of schools to the future success of every child and young person in Wales,” said Prof Donaldson. “It is about better learning and higher standards.
“Better learning because it draws on evidence from Wales and beyond to focus on what really matters in a modern school curriculum.
“Higher standards because it sets high expectations for learning and provides ways in which schools and teachers can help young people to meet, and often exceed, those expectations.”
Education minister Huw Lewis said: “The scope and scale of the changes he envisages are both fundamental and wide-ranging and will take time to create and secure.”
Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said: “The need for a new curriculum, suited to the 21st century has been something that we have been pressing for over a number of years.
Many of Prof Donaldson’s recommendations, especially those around the proper place of testing, the true purpose of assessment, the promotion of creativity, and the need for breadth in the curriculum will be very welcome to the profession.”
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, added: “The emphasis on ensuring that teachers are given sufficient autonomy in the classroom to make decisions about teaching and learning is particularly welcome.”
Meanwhile, David Evans, of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is absolutely critical now that what Prof Donaldson has set in motion is implemented fully in conjunction with the profession.”
The Welsh government is soon to launch a “Great Debate” on the curriculum which will include events and online opportunities for engagement.