LONDON Teachers will be able to choose between including the Battle of the Nile or personal finance in lessons under a shake-up of the education for 11-16 year olds unveiled on Thursday.
Around a quarter of the curriculum is to be freed up for schools to make their own choices about what to include in lessons in the first major revamp of the secondary school syllabus since 2000.
Ken Boston, head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the curriculum from September 2008 would be more flexible while retaining core topics.
"We haven't simply gone through the existing curriculum and struck out 25 percent," he told BBC Radio.
"What we've done is look at the curriculum as a whole and say what is absolutely critical that a youngster living in Britain in this century must know."
The new curriculum is less prescriptive than before, allowing teachers to drop some non-core parts of subjects without worrying if they were "breaking the law", he said.
He said teachers would be able to decide: "Are we going to deal with the Battle of the Nile or are we instead going to concentrate on how to take out a mortgage and manage it and use the school time for that purpose?"
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said there would still be "rigorous concentration on traditional subject knowledge".
"Youngsters will continue to study the likes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Dickens," Schools Secretary Ed Balls told the BBC.
But children will be also taught how to manage their money and save for a pension as part of lessons on their personal health and "economic well-being", although these topics will not be compulsory.
Balls said it was essential that children were taught the financial skills they would need as adults.
"They need to understand everyday issues like opening a bank account, buying a house and saving for their retirement as early as possible, developing a sense of responsibility as citizens," he said.
The Enterprise Education Trust says two-thirds of adults have trouble with basic financial terms but warned that personal finance needed to be taught in an engaging way.
"Tell most students that they are going to be taught how to manage their money, plan a pension or understand what an APR is and they will glaze over," said the trust's chief executive David Millar.
Teachers' leaders have welcomed the greater freedom in the curriculum but have pleaded with ministers not to reduce it by issuing further education initiatives.
Consultation on the reforms, first unveiled in February, was completed in April ahead of Thursday's launch.